Resistance broken

Roberto Martinez was on the money when he said Wigan Athletic would need to be tactically perfect against defending champions Manchester City — a soft goal halfway through the second half was the difference in this one.

James Milner added a wonder strike two minutes later but probably wouldn’t have gambled on a shot from that far out without the one-nil cushion. It gave City the confidence to attack with verve against a Wigan side that had until that point looked both resilient in defence and composed in attack.

The Good:

The makeshift defence performed admirably. Adrian Lopez was a revelation and is clearly well-suited to a back three. The midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Dave Jones was excellent, as was Franco Di Santo, who skillfully and energetically led a number of breakaways.

All in all, given the injury crisis the club is going through, this was a positive performance against a team full of match-winners. If you’d pulled four starters and several other senior players out of the squad three years ago, it would have guaranteed a hammering. Not so anymore.

The Bad:

A missed opportunity. City were starting to grow frustrated and Wigan were growing in confidence. Al-Habsi’s mistake was his second in two matches. You can get away with it against Reading — just — but not Manchester City. It was effectively game over.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 5 — Though it pains me to say it, but his mistake led to the goal that changed the game.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Could have done better after Ali spilled, loses a point for that. But he was otherwise excellent in his old position.

Adrian Lopez: 8 — A revelation in the Gary Caldwell role. No fault in the goals, made numerous timely interceptions and tackles, and distributed well.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — One near disastrous backwards header aside, he did well alongside unfamiliar defensive partners.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Played one delicious cross in the second half but otherwise failed to have a strong impact on the game.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Rusty. Struggled to get his ball into the box. But he shows promise and could be very useful in the right wingback role in weeks to come. Especially as Boyce appears to be set for an extended run at centre-back.

James McCarthy: 8 — Outstanding. Didn’t put a foot wrong all game. Broke up play and started counter-attacks.

David Jones: 7.5 — His best outing for some time. Good passing, strong tackling.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Better in the first half, although casual at times. Might have had a penalty shout but stayed on his feet and then went down under lesser contact. Faded as the game went on.

Franco Di Santo: 8 — Broke up play, broke with pace, created opportunities, but often found himself alone.

Arouna Koné: 7 — Linked up well but couldn’t put away any of the half-chances he had.

Subs:

James McArthur: Glad to see him back.

Callum McManaman: Came on with a minute to play for Ronnie Stam. A bit late.

Chelsea reaction: The good, the bad and the player ratings

Each week, after the dust has settled, we’ll be taking a look back on the latest Wigan Athletic result. This week, we examine the lessons from the 2-0 home loss to Chelsea. If you missed our match report, please check it out here.

The Good:

1. Momentum: Despite the wooden start, Latics played in very much the same flowing style and tactical shape as they ended last season. Even the most optimistic of us had felt there was a possibility the team would lose their momentum, or that Roberto might revert to his previously preferred 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formation. Rustiness and fitness issues aside, the XI on the pitch looked no weaker than last season — while the seven on the bench looked stronger.

2. Maynor Figueroa, the wingback: While the signing of Ivan Ramis provides necessary cover and competition for the established back three, this match confirms it does the same at left wingback. Jean Beausejour remains untouchable when fit, a specialist in his position whose form swung Latics fortunes last season. But Maynor proved on Sunday that he is an excellent option, far more suited that the willing, but ill-suited Dave Jones, who filled the position before Beausejour’s arrival in January. His through ball for Franco Di Santo in the first half was particularly impressive — great vision.

3. Depth: Players like Ryo Miyaichi, Ronnie Stam and Callum McManaman weren’t even on the bench. Nouha Dicko was allowed to leave for a season-long loan at Blackpool. How far we’ve come in the last few years.

4. Statistics: While  we concede that Chelsea were 2-0 up for almost 90% of the match, Wigan were as good or better than them for most of the game. Latics enjoyed 7 corners to Chelsea’s 1, 15 goal attempts to Chelsea’s 6, and 52% possession of the ball.

The Bad:

1. Baptism of fire for Ivan: Having been turned a little too easily by Eden Hazard in midfield in the build-up to the first goal, the defender then lunged at the French attacker in the box, giving away a penalty minutes later. Rough start, but he improved as the match went on.

2. Injuries: Both Shaun Maloney and James McArthur had to be withdrawn with niggles. It has since been reported that they should be fit to play Southampton this weekend, but the McArthur back issue in particular has the potential to continue flaring up if he doesn’t get adequate rest and treatment.

3. Opportunity lost: With a better start, Latics might have gotten something out of this game. Chelsea were good on the break, but wouldn’t have been playing on the break quite as much if they hadn’t taken that early lead.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6 — Didn’t have much to do other than retrieve the ball from the back of his net.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — A little rusty in the first half but got better as the game went on, and even contributed the attacking effort in the second.

Gary Caldwell: 7 — Good display from the captain, steady in defense and strong in distribution.

Ivan Ramis: 5 — The early mistakes ultimately cost Latics the points, but there was much to like about his reaction to them. Should prove a good addition once settled.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Looked instantly comfortable in the left-wingback role.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Strong and steady when defending, delivered some quality crosses in the first half.

James McArthur: 6 — Did okay despite a bit of rust, before being withdrawn due to a recurrence of his back injury.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Very strong in midfield, rarely gave the ball away, great range of passing. We only wish he would shoot more often.

Shaun Maloney: 7.5 — Excellent in the first half, creative, energetic and positive.

Victor Moses: 7 — Gave the Chelsea fullbacks a torrid time when he ran at them. A few poor crosses but a few excellent ones as well, plus a snapshot from an impossible angle that troubled Peter Cech in the first half. Hope he stays.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Got into some good positions but headed narrowly over early on and took a heavy touch after being sent through by Figueroa late in the first half.

Subs:

Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Latics did lose some of their positivity when Maloney went off, but Jordi was fairly involved, drew fouls for the team, and might have scored on several occasions.

Arouna Koné: 7 — His first few touches were nervy, but he kept the ball and his movement was hugely promising. He got on the end of two or three crosses and almost scored from each of them.

Ben Watson: 6 — A little rusty as many of his teammates, didn’t contribute an immense amount but didn’t let anyone down either.

Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea 2: Fatal five minutes mask a promising display

There was a time, not long ago, when conceding two goals in the first few minutes against a top six side almost guaranteed a hammering. Indeed, Chelsea have inflicted two such high-scoring morale wreckers in the last three years. Say what you will about the first five minutes in yesterday’s season opener, this team is lights years ahead of where it was, even a single year ago.

If you’d picked up the match seven minutes in (and ignored the scoreboard), you would have witnessed a pleasing first-half display of cultured possession football. Crosses were flying in from both sides of the pitch, Victor Moses was enjoying himself, the midfield looked comfortable, and but for a heavy first touch, Di Santo might have scored.

Unfortunately, as Roberto did in his post-match interviews, we must acknowledge those hapless opening exchanges. The match had barely gotten underway when Eden Hazard skilfully — but all too easily — turned Ivan Ramis near the midfield circle and found Branislav Ivanovic with a perfect through ball down the right wing. Chased by Figueroa, who was playing at left wing-back rather than his customary left centre-back position due to an injury to Jean Beausejour, the Chelsea fullback finished coolly past Al-Habsi to make it 1-0. Moments later, Chelsea’s marquee summer signing was causing panic once again, tempting Ramis into a lunge in the penalty box. Referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot and Frank Lampard rarely misses.

It was a tough start for the Spanish centre-back, who is not only adapting to a new country and culture, but a new tactical system with three centre-backs, and faster pace of play. All only a week or so after joining the club, and against the defending European Champions. Midfielders and strikers often get the benefit of being given 15-20 minutes at the end of the match to bed in, as new Ivorian striker Arouna Koné did later on. For Ramis, it was straight into the fire. But he improved as the game went on, and indeed cleared off the line brilliantly to deny Fernando Torres a second-half goal. Despite the mistakes — which were not characteristic of his game in Spain — he showed enough to suggest that once adapted, he will be a good addition.

Jean Beausejour missed his first match through injury since signing for the club in January. In his place, Maynor Figueroa performed well enough to suggest we now have cover, not only for the three centre-back positions, but for the wing-backs on both sides as well. Emmerson Boyce, down the right, was great and just seems to get better with age.

Much of Wigan’s momentum was lost when Shaun Maloney had to be withdrawn with a groin injury early in the second half. Roberto has since admitted both Maloney and MacArthur were taken off with little niggles as a precaution rather than due to serious injuries. Jordi Gomez, Maloney’s replacement, drew fouls and got himself in good positions, but ultimately failed with his finishing. Ben Watson, on for MacArthur, looked a little rusty but is a fine option from the bench. Neither of them filled the void left by Maloney, who along with Moses, has become our creative spark.

Things started to turn Chelsea’s way and a third goal looked likely. But some exciting end-to-end stuff produced Ramis’ aforementioned goal-line clearance and a surging Victor Moses run and cross down the other end. By then Arouna Koné had come on for his Wigan debut, and showed great promise with a trio of decent half-chances. He immediately appeared to have what Di Santo lacks — the movement and instincts necessary to know where to be when a cross comes into the box. Di Santo has just about everything else, but seldom gets on the end of crosses to head, poke, prod, or hammer home.

Wigan finished the match in the ascendancy and were quite unlucky not to emerge goalless. The usual questions will emerge about profligacy in front of goal, but Chelsea won the Champions League on the back of excellent defending (and a healthy slice of luck). They are not easy to break down.

All things considered, this was an encouraging performance. News outlets have of course focused on Hazard and Chelsea’s exciting new strikeforce, but Latics enjoyed more possession, created 15 goal attempts to Chelsea’s six, seven corners to the visitors’ one. The boys played in much the same way they ended last season — minus the defensive intensity in those first few minutes — and the news signings got a game under their belts.

Southampton promises to be a tricky fixture after their near-miss at the Etihad on Sunday. But if we play the way we did for 80 minutes, we’ll be in with a good chance to notch our first points of the season. Stay tuned for The Good, The Bad and Player Ratings, coming soon.

Wigan Athletic 0 Fulham 2: Robbed again, but keeping the faith

Quite how Fulham beat us on Saturday is beyond me. Nine corners for Wigan, none for Fulham. Nineteen goal attempts Latics, Cottagers six. We have yet again been punished for the failure to convert our chances. But how many more games will go by in which the law of averages does not apply? How many times more can we possibly hit the post without it bouncing in, taking a slight deflection, or falling to one of our strikers to tap in. How many more corners until we get a lucky bounce? How many more bone-crunching tackles from the opposition before the referee sends one of them off?

We just can’t buy a goal. Victor Moses has to go down in history as one the most unfortunate attackers to set foot in the league. Sure, he is a raw young talent, an erratic finisher who would benefit from a cooler head. But he alone has hit the post 4-5 times already. Time and time again, he gets past his marker with such power and pace, but is denied against all odds by a lunging defender, an inspired keeper, or the woodwork. He was scoring for fun in pre-season. The Gods of the Premier League just aren’t smiling on him. Surely his reward will come soon?

Then there’s Roberto. I thought he made the right decision in sticking with the XI who performed so admirably against Newcastle. He was forced to substitute his most talented midfielder in the first five minutes after some cynical and targeted tackling, particularly that of Steve Sidwell, which typically went unpunished. He eventually brought Di Santo on for Crusat, who was probably tiring. But with one substitute left, still trailing by a goal, the Stam-for-Boyce substitution is infuriating. It’s not that Stam is a bad player, but he had Shaun Maloney and Conor Sammon on the bench. If you don’t throw them on in that situation, when do you?

That said, I don’t blame Roberto’s tactics for this loss, or the one at Newcastle, or so many others. If either of the shots that hit the post had gone in, we would have probably gone on to win. We were after all, the better side.

I suppose it is better to go on an 8-match losing streak in the beginning of the season than towards the end. But if it doesn’t stop in these next couple fixtures, we will have a serious mountain to climb. December and January look to be cruel months on the fixture list. If we go into them in the bottom three, I can’t see us getting out. November is a big, big month.

I’m keeping the faith. Confidence breeds luck, and we have neither at the moment. But if we get a bit of it, everything else is in place for a decent run of results against Wolves, Blackburn and Sunderland. Seven points from those three would propel us into mid-table. And the bottom half of the table is weak. Bolton and Blackburn have continued their mediocrity. Wolves look frail, Swansea and Norwich are doing okay but will find the second half of the season challenging. Sunderland probably have too much quality to get stuck down there, but do look dodgy. Lets go win at Wolves.

A Neutral Would Say

Wigan dominated but got hit on the break. Twice.

Player Ratings

Al Al-Habsi: 6 —  Might have done better with the second goal. Everyone, including him, assumed Dembele would pass wide to Dempsey rather than shoot.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Caught out of position for the first goal by a very good Danny Murphy pass. Couldn’t catch Dembele. Showed some good interplay with Victor Moses down right flank.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Latics didn’t need to do much defending, but still conceded two goals, so it’s hard to give him anything more than a six. Will miss the next match due to accumulation of yellow cards.

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Outrun by Dempsey for the first goal. Otherwise solid.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Tricky to grade him. Had his best attacking game in a long time, with some mazy runs and a tremendous left-footed shot that struck the post. But should have cleared in the build-up to the second goal instead of trying to pass his way out of trouble.

Ben Watson: 7 — Decent match for Wigan’s quarterback. So unlucky with an excellent volleyed effort in the first half, tipped over the bar by Schwarzer. Latics controlled possession, which was largely down to his distribution.

Mo Diame: N/A — What a shame. Only on the pitch for the opening minutes after two bad tackles ended his afternoon. Sidwell should have been cautioned. Lets hope it’s a speedy recovery as he is the only Wigan player to have scored a non-deflected goal, or a penalty, this season.

David Jones: 7 — Decent passing from midfield, another good shift. Lots of room for improvement on set pieces though.

Albert Crusat: 7 — Really lively and positive, delivered a range of crosses before making way for Di Santo.

Victor Moses: 8 — Outstanding performance full of invention and running. Saw a gorgeous volley crash off the crossbar in the second half. Was involved in all Wigan’s attacking play.

Hugo Rodallega: 6 — No real chances for Hugo in this one.

Subs:

James McArthur: 6 — Came on for Diame and worked hard, with some neat passing, but did not offer the penetration Diame is capable of.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Came on in centre-forward role but did not make a big impact.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Joined the attack as instructed, but his crosses were generally cleared without complication.