“I was disappointed that we dropped our intensity at the start of the second half and it started very much from the front…….Also the willingness to get on the ball dropped. We can’t hold the level for 90 minutes in certain positions – and that we have to address ….A football game isn’t 45 or 60 minutes, it’s 90-95, and we have to make sure we can play like we want for 95 minutes.”
Uwe Rosler was speaking with his usual openness about the flaws that were once again evident in his side’s performance, this time at Blackburn.
The first six league games have yielded just seven points for Latics, one less than Owen Coyle’s team had at this stage. Like Coyle’s team the current side has stayed unbeaten in its first three home games. But Coyle’s team started with an away win at Barnsley, before losing the next two on the road at Bournemouth and Leicester. This team has lost all three away games.
If the six league games played so far had finished at half time, Latics would be unbeaten with a record of W3 D3, having scored six goals and conceded one. However, they have lost all three matches so far in which the scores were level at half time. They have conceded seven goals in the second halves of their games, scoring only two. Latics certainly have been a first half team this season.
A win at Huddersfield would put Latics back into mid-table, within striking distance of the top six. Huddersfield have started the season poorly, with just one win so far. They have drawn one and lost two of their three home games. So is the scene set for Wigan to get their first away points of the season tomorrow?
Reading between the lines in what Rosler was saying the loss of intensity at Blackburn was started by the front players not closing down opposition defenders, then players not moving around to make themselves available to receive passes. The result was the Blackburn midfield receiving better service from defence and the Latics backline falling deeper. The cynics would say Scott Carson enjoys making those long kicks from his penalty box for the opposition defence to gobble up. Ali Al Habsi gets criticised for his poor kicking, but he is at least always looking for a teammate to throw the ball to. However, in Carson’s defence, if players are not moving to receive the ball his options are limited.
Were Latics to be able to play at full throttle for the 90 minutes-plus at Huddersfield a win would be on the cards. However, the manager seems caught between two stools. He wants to bring in his new players as soon as possible so that they can gel with their teammates, but all three have been short of match practice. On Saturday only William Kvist was remotely match fit and he only lasted 63 minutes. Andy Delort, who had not played a competitive game for weeks, was given the full 90 minutes. He was expected to press the opposition central defenders when they had the ball, together with doing all the onerous duties of a lone centre forward. Adam Forshaw was wisely only played for the final 10 minutes, given his lack of match fitness.
A player of the calibre of James McArthur is bound to be missed. It was evident at Blackburn. Moreover a central midfield of Don Cowie and William Kvist is not going to provide the kind of invention that Latics had when Auld Mac was there. Both are the kind of players who rarely get the plaudits, covering a lot of ground, making interceptions, winning tackles, making simple passes. Such types of player are essential in any effective and well balanced team.
In the long run we can expect the midfield to consist of either Cowie or Kvist in front of the centre of defence, with Forshaw on the right and Emyr Huws on the left. Chris McCann will eventually come back to challenge Huws for that left midfield position spot where he played so well last year. Ben Watson’s best position is probably in the centre of the midfield three, but he can also do a good job on the right. In the meantime Tim Chow, Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie remain possibilities, but will never prove themselves without being given the chance. Neither will James Tavernier who can play at right back or midfield.
The backline of three central defenders was inevitably going to be tested against Gestede and Rhodes, but they looked ragged and uncoordinated at times in the second half. Perhaps Emmerson Boyce was suffering from his long trip to the Caribbean to play for Barbados, but he has not yet shown last season’s form. Ivan Ramis made some last gasp interceptions and put through some nice passes, but even he was looking short of composure by the end. Rob Kiernan will have to fight for his place, with Leon Barnett breathing down his neck, not to mention Thomas Rogne and Gary Caldwell.
We can expect Oriel Riera to return to the lineup tomorrow. It would not be a surprise to see a reversal to 4-3-3 with Martyn Waghorn returning on the right, with Callum McManaman on the left. James McClean will be keen to get a game, but Rosler really needs to be careful since the Irishman is another who is clearly not match fit. Better to give him a good run out with the development squad first.
Shaun Maloney is another of those players who is still not fully match fit, but Rosler will be tempted to put him in from the start. If Cowie and Kvist can provide the protection in front of the back four the Scot could play an advanced midfield role. Emyr Huws went off injured on Saturday so his participation must be in doubt.
Rosler might well rest Boyce and go for a central defensive pairing of Ramis and Barnett, although Kiernan cannot be discounted despite a disappointing game at Blackburn.
Rosler has lots of permutations and combinations possible for his team selection. However, he will need to provide some continuity and wholesale changes might well make things worse. Moreover he cannot afford to make the gamble of playing too many players whose fitness is questionable.
As always it will be fascinating to see the lineup he puts out. The bottom line is to put out a balanced team that can play with intensity for the 90 minutes plus. A tall order? Let’s hope not.