Lifting the gloom and doom against Wolves

A win against Wolves can dispel the doom and gloom among Latics fans.

A win against Wolves can dispel the doom and gloom among Latics fans.

Who would have thought that Wigan Athletic would be bottom of the Championship table by the end of September? The League 1 title had given the club back the momentum it had lost in the dark days of Malky’s reign. But now, once again, that prevailing atmosphere of doom and gloom has returned. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

But then again, it isn’t yet the end of September. The home game against Wolves is only a couple of days away. A win would not only propel them off the bottom, but could conceivably lift them out of the relegation zone too. But more than anything else it would lift the doom and gloom that is once again rearing its head. Is a win over Wolves likely to happen?

Football is a game of fine margins. The average number of goals per game in English football hovers around the 2.6 mark. It means that whichever team scores the first goal has a statistically good chance of winning the match. Sadly the authorities who run football remain staunchly conservative. Too many fine margins are determined by erroneous refereeing decisions as the sport continues to bury its head in the sand and resist the kind of video technology that has been invaluable in cricket and rugby. Those who oppose the use of video will say that the law of averages means that by the end of the season the number of dodgy decisions for and against even out.

Gary Caldwell would not necessarily agree. Sometimes those decisions just don’t balance themselves out. He was entirely right about the refereeing decision that led to Preston’s goal on Friday. He was also right about the incident at Bristol where a player who had already been booked should have been sent off a minute before he scored the match-winning goal. But such complaints from a manager tend to be looked upon as sour grapes and Caldwell needs to desist in making them if he is not to open himself up for criticism.

It could be argued that referees have not done Latics any favours so far this season. Many of us hoped that we would see better officials in the second tier than we saw last year in League 1. But if there is a difference in quality, is it so great?

But refereeing has not been the main factor in the poor results so far this season. Fitness has proved to be the overriding issue, exacerbated by the sheer number of new faces coming in. Once again the pre-season did not provide an adequate basis for the kind of physical competitiveness needed at the start of an English league season. Before the warm-up games started Caldwell already had long term injured players in Reece James and Andy Kellett, but he was soon to lose Donervon Daniels and Kyle Knoyle for several months too. For the game at Preston Caldwell was denied the services of at least seven of his squad through injury.

Given the injury situation Caldwell rightly boosted his squad size. He now had 27 players in the senior team squad. However, circumstances were to dictate that so many of the new signings he had brought in were well short of match fitness. It had taken some weeks to get the backbone of his team to a competitive level of fitness, but now he had to ease in new signings, some of whom had not had much game time in pre-season with their previous clubs.

Latics went to Preston to face a physical battle against a team whose style of play is reminiscent of the worst times of Sam Allardyce at Bolton. It was always going to be a difficult game, but the controversial, fortunate goal scored by the home team after just seven  minutes was a hammer blow to Wigan. To their credit they withstood that early onslaught and dominated possession thereafter. But a goal was not to come. The front three of Jacobs, Grigg and Wildschut all had poor games. Grigg had become a father for the first time just a couple of days before. Whether that affected his play on the day is up to debate, but the reality is that Latics need a sharp central striker when playing at places like Preston. The current North End team will never win an award for an aesthetically pleasing style of play, but their manager Simon Grayson has made them into a mean defensive unit.

Norwich City went to the top of the Championship division yesterday and with the strength of their squad they will surely be challenging for an automatic promotion place as May approaches. Despite an awful opening ten minutes at Carrow Road, Latics had gone on to match their rivals, coming so close to a result. The quality of Wigan’s play in the second half more than matched that of the Canaries. It showed that there is sufficient quality in the squad to at least consolidate in the Championship division.

Individual errors such as Dan Burn’s bad back pass at Bristol and Adam Bogdan’s howler at Norwich have been particularly frustrating. But most of the goals conceded have come from slack marking from defence and midfield. Much of it can be put down from a lack of continuity in the starting lineup, the players not “gelling”. The right back/wing back position has been a big headache for Caldwell. With Knoyle and Daniels out long term he has used no less than six players there in his starting lineup. Moreover he has yet to establish the kind of consistent pairing in the centre of defence that we saw last season with Morgan and Pearce. Burn and Buxton has been his recent preference.

So can Latics get off the bottom by beating Wolves?

Well there is one factor that has been missing this season that all teams need to be successful. Most people would call it “luck”, maybe like that goal scored by Preston. It could be said that Preston were “lucky” that the referee ignored the linesman’s flagging for a foul on MacDonald. Moreover there was a strong element of “luck” involved as McGeady’s shot was going harmlessly wide before it hit his own player, changing its direction to beat Bogdan.

Given Caldwell’s luck up to this point he would quite happily settle for not having a controversial refereeing decision against his side. Going one behind in the first half against any Championship side makes things very difficult. Caldwell will recall the Birmingham game when Donaldson was at least a yard offside when he raced ahead to gain a penalty for his team that almost won the match for them.

Put simply, Latics are not bottom because of refereeing decisions or luck being against them. But a controversial decision going their way or a scrappy goal could be enough to see off Wolves. But then maybe their key players will sparkle at the same time bringing the best performance of the season to date?

A loss on Tuesday would not be the end of the world, but would be a further disappointment in a frustrating return to the Championship.

A History Lesson

history

“Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Winston Churchill

Uwe Rosler was the toast of Wigan in the summer of 2014. But within three months he was gone – his prior achievements counting for nothing. Dave Whelan had sacked him, in the hope that a strong Latics squad could still get promotion back to the Premier League. Little did we know what a disaster the German’s dismissal would turn out to be.

Had Rosler not been dismissed, would Wigan Athletic have been relegated? Granted, they were not playing well and Rosler’s new signings were taking a long time to gel with their teammates. Whelan had backed his manager in the transfer market. Hopes were high when he made the signings. Despite losing three of his best in Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur, Rosler had apparently strengthened his squad, bringing in a host of players who had good reviews. Not least of those were two exciting strikers from Europe.

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera were never bad players. The former has recently joined Universidad de Nuevo Leon, known as Los Tigres (the Tigers) for a fee over £6m, of which Latics received a portion, having put a sell-on clause in his contract when he was returning to Caen. Riera returned to La Liga and continues to enjoy the top division in Spain with Pamplona side, Osasuna, after time with Deportivo La Coruna. Neither player was given an extended run at Wigan, nor were they played as twin strikers. Marc Antoine Fortune had thought his first team chances were limited when the two arrived, but he was to see them off in January. MAF went on to score just 2 league goals in 37 appearances under Rosler and his successor, Malky Mackay.

We can only speculate about the futures of other Rosler signings. Midfielder Adam Forshaw is now playing in the Premier League after a slow start at Middlesbrough. James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn have had a wonderful time at Rangers, albeit in the lowly standards of the Scottish Championship division. Emyr Huws has gone to Cardiff, his undoubted talent overshadowed by a consistent ankle problem and questions over his commitment to the club. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair’s time at Wigan was marred by injury: he remains at League 1 Doncaster. Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor, both signed from Cardiff, were to become the scapegoats of a relegation season. They had been successful in Wales but it was not to be in Wigan. Free agent signing William Kvist was captain of his national side, but could not reckon on a place in the starting lineup, Kvist went back to Denmark, where he continues to play for FC Copenhagen.

Like Rosler, Gary Caldwell also felt the need to bring in a swathe of new players to meet the demands of the Championship this season. Most are struggling to adjust to their new club and their manager’s preferred style of play.  Caldwell had brought in even more last season, when it took months for the sum of the parts to approximate to the whole. But in the end the quality of the players he could bring in gave him the divisional title.

Latics currently have 5 points from 8 league games. At the same stage two years ago Rosler’s team had 8 points. However, expectations differ greatly. Rosler was looking at promotion, whereas Caldwell will surely be looking at consolidation. But is Caldwell under the kind of pressure that prevailed upon Rosler at this time a couple of years ago?

Both managers had excellent records in their previous seasons. Caldwell’s achievement of winning League 1 is more than matched by Rosler’s success in revitalising his squad into reaching the playoffs and the FA Cup semi-final. But, given Rosler’s precipitous fall from grace, could Caldwell suffer a similar fate?

Looking back on the 2014-15 season one can only reflect in what might have happened. When Rosler was dismissed we continued to think about promotion. Perhaps we were being overoptimistic, but the woeful appointment of Malky Mackay put paid to that. He oversaw a January fire sale, including elements who had undermined his predecessor, leaving the squad threadbare. Relegation was the consequence.

Much has been said about Rosler being dictatorial with his players, that he brought in too many new faces, leading to discontent. But he was faced with an old guard from the eras of both Martinez and Owen Coyle. Modern football managers recruit players who will be loyal to them, rather than those whose fealty lies with predecessors. If Rosler made a key mistake, it was that of bringing in too many of his own men, bruising the egos of the status quo. Moreover his squad got so large that he had too many discontented players starved of first team football. Is Caldwell heading the same way?

There is a viewpoint that Caldwell should have stayed loyal with the players who helped him win the League 1 title. The departures of Sam Morsy and Jason Pearce were certainly controversial, the loaning out of Ryan Colclough was a surprise, and the stripping of the captaincy from Craig Morgan, following an abortive move to Sheffield United, suggests he will struggle to claim a place in the starting lineup. Moreover goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen, another key element last season, is now playing second fiddle to Adam Bogdan. It had been the introduction of the big Finn, in place of Richard O’Donnell who was struggling to meet Caldwell’s demands of a goalkeeper, that coincided with an upturn in performances. Jaaskelainen provided an aura of confidence to his defence and his ability to distribute the ball became an important cog in Caldwell’s possession football.

However, although Pearce has gone to Charlton on a permanent transfer, Morsy and Colclough have been sent out on season-long loans. Caldwell has inferred that Colclough remains in his plans although his lips have been sealed regarding Morsy. Colclough has already made three league starts for MK Dons, whereas ex-Latics goalkeeper Lee Nicholls and Jack Hendry, on loan until January, have not made any. One of the criticisms of Colclough’s loan was that it meant he was going back to League 1, whereas Morsy was going to a Championship club in Barnsley. In fact Morsy has made just one appearance so far with the Tykes, as a 65th minute substitute.

Long term injuries have robbed Caldwell of Donervon Daniels, Reece James and Andy Kellett from last season’s squad.  Moreover both Craig Morgan and David Perkins have recently been unavailable through niggles.

As it was during the second season under Rosler, new players brought in have been under the spotlight. None more so than Dan Burn and Shaun MacDonald, seen by some as replacements for Pearce and Morsy. Burn’s fateful error at Bristol saw him warming the bench for a couple of matches, but he has performed well in the last two games since his return to the starting lineup. Moreover MacDonald, who has played little first team football over the past two seasons, inevitably started slowly, but showed his worth on Saturday with a good display against Fulham.

It was bad news for Caldwell to see Alex Gilbey stretchered off the field on Saturday, after being an ever-present in league games up to that point. The ex-Colchester player has already made the transition from League 1 to the Championship, his fine technique providing him with a solid foundation. Jordi Gomez, back after a two year stint at Sunderland, has already showed what class he can bring to the team in three appearances to date.

Jake Buxton’s sending off in the League Cup led to a three match suspension and he has made just three appearances in the league so far. However, by naming him vice-captain Caldwell clearly expects Buxton to be a mainstay in the centre of defence. Reece Burke, arriving with the highest of recommendations following last season’s loan at Bradford, will most likely compete with Burn for a central defensive position, although he was employed in the troublesome right back position at Norwich. Nathan Byrne has looked lively in his two appearances off the bench so far, although there are questions about his defending skills as an orthodox right back. Byrne will best employed as a wing back in 3-5-2 or a winger in 4-3-3.

Nick Powell’s signing was a gamble by Caldwell, following a couple of seasons bereft of first team football and niggling injuries. Powell showed his exciting capabilities as a midfielder in the 3-0 defeat of Blackburn, but fitness concerns continue to dog him. At his best, Powell is a top player in this division, but he clearly has a long way to go in terms of achieving match fitness.

Adam Bogdan was an excellent goalkeeper at Bolton, but his difficult experiences at Liverpool will surely have damaged his confidence. At times this season he has looked dominant in his box and has made fine saves that kept his team in the game. However, his fatal error at Norwich shows that he is still coming to terms with Caldwell’s requirement for a goalkeeper to use his feet to build up moves from defence.

Luke Garbutt has not shown his best form yet. He had an indifferent loan spell at Fulham last season, not being helped by an injury early on. Garbutt’s loan is up to January, when he will most likely return to Everton where expectations were that he would be the successor to Leighton Baines. Caldwell will be hoping Reece James will regain fitness by the time that Garbutt’s loan is due to end.

On Saturday, Caldwell withdrew Will Grigg after 71 minutes, bringing on Adam Le Fondre. The manager’s dilemma will be in giving Le Fondre sufficient game time to keep him sharp. His preference for a lone central striker means that he is unlikely to play the two together, except near the end of games where his team needs to pull a goal back. Craig Davies already knows what it is like to be the backup striker, having had to be content with late appearances off the bench.

Caldwell’s starting lineup against Fulham contained six players signed over the summer. Moreover three more made appearances off the bench. Caldwell is familiar with the challenges of bringing in new players and weaning them into playing his style of football. He did it successfully in the past, but at this stage last season his team had 13 points, having won half the league games they had played. Caldwell’s current team has a solitary victory so far.

It is to be hoped that David Sharpe will heed Winston Churchill’s warning. His grandfather’s decision to dispense of Uwe Rosler’s services in November 2014 was compounded by the jettisoning of so many newly recruited players a couple of months later. The result was horrendous.

As with Rosler’s new recruits, Caldwell’s latest signings need time to adjust and to gel with their teammates. Caldwell himself will need time to get his squad up to speed. Sharpe needs to back the manager, who in turn needs to back his players. New players need time to adjust and to buy into Caldwell’s style of play.

There are testing times ahead. Latics are currently in the relegation zone, but as the new players gel results will surely improve. The question is when this will happen.

It could be later, rather than sooner.

 

Losing a winning mentality?

Will Craig Morgan still be a Latics player three days from now?

Will Craig Morgan still be a Latics player three days from now?

Last season Wigan Athletic developed a winning mentality. After an indifferent start with one win in their first five matches, Latics went from mid-December to mid-April without losing a league game.  The losing mentality of the era of Malky Mackay that had caused relegation had been reversed into a winning mentality by Gary Caldwell.

Of course the circumstances of Mackay and Caldwell differed greatly. Mackay had been cast in the role of hatchet man, presiding over the departures of 11 senior squad players between the beginning of January and mid-February 2015. Given the lack of money available to sign new players, Mackay was to bring in loanees, free transfers or bargain basement signings. Relegation was almost an inevitable consequence.

Mackay will be remembered as one of the least successful managers the club ever had. Moreover the football his teams played resembled fight-ball more than anything else. By the time Gary Caldwell took over with just five league games to go it was too late. Not only was the squad weak, but the players had developed a losing mentality. It was not an easy start for the Scot.

The jettisoning of players was to continue over the summer with only remnants remaining when the new season opened in August 2015. But unlike Mackay, who had been hamstrung by the club’s reluctance to invest in quality new players, Caldwell was to find himself with the financial backing he needed from new young chairman, David Sharpe. Wigan’s wage bill was to dwarf most of the rest in League 1 and they invested around £1 million in centre forward Will Grigg.

However, after a disappointing start to the season the knives were out and the keyboard warriors were lively on the social media. There were those who thought Caldwell was wrong in wanting to play “the right kind of football” in League 1. How could he expect lower division players to bring the ball out of defence, playing the type of possession football that was the hallmark of Latics’ play when Caldwell had been captain? Some fans advocated a return to 4-4-2.

Caldwell was to prove them wrong. He stubbornly stuck to his beliefs, playing with a lone striker, not being afraid to switch between a back three and a back four. At times his tactics seemed to go haywire, but they mostly worked. Over the course of the season he was to use 34 players, a remarkable amount of turnover for a team that was to go on to win its division. At times it looked like there were too many players coming and going, but somehow Caldwell forged them into a cohesive unit. The bottom line was that the players all knew what the manager expected from them. He had ingrained in them a way of playing.

Once again Wigan Athletic have started a season badly. Moreover the turnover of players has continued. The departure of central defender and vice-captain Jason Pearce was a shock, if those of Tim Chow, Emyr Huws, Lee Nicholls, Billy Mckay and Andrew Taylor were not. The seemingly impending departures of captain Craig Morgan and combative midfielder Sam Morsy add to the surprises. Morsy was only signed in January, as was Ryan Colclough who might also be on his way. Just a few months ago it looked like they were the kinds of young and hungry players who would form the backbone of the team in the future.

“We’re probably looking at bringing in four or five new players” commented Caldwell in May.

He has since brought in Adam Bogdan, Jake Buxton, Dan Burn, Luke Garbutt, Alex Gilbey, Jordi Gomez, Kyle Knoyle, Shaun MacDonald and Nick Powell, in addition to signing Stephen Warnock on a permanent contract. After the Forest defeat Caldwell stated his need to further strengthen “certain areas”, bringing in the “right” players.

Craig Morgan was the lynchpin of the defence last season, his calmness under pressure and ability to play the ball out of defence being real assets to Caldwell’s side. Together with Pearce he formed a partnership that had an impressive record. Latics had just one defeat, that on the last day of the season, when the two started together. Although there were concerns about a lack of pace which could be exposed at Championship level it appeared that Caldwell would keep faith in the pair, at least in the interim period until new central defenders could be weaned in.

Despite being in negotiation with Sheffield United over his transfer prior to the QPR match, Morgan was included in the starting lineup. Not surprisingly he was not at his best. It remains to be seen whether he can come to agreement with the Yorkshire club, but what is clear is that he is no longer in Caldwell’s plans.

Although he has help from a recruitment team much of Caldwell’s time has surely been taken up by the incomings and outgoings. Critics will say that his team selections and use of substitutes so far this season have been unimpressive, that opposing team managers have out-thought him.

Caldwell has been blessed by the emergence of a bright young talent in the 18 year old Luke Burke, but in the last two games he has left him on the bench, starting with players at right wing back who do not have the requisite skills or motivation to play in that position. Last season Caldwell would adjust the shape of the team to match the situation of the game, alternating between three at the back and a conventional back four. He has somehow been reluctant to do it so far this season.

Once again it has been a time of turnover, even though five league games have passed by as the ins and outs have been worked upon. The club has been through so much turmoil over the past couple of years. Caldwell works within financial constraints: in order to bring in new players the manager has to persuade others to leave. It has to be an unsettling time at the club for the members of last season’s squad that remain, who might well be wondering if they will be next.

Caldwell clearly changed his mind over the summer. Instead of bringing in 4 or 5 new players he has brought in 10. With the incomings are the outgoings, as the manager seeks to balance his wage bill. He acknowledged the difficulties he now faces entering the market for players in the Championship.

There’s key areas we need to strengthen, and we’re working extremely hard to do that. “It is difficult to do that, with salary demands and agents’ demands, it is a difficult process. We have to make sure that, even at this late stage, we don’t panic and get the wrong player. But I’m pretty sure we’ll have a few new faces come Wednesday.”

But is Caldwell doing the right thing by ditching players who had played key roles in a title winning side? Were those players not hungry enough, or not good enough, to play in the Championship?

His supporters will tell us that he knows exactly what he is doing and we need to be patient. Caldwell came to a realisation that the squad he had at the beginning of summer training did not have the wherewithal to be successful in a higher division. The new players he has brought in will take time to adjust to the roles Caldwell has in mind for them. Last season saw lots of players come and go, but the team was ultimately successful.

Caldwell will surely be relieved that the international break is coming up. It will give him a breathing space in which to finalise his staffing changes, with an opportunity to calm down any disturbed waters before the next match at Sheffield Wednesday on September 10.

It is to be hoped that he can inculcate in his players the type of winning mentality that will be necessary to be successful in the Championship.

Tightening up the defence

Craig Morgan - has three yellow cards in four league games.

Craig Morgan – has three yellow cards in four league games.

Will Grigg sent another message to his doubters on Saturday. His two opportunist goals at Nottingham had hauled his team back into a game where they had clearly been second best. What a shame his efforts were wasted by abysmal defending giving Forest a win in time added on.

In fact neither team’s defence looked solid. Witnessing the quality of Forest’s midfield play and the movement of their forwards one could have got the impression that they will challenge for promotion. So often they sliced through the Wigan defence like a knife. They scored four, and could conceivably have doubled that tally. But they have defensive problems. Grigg’s two goals were prime examples of opportunism as the centre forward punished the home team defence for their sloppiness.

Wigan too played some attractive football. Alex Gilbey and Michael Jacobs supported Grigg from midfield and Shaun MacDonald gave a promising first half display sitting in front of the back four. But the defence looked shaky from the start.

Gary Caldwell had decided to continue with the experiment of playing Yanic Wildschut as a wing back, as he had in the second half against Birmingham in midweek. It proved to be an ill-judged move.

Not only was the Dutchman lost in the role, but Craig Morgan was left exposed. With so little protection from not only the wing back, but also the midfield, the captain looked a shadow of the player he was last season.  Morgan struggled for pace against speedy attackers flooding his zone.

Given his contribution to last season’s title winning team few fans will openly criticise Morgan. Granted he never was the quickest of defenders, but he was able to use his experience to get into the right positions and make the best decisions. Some doubt that the captain is the right man to lead a defence in the Championship, but acknowledge that he is not alone in lacking pace in the Latics back line. The assertion is that a slow moving defence will have constant problems against the speedy forwards that so many Championship sides possess.

However, rarely will Morgan be as exposed as he was on Saturday. The failure of the midfield to protect the defence was a feature of the team’s performance. The absence of David Perkins was fully felt. Last season he was invaluable in covering his defence in deep positions, together with Max Power, whose defensive performance was found lacking at Nottingham. Moreover Morgan has been moved from his preferred position in the centre of the back three, where speed is an asset but an ability to read the game is paramount. Last season Morgan received one red card and seven yellows  in 38 league appearances. He has picked up three yellows  in the first four league games so far.

Having conceded four goals, despite another fine performance by keeper Adam Bogdan, the defence will inevitably take most of the blame. The decision to jettison Jason Pearce, who formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Morgan last season, continues to be questioned by the pundits. Should that partnership have been maintained, albeit in a higher division of football, where they would have been more tested by the pace and skills of Championship level forwards?

The use of Wildschut as a wing back was a speculative attacking ploy by Caldwell.  Against a stubborn Birmingham defence defending their one goal lead Caldwell had withdrawn his wing backs and placed Michael Jacobs and Wildschut in those positions. It was a bold move, typical of what we have come to expect from the manager over the past year. There were times last season when Caldwell threw caution to the wind and risked his defence being badly exposed. On occasions he got caught out, with the opposition scoring from rapid counterattacks, but there were times when games were won as a result.

There are fans who prefer to see Latics play with a conventional back four, rather than with three centre backs and wing backs. The 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 played by Caldwell’s teams last year saw the wing backs pushed high up the field, almost like wingers. An inherent danger in any type of 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation is wing backs being caught far forward and centre backs having to deal with pacy wide players on the break.

It is a far cry from the days in the Premier League when Latics had two excellent wing backs in Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour who were not pushed so far forward. The two were so good at stretching the play by hugging the touchline and making themselves available to receive the ball from defence and support attacks. However, both played key defensive roles , the back three becoming a back five as they dropped back. On Saturday Wildschut looked lost when Forest attacked and Luke Garbutt made more of an impression in attack than in defence.

The three game suspension suffered by the experienced Jake Buxton, together with a long term injury for Donervon Daniels, has reduced Caldwell’s options in the centre of defence.  Following Buxton’s suspension Dan Burn was moved to the centre of the back line of three, with Morgan moving to the right.

With Buxton due to be available again for the match against QPR on Saturday, Caldwell might well opt for his experience on the right, with Morgan in the centre and Dan Burn on the left.  Although the manager did not include the 18 year old Luke Burke from the start at Nottingham, when the young player came on he once again looked the part. Despite his tender years he is the complete wing back. Buxton’s return could also enable Stephen Warnock to return to his more familiar position of left wing back. A return to 4-3-3 is also a possibility with a back four of Burke, Buxton, Morgan and Warnock.

A settled defence is key to Wigan’s chances of success in the Championship. Up to this point they have a record of W1 D1 L2, with a total of 4 points. Last year’s League 1 winning team had exactly the same record this time last year, as did Uwe Rosler’s team the year before which got relegated. It is simply too early in the season to predict what will happen later. Moreover both league defeats up to this point have come through goals in time added on.

In the meantime Caldwell will look at establishing a settled defence with a midfield in front of it that takes its fair share of defensive responsibilities.

Overloading the midfield

Preferred position - central midfield.

Preferred position – central midfield.

Owen Coyle had left it late, but he finally got his man on the last day of the summer transfer window in 2013. Nick Powell was 19 years old and still in Alex Ferguson’s plans. Manchester United had paid Crewe £6 million for his services in July 2012. Powell had made his debut for United just a couple of months later, scoring against Latics after coming on as a 71st minute substitute for Ryan Giggs.

“We see him as a central midfield player. Crewe played him as a forward in behind the striker, but I asked a question of [Alex director of football] Dario Gradi as to whether he thought central midfield was his position. That’s what he thinks, and Nick thinks that’s his position too, so we’re all in accord on that.”

Ferguson’s comment seemed to fall on deaf ears with Coyle, who was faced with injuries to his two main central strikers, Marc Antoine Fortune and Grant Holt. Powell was to be played as a centre forward, a position he had played earlier in his career. Over the next couple of months he was to establish himself as the club’s best striker, scoring three goals in Latics’ inaugural appearance in the Europa League. The disastrous Coyle reign ended in early December, but new manager Uwe Rosler continued to play him in the starting lineup. But niggling injuries started to take effect and Powell lost form. By the end of the season he looked a shadow of what we had seen in the short-lived Coyle era.

When Powell returned to Wigan a couple of weeks back many of us looked at his arrival as a boost for an attack so dependent on Will Grigg. Powell could step in as a centre forward, or play just behind the central striker. But in Powell’s first two matches against Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City he was played as a central midfielder.

Although it was not a position he played in during his earlier days at Wigan, Powell has already looked the part playing there. It is his preferred position, although Gary Caldwell has acknowledged that Powell offers him flexibility through being able to play in different positions. However, if Powell is to be a regular starter in central midfield, who will be giving way for him?

Last season’s central midfield lynchpins were David Perkins and Max Power. They were joined in January by Sam Morsy, who had some highly impressive displays in the “Busquets role” in front of the back four. However, the ex-Chesterfield man also had some disappointing performances. However, many of us saw the 24 year old Morsy as a player for the future, someone who could add steel to the midfield, but who was also able to spray out pinpoint passes.

It was therefore a surprise to hear rumours that Latics were trying to sell Morsy. Both Chesterfield and Sheffield United have apparently matched Wigan’s asking price of around £400,000, but Morsy remains at Wigan, for the time being at least. Morsy will surely be loath to step back down to League 1, after reaching the Championship. He is within his rights to put his foot down and refuse to move on, having two years remaining on his contract at Wigan.

But over the past couple of years we have seen what a powerful machine there is at the club in “helping”, or maybe cajoling, players into moving on. The likelihood is that Morsy will be gone soon, with Latics recently signing a replacement in Shaun MacDonald.

The main contenders for a central midfield role are now MacDonald, Perkins, Powell and Power, with Tim Chow as back up. Alex Gilbey has so far been played a more advanced role, but could also challenge for a holding role.

The term “midfielder “ these days can include wing backs and other wide players. Yanic Wildschut is what might have been described in the old days as a “winger”, nowadays labelled as a midfielder, although he can also play a twin striker role. Michael Jacobs can also be classed as a winger, although his best position is probably in the hole between the midfield and the central striker. Ryan Colclough is usually played wide, but is another who might be more effective in an advanced central midfield role. However, Latics have now signed Jordi Gomez who can operate effectively in that role. Jordan Flores is a bright young talent, also an attacking midfielder. It could be a make or break season for Flores who has struggled with the physical demands of the game, despite his excellent technique and footballing vision. Andy Kellett will provide another option when he regains fitness after surgery.

Caldwell has such a wealth of midfield talent at his disposal that some would say it is an overload. Others would say that there are 46 games to play in a Championship season and you need to rotate your midfielders to keep them fresh. However, Morsy is not likely to be alone in leaving.

Caldwell continues to search for another centre forward of the quality of Grigg. Such players cost big money and he will be looking at raising funds to pay for it. It would not be a surprise to see other players from last season’s League 1 team following Morsy out of the door. In the meantime there could be loan moves for the some of the younger midfielders on the fringes of selection.

For the moment Latics have midfielders who have proven goalscoring records. Gomez and Powell both scored goals in their previous spells at the club and last season Colclough scored 9, Wildschut 7, Jacobs 8, Power 6 and Gilbey got 5. However, Caldwell will also look at protecting his defence and it would be no surprise to see MacDonald in the “Busquets role” if Morsy departs.

The transfer window is nearing its close. Having expected Caldwell to stick with the backbone last year’s team it was notable that the starting lineup in the first league game at Bristol City included five new faces.

Even more change is on its way.