Welcome to the 2022 Free Agency & Trade Period analysis series. Over the next fortnight, the plan is to look at every player heading to a new club. It’s not going to be a ‘who won the trade’ series, but rather a look at how players fit into existing setups, or what changes they may force.
Tom Mitchell’s move to Collingwood is a fascinating test case for the value of certain types of midfielders.
When it comes to one-paced accumulators, the general question is whether their ability to find the ball outweighs what they give back with possession and without the ball. It’s a conversation which is relevant here.
10 seasons into Mitchell’s career, we all know what he can do in tight and at stoppages. For the uninitiated, a speed run:
– If he gets minutes inside, wins a lot of the ball
– Also gets your team first use a lot of the time
– Can probably pick up 30 disposals a week with his eyes closed
Contrast that with Collingwood in tight and at stoppages this year:
– 17th in clearance differential (ahead of only West Coast)
– 17th in contested possession differential (ahead of only West Coast)
In theory, it sounds stupidly simple. Mitchell comes in, fixes two glaring problem areas, Collingwood off to the races. What could go wrong?
What Mitchell gives you is a ball winner. What Mitchell doesn’t give you is a defensive presence.
It’s a fine line between offensive benefit and defensive liability. Teams know this and often look to play through Mitchell’s direct opponent, turning a strength into a weakness.
We can go all the way back to an early Shinboner post in 2018 to demonstrate how it’s done, North Melbourne utilising the strategy to great effect.
(To demonstrate it’s not exclusive to Mitchell, here’s Richmond doing it to Cripps in 2019)
If Mitchell is to prove a valuable pick up for Collingwood, it boils down to three questions:
1. Can he win enough of the ball (probably a tick already, let’s be honest)
2. Can he efficiently get it to the more damaging midfielders, turning possession into damage
3. Can the remaining midfielders cover his defensive lapses
In covering the latter two points – and starting with number two – for Mitchell to be at his most influential, he needs damaging line breakers alongside him. Otherwise the on-ball unit risks devolving into an inefficient group – the antithesis of Collingwood’s play this year.
Point number three is where everything will swing. Even when the Pies were outpointed at contest and clearance this year, they were able to stay in the game by forcing turnovers and intercepts at a really high rate.
In theory, Mitchell in the midfield group means they don’t have to force turnovers at the same rate – because they have more of the ball to start. Mind blowing, I know.
But with Mitchell in the midfield group, they also won’t be able to force turnovers at the same rate, even if they wanted to.
It’s a high wire balancing act to retain what made Collingwood good this year and also improve into 2023.
We’re going to watch a live test case play out week after week in front of tens of thousands of people. I can’t wait to see if it works.
If you’ve missed any of the Free Agency & Trade Analysis posts, here’s where to catch up:
Karl Amon, Hawthorn
Josh Corbett, Fremantle
Tanner Bruhn, Geelong
Aaron Francis, Sydney | Sam Weideman, Essendon | Lachie Hunter & Josh Schache, Melbourne | Ollie Henry, Geelong | Cooper Stephens and Lloyd Meek, Hawthorn | Josh Dunkley, Brisbane | Rory Lobb, Western Bulldogs | Jaeger O’Meara, Fremantle