High pressing and squad rotation – a Brentford View of Uwe’s tactics: Part 1

BillyDonaldson

Billy with top scorer Clayton Donaldson.

Has there ever been a manager of Wigan Athletic who has achieved a popularity rating as high as that of Uwe Rosler within just six months of taking over? The ex-Manchester City centre forward has lifted the whole club, introducing a new dynamic. After the disastrous reign of Owen Coyle there is once again light at the end of the tunnel.

Latics fans have a lot of faith in Rosler. He has a huge amount of support.

However, even his most faithful fans would say that he has made tactical mistakes, been unsuccessful with many of his loan players, and that his team selection and use of substitutes can be baffling. He espouses open, attacking football, but so often the team’s play has been scrappy.

It is true that Rosler has made mistakes. But fans appreciate his willingness to be upfront, acknowledge his mistakes and his desire to learn from them. Despite a tightening of the club’s purse belts being anticipated, there is a mood of optimism for the coming season with Rosler at the helm.

Like his team, Rosler is not the finished article. He recently commented on Radio Manchester that “I’m a strong believer that first you have to fail before you become a winner. Next year, we will be winners.”

Following Rosler’s appointment in December Billy Grant gave us a fan’s view of the German’s time at Griffin Park (click here to see the previous article). Six months later we have come back to Billy to give us more of his insight. Rosler is clearly involved in a work in progress at Wigan – he has come a long way towards changing the way Latics play, but there is still some way to go.

Billy writes for the Brentford fanzine http://www.Beesotted.co.uk (Twitter – @beesotted). He will also be travelling to his sixth World Cup this year, video-blogging his way around the country for All Mouth No Action’s ‘World Cup FanCam’. You can follow Billy by RSS linking http://www.worldcupfancam.com. Also follow him on twitter @worldcupfancam and @billythebee99. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/worldcupfancam.

So here is over to Billy to respond to some questions we composed for him.

First of all I would like to say we at Beesotted have a lot of time for Uwe Rosler. A lot of Brentford fans do to be honest. He came to us at a time that we needed to instil a new mentality into the club. Uwe was very much part of that new mentality. I do believe his work was instrumental in getting us to the Championship. Mark Warburton did a great job in picking up where Uwe left off. It could have gone horribly wrong at that point and Brentford fans would have no doubt felt a little bit more bitter about Uwe’s departure. But it all worked out right in the end.

We also have to realise that Uwe was also a relatively rookie manager when he came to Brentford. Yes he had managed clubs in Norway but he was an unknown force in the UK and was still learning on the job so to speak when he started managing us. And he’s still learning now. Wigan fans should remember that. He has taken a step up in division and has so far over-performed so give him a little rope.

High pressing is clearly the centerpiece of Uwe’s main tactical ploys. The pressing has worked for Latics in patches but when they have run out of steam they have stopped pressing and also surrendered possession too easily, inviting teams upon them. This is probably fatigue more than instruction, but how did it work for Brentford? Were his teams able to sustain the high pressing for 90 minutes, or would they enjoy possession for periods to “rest” or the break the opposition’s rhythm?

Yes Uwe’s tactic was to play the pressing game when he came to Brentford. He introduced playing the ball out from the back and pressing high to a team that quite frankly wasn’t quite used to it. It worked in patches but when it broke down, we were often punished. It was quite amusing as fans used to the blood and thunder of third division football would often be heard shouting from the terraces “Just bloody get the ball up there. Kick it. Forget the fancy stuff”. The players struggled to cope with playing that style of football naturally on an ongoing basis. But they were learning.

A couple of seasons later with a few personnel changes and more experience of playing “Uwe’s way”, the team had things pretty much sorted. The season when we lost out on promotion with the 94th minute penalty against Doncaster (2012/13), we often had games where we had over 70% possession. When we played Doncaster at their ground earlier in the season, apparently we had 82% possession at one point. We went 1-0 up but were beaten 2-1 with a Doncaster smash-n-grab. Even their manager Dean Saunders said at the time he had no idea how they won that game. We had loads of possession and were were creating loads of chances but unfortunately our finishing was letting us down. Uwe admitted that was an issue and looked to address that in the close season.

Uwe was a stickler for fitness. Last summer he took the team away for a conditioning week in Germany where they undertook an iron man session involving all sorts of body straining and team bonding exercises. The team was infinitely fitter at the beginning of this season as opposed to when Uwe took over. Fitness is a real key to the way he wants the team to play. It’s no co-incidence that he poached the conditioning coach Chris Haslam from Brentford and no one else (as yet .. Let’s see if he goes for one or two of our players in the close season). Chris was instrumental in installing a programme to get the Brentford team in ship shape and Uwe would think him as an important part of the jigsaw in getting Wigan to play the way he wants.

Of course Wigan will have some better players than Brentford to an extent. But overall, the principle remains the same. Uwe will no doubt be looking to bring to Wigan what he brought to Brentford. Without a shadow of doubt he feels that he is missing a couple of certain types of player to complete the jigsaw.

For Brentford our jigsaw was completed by adding a no nonsense player into the mix in Alan McCormack. a central midfielder-come right back. His impact on the team was phenomenal with him winning him supporters player of the year and Beesotted player of the year awards. And an attacking/wide midfielder option. For us it started with Conor McAleney from Everton but he got injured. Then it was Kadeem Harris from Cardiff but he got injured. Then it was Alan Judge from Blackburn (who joined after Uwe left). The third piece of the jigsaw was a striker and Will Grigg was bought in. Unfortunately, Grigg has not as yet lived up to his potential but we got away with it as we started scoring more goals from midfield.

But it’s all about time. A person needs time to deliver results. That’s the problem with football nowadays. There is no long term plan for most clubs. They want everything yesterday. That means there is no real scope for proper development. I’m a person that really believes that the best employees are ones who make and learn from their mistakes. For someone to really develop he (or she) has to be given time to find the right path forward.

Give Uwe a bit of time and Im sure he will get your squad in ship shape.

Uwe has clearly stated that he believes in squad rotation. Although some just don’t like it, most fans have accepted that it has been necessary because of the exceedingly long season Latics faced. Or is he just a serial rotator?

This was one of the biggest issues a vocal section of the Brentford fans had with Uwe if I had to be honest. His player rotation policy. At Beesotted we obviously get a lot of the fan opinion channelled through the website and can gauge the feeling out there. Many people were saying “We don’t know if he knows what his best team is” even at the beginning of this last season. Uwe felt that player rotation was essential to enable to squad to last a whole season. People agreed with him in principal but the argument many had was .. Couldn’t some players have a run of games .. Then get rested as opposed to rotating players constantly?

Things really went a bit awry when Uwe decided to rest practically the whole first team away to Derby in the second round of the League Cup. Many Bees fans Had their “let’s concentrate on the league” head on and were a bit dubious of getting into another cup run like we did the season before when we lost eventually to Chelsea. But we took a fair few fans up to Derby on a Tuesday night because we wanted to see Brentford give them a fight at least with a few regulars and some up-and-coming kids in the side. As it was, we went down 5-0 and the fans were really p!ssed off. Meanwhile, the rested players all came back into the side the following Saturday and huffed and puffed to grind out a 0-0 draw with a hapless Carlisle team – one which was getting knocked for 4 and 5 goals every week by the opposition. We then lost 4-0 to Bradford, 1-0 to Rotherham and, worst of the worst, 2-1 to a useless Stevenage side within the next 6 weeks or so.

To be fair, Wigan fans should be thanking Stevenage as if they hadn’t beaten us, Uwe would never have be managing their team. After that game, Uwe embarked on an excellent piece of man management. He locked the team in the dressing room for 90 minutes and everyone had it out. It was apparently a no holds barred two-way feedback session. Players could say what they felt about other players. About the manager. About tactics. Anything they weren’t happy with. And vice versa.

Whatever was uttered in that dressing room has never been leaked … But the following match, Uwe dropped fans favourite right back Shaelum Logan and replaced him with hard man central midfielder Alan McCormack. Logan was great going forward but could sometimes find himself missing in defensive positions, giving the ball away in key areas. But we were short on right back options and he was deemed too good to drop. More interestingly though, from the following game onwards, Uwe picked a team and stuck with that same team until he left for Wigan two months later. He never lost another match after that in his time at Brentford. In fact, he won them all except a 0-0 draw away to eventual title winners Wolves. What’s more … After Uwe left, we continued the no rotation policy as much as we could bar injuries. As a result, we went on an incredible 19 match 4 month unbeaten run seeing us win 17 games and draw 3 before being beaten by eventual champions Wolves. I can only assume that the right back and team rotation points were discussed at length in the Stevenage dressing room and, fair play, Uwe took them on board.

 

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