In mid-December a Wigan Athletic team in transition traveled to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday. Uwe Rosler had just won his opening Championship match, with a tight 3-2 win over Bolton, following an unfortunate dismissal from the Europa League at Maribor.
I noted in my match preview of the time that “..not only will it be Latics’ third match in a week, but they are also adjusting to a new style of play. The high pressing that Rösler expects is physically demanding for players who have not managed to keep up such a pace up till now. The question is whether the lineup Rosler puts out will be able to do what he wants most of the time.”
In the event Wigan’s high pressing game proved a powerful weapon against a Wednesday team that was struggling near the bottom of the table. Wednesday were relieved that the rain caused the match to be abandoned early in the second half with Latics a goal up. Since that day their fortunes turned. Wednesday have now lost only one of their ten matches since then. Their victories include a 2-0 win at promotion candidates Reading on Saturday and a 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United on January 11th.
Wigan Athletic too have had a better run of results since then, losing only two of the nine league games in that period. However, although fitness levels may be improving many players are still finding it hard to keep up the pace needed for Rosler’s high pressing game. The ability of a player to perform the high pressing role clearly comes into Rosler’s thinking prior to choosing his starting lineup, as Callum McManaman found on Saturday, losing his place to Martyn Waghorn, despite looking sharp in the previous game against Charlton.
It will be interesting to see Rosler’s tactical approach to the rematch tomorrow. Wednesday will be ready for the high press and full of confidence following recent results.
The German tends to go more cautiously into away games and he might well opt for his solid midfield trio of James McArthur, Chris McCann and Ben Watson in front of a flat back four. He is unlikely to be able to call upon Ivan Ramis, Thomas Rogne and Markus Holgerrson in the centre of defence, the first two only recently having returned to training and the Swede not having played since the end of his MLS season in November. That means Emmerson Boyce continuing to partner Leon Barnett at centre back, with James Perch on the right and either Stephen Crainey or Jean Beausejour on the left.
Rosler will have to decide whether to start with his two pacy wingers, McManaman and McClean, or to play with just one. Given Waghorn’s promising performance at Huddersfield it would not be surprising to see him start, possibly in his more natural role as a central striker.
There have been concerns among fans about the lack of flair in Latics’ play over recent games. Latics certainly have flair players but the chemistry has been lacking. It is unlikely that Rosler will risk Nick Powell tomorrow and Josh McEachran is still not one hundred percent fit, although he could come off the bench. However, the mouth-watering prospect of Powell moving on to McEachran’s incisive passes is something we hope to savour fairly soon.
When Rosler has all his players match fit he will have a very strong squad and be able to operate with a flat back four or three central defenders. Other teams might be geared up to deal with his high pressing tactic, but he will be able to alter the shape of the team at his whim. He will continue to rotate his squad, but will still have a very strong bench whichever starting lineup he chooses.
It promises to be a fascinating contest tomorrow – playing Wednesday on Tuesday at Hillsborough.