GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 24: Patrick Cripps of the Blues leads his team out onto the field during the round 23 AFL match between the Geelong Cats and the Carlton Blues at GMHBA Stadium on August 24, 2019 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Last season

It was a tale of two halves for the Blues in 2019. On their knees at 1-11 under Brendan Bolton and seemingly devoid of answers, the club cut ties with their coach for the untried David Teague.

Teague had an immediate effect, moving his more experienced heads into the midfield once again, allowing Marc Murphy and Ed Curnow to attend 65% and 81% more time at centre bounces respectively between rounds 12-23.

Carlton won six of their last 11 games under Teague and showed genuine signs of improvement. They were much more competitive and showed that natural improvement Carlton fans had long been seeking.

Off-season grade

In: Jack Martin (Gold Coast), Marc Pittonet (Hawthorn), Eddie Betts (Adelaide), Brodie Kemp (Pick 17, Bendigo Pioneers), Sam Philip (Pick 20, Northern Knights), Sam Ramsay (Pick 47, Calder Cannons), Josh Honey (Pick 3 rookie draft), Fraser Phillips (Pick 18 rookie draft).

Out: Andrew Phillips (traded), Jarrod Garlett (delisted), Pat Kerr (delisted) ,Kym LeBois (delisted), Matthew Lobbe (delisted), Jarrod Pickett (delisted), Angus Schumacher (delisted), Tom Bugg (retired), Alex Fasolo (retired), Dale Thomas (retired), Josh Deluca (delisted).

Off-season grade: C+

It was a relatively successful off-season for the Blues. They landed target Jack Martin for free after outfoxing the Gold Coast, and managed to bring back cult hero Eddie Betts for an absolute bargain. Marc Pittonet looks an upgrade from Andrew Phillips and their draft haul is quietly impressive.

The game Stephen Silvagni played on draft night with bids for academy players was a bold strategy and forced other clubs to show their hands and pay a higher price than intended for young stars.

However, the Blues missed out on number one target Tom Papley. While there is still a chance they will get their man at the end of the 2020 season, Papley’s performance in the State of Origin game suggests they may rue not landing the wantaway Swan last year.

Image: carltonfc.com

Defining period

Carlton’s defining period will come post round three. A difficult start to the year may well see Carlton 0-3, however, Blues fans may be expecting such a start. It’s the games after that pose the biggest questions. Carlton are in the thick of a bunch of teams that could finish anywhere from 8th to 16th. It’s games against these fellow mid-table clubs that will tell us exactly where Carlton sits.

Between round’s 4-8, the Blues travel to Sydney to face the Swans at the SCG (where they beat Sydney last year), take on Hawthorn at Marvel, North Melbourne at the MCG, Port Adelaide away and St Kilda at Marvel. These fixtures may all be winnable and some ground locations certainly don’t hurt their chances. If they can most of these fixtures a run for the eight isn’t out of sight.

Best 22

B: Nic Newman, Liam Jones, Lachie Plowman

HB: Sam Docherty, Jacob Weitering, Kade Simpson

C: Zac Fisher, Patrick Cripps, Sam Petrevski-Seton

HF: Jack Martin, Charlie Curnow, Jack Silvagni

F: Mitch McGovern, Harry McKay, Eddie Betts

R: Matthew Kreuzer, Sam Walsh, Marc Murphy

I/C: Ed Curnow, Caleb Marchbank, Levi Casboult, Will Setterfield

Champion Data says

“A new day has dawned for Carlton under David Teague. Immediately after he took the reigns, the Blues’ on-field performance turned around. The reasons behind the shift are obviously varied, but Teague showed a clear difference in philosophy as to who should be Carlton’s centre bounce midfielders. Bolton favored the younger brigade earlier in the year, Marc Murphy was moved to the wing and Ed Curnow half forward.

“Once Teague was in control Murphy and Curnow returned as permanent midfielders. In addition, Matthew Kreuzer played 9 of the last 11 games. All of a sudden Patrick Cripps had the big-bodied midfield support that he had been crying out for all season.”

Strengths and weaknesses

Carlton’s strength is undoubtedly their key position posts, with not many clubs having the manpower Carlton do in those positions. They have real depth in those positions as well – Levi Casboult is the perfect example of this as he last year played forward, back and in the ruck all to great effect.

Their backline is another standout – Weitering and Jones are forming a formidable duo as they key defenders. Lachie Plowman is a good shutdown defender and sneaks under the radar, and Carlton’s half back/small defender stock has never been higher. Sam Docherty, Kade Simpson, Nic Newman and Tom Williamson are all great by foot and can defend as well. They’re the reason Dale Thomas isn’t there anymore.

The Blues’ weakness is obviously their midfield, ranked as the 18th best by Champion Data with too much of a reliance on skipper Patrick Cripps to carry the load. Marc Murphy and Ed Curnow are closer to the end then the start of their careers and the baby Blues need to mature and fast. The next wave need to be ready sooner rather then later.

Prediction: 12th

It seems like a massive jump for a side that finished 16th last year, however, they managed to win seven games last year. With more improvement and good recruiting, that number can quite easily become 10, 11 or 12 wins, which could well see the Baggers in the finals picture.

However, that number could also see them miss the eight. That middle group is so tight that it could go either way. It is not imperative for the Blues to play finals in 2020, so the pressure to finish eighth is low. But natural improvement says their a chance.