Some football managers are predictable. Their teams are built around a nucleus of players who play week in, week out. Their tactical plan is the same every match, but it is well defined and players know their roles within it. Given information on injuries and suspensions an astute fan can practically name the manager’s lineup for the next game.
Over these past six months we have learned that Uwe Rosler does not fit that model. One would need to be a clairvoyant to predict his team selection and its shape. Added to that is the unpredictability of the way he uses his substitutes.
Rosler is an advocate of a rotation policy, frequently citing the example of Alex Ferguson who he says never picked the same team twice. Given the sheer volume of games Wigan Athletic have had to play over these months the rotation has been a necessity, which the German has handled with skill.
However, some players have rarely been rotated out and have remained almost permanent fixtures. James Perch and Emmerson Boyce have played with a lot of different partners in defence, but their almost constant presence has provided stability. The same can be said of James McArthur, who has had a myriad of partners playing with him in central midfield.
At times Rosler has had to rotate in too many players producing a lack of cohesion. The end product has been occasional poor performances and results. But now with only two or three games left he can rotate his squad as he wishes, not as a matter of necessity.
Rosler has varied the team’s shape at will, switching for instance from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. However, there has been a common theme to Latics’ play – that of high pressing.
When Rosler first arrived his players really struggled to adapt to his demands for the high pressing. However, as physical fitness levels improved so did his team’s ability to disrupt the opposition’s game through energetic pressing. Results moved in an upward spiral. But as the games kept coming in thick and fast, key players started to look jaded and the pressing was not so effective.
Substitutions have been paramount to Rosler’s game plans. Playing with such intensity takes a lot out of players, both physically and mentally. The message to the players is clear – start to flag and you will be replaced. Moreover the German is not afraid to take off a player who has not played at all badly, if he feels a need to change the team’s shape.
Sometimes his hand has been forced. Having to think of the next match coming up just a few days later he has had to take off players who were performing close to their best. Rosler has tended to make his substitutions much earlier than what we were accustomed to during the Martinez era. More often than not his substitutions have made a difference, those fresh legs helping to raise a flagging tempo.
Earlier in the season it looked like QPR were going to get automatic promotion through finishing in the top two. On paper their squad is far superior to those of Leicester and Burnley who succeeded in securing the top two spots. Harry Redknapp’s team have learned to their cost that there are teams in the Championship division who are willing to scrap it out to get a result and are no respecters of the Premier League quality players that QPR possess.
Rosler’s approach to the QPR games will surely be to put in a solid defensive line, relying on the individual brilliance of his flair players. Jordi Gomez has been a revelation over these past months complementing a very high work rate with a great temperament and goals at crucial times. Callum McManaman is approaching the form he had near the end of last season and is a real danger to the Londoner’s defence. Rosler has carefully nurtured Shaun Maloney following his return from long term injury and the Scot is a potential match winner.
With high pressing and a solid and well organized defensive line QPR’s more talented players can be neutralised. It will then be a matter of Latics’ flair players breaching the London team’s defence.
Paramount to Latics’ chances will be the ability of the players on the pitch to press for the full 90 minutes. So often we have seen them struggle in the closing minutes as tiredness sets in. Rosler is going to ask for one final push from players who have played so many games already, often defying niggling injuries.
Wigan Athletic have had an awful record in playoffs over the years. So often they have fought to get there, but let themselves down.
However, they have had an amazing amount of success in difficult cup ties over the past two years. The cup runs have given them the kind of experience and belief that is going to be needed to get through the Championship playoffs.
The players at Rosler’s disposal have the ability to go on and beat not only QPR, but go all the way back to the Premier League. Things are going to be tight and a moment of brilliance or a controversial refereeing decision could tip the balance.
But the crucial question is whether his key players will have the energy levels at the end of this marathon season to consistently produce the high tempo football the manager seeks.