Hibs' strongest starting XI isn't immediately obvious - but that might be no bad thing
It is a hot topic of discussion at the start of every campaign, especially during summer pre-season games or the early rounds of cup competitions, when managers shuffle team selections and formations.
Perhaps they will start a centre-forward on the wing, or a centre-back at right-back. Or in Joe Newell’s case, a central midfielder at left-back although one imagines it is unlikely to be a regular feature of the Hibs team this season.
But then again, what is? The first three Premier Sports Cup group games have told us little about this new-look Easter Road side for a variety of reasons: players unavailable as they await work permits, injuries to a quartet of players who were starters last season, lower-league opposition to name just three.
However, it may not be a bad thing that there isn’t an obvious starting-team-plus-subs selection from the current squad. Having 16 or 17 players pushing for 11 starting spots will ensure competition is healthy and that whoever is on the bench should be able to make an impact.
There were times last season, and to a lesser extent the campaign before – and again, it was often due to injuries – that Hibs didn’t have too many options among the substitutes.
Even with four players sidelined and another three awaiting completion of their paperwork, Hibs have greater depth in most areas of the pitch.
Where do they need to strengthen?
The glaringly obvious area needing reinforcements is central defence. Both full-back spots are covered – Chris Cadden and Lewis Miller at right-back, Marijan Čabraja, Demi Mitchell, and Lewis Stevenson at left-back – but even once Paul Hanlon returns from his spell out, there are only really three senior centre-back options: the club captain plus Rocky Bushiri and Ryan Porteous.
The latter’s contract situation is still unresolved, and Kyle McClelland, who was signed as a development-squad player, has appeared in all three of Hibs’ Premier Sports Cup group matches so far.
A centre-back is known to be on Hibs’ shopping list but there is also an argument for an attacking-third addition, particularly one capable of playing out wide. Jair Tavares and Aiden McGeady can operate on the flanks while Runar Hauge featured on the right against Falkirk and centre-forward Elias Melkersen could also play wide in some games.
Even if manager Lee Johnson plays a system that relies less on wingers, a player capable of playing anywhere just behind the striker wouldn’t go amiss.
Another central midfielder capable of playing as an eight or a ten might be needed depending on how Kyle Magennis fares on his comeback from injury.
What is Hibs’ strongest team?
It simply is impossible to say right now. There are some fairly obvious calls – Marshall in goals, Porteous in central defence, Nohan Kenneh as the six and, on his form so far, Ewan Henderson as the playmaker – but other positions are up for grabs.
Cadden or Miller at right-back? Will Élie Youan get the nod up front? Is McGeady a nailed-on starter or might he be used off the bench as a gamechanger on occasion?
Whatever Johnson opts for he will have plenty in reserve to impact games, or to set up in a particular way for certain matches – and it’s been a while since a Hibs manager has really been able to do that.