Deploying a stronger strike force

Callum McManaman could be the 20 goal striker that latics have lacked.

Callum McManaman could be the 20 goal striker that Latics have lacked.

When Uwe Rosler first arrived at Wigan he inherited a blunt strike force. Owen Coyle’s new signings just had not clicked and players remaining from the Martinez era were dogged by niggles and injuries. The shining light appeared to be provided by a loanee from Manchester United, but he was to fade as the season progressed. The end result was a forward line that just could not put away so many of the chances that were created. It was largely the lack of forward power that was to thwart Latics’ chances of getting back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Some 10 months later Rosler has a strike force which has the potential to do much more. The question is whether it can realize that potential and propel Latics into contention for promotion. Can the two new central strikers adapt to English football? Can the key players Rosler inherited from previous managers achieve full fitness and consistency?

Both Andy Delort and Oriel Riera arrive with good goalscoring credentials from last season. Delort scored 24 goals in the French second division, Riera getting 13 in La Liga for a team that was relegated. Rosler does not favour a system with two central strikers, so the two are likely to be alternated. With the physical demands of high pressing, Rosler typically substitutes the central striker some two thirds of the way through a game.

Riera continues to adapt to English football following his move from Osasuna and his best is yet to come, although he scored a fine goal against Blackpool. Delort comes with the label of an English-style centre forward, but is going to need time to get match fit.

In the meantime, Marc-Antoine Fortune, remains an option. Fortune scored a paltry 4 league goals last season, but made 6 assists. The big man from French Guiana has never been a prolific scorer, but last year’s strike rate was only around a half of his career average. Fortune remains a handful for central defenders, being strong and pacey, with a good technique.

Martyn Waghorn has had slow start to the season, but made such a favourable impression when arriving from Leicester City on loan that he secured a permanent contract at Wigan. The 24 year old Geordie scored 8 goals and made 6 assists in the 28 league starts and 5 appearances off the bench. Waghorn was typically played wide on the right, but sometimes in the hole behind the central striker. Having started out his career as a central striker it continues to be his preferred position, but he is versatile and makes a major contribution to the high pressing that Rosler seeks.

Callum McManaman has had an excellent start to the season, following the frustrations of last year when he just could not hit a consistent run of form. There are few English players who can match him for skill when he is at his best. McManaman remains just 23 years old and is such an exciting talent. The irony for Latics fans is that once McManaman adds consistency to his game he will be the target of the elite clubs that dominate English football. A transfer fee between £20m-£30m is not out of the question.

McManaman could become that 20 goal per season striker that Latics have lacked since the days of Ellington and Roberts. Last season he was usually played wide and scored three goals in 19 starts and 13 appearances off the bench. He has already exceeded last year’s goal tally with four goals in his first five league starts. Moreover the goals have been superbly executed.

It is to be hoped that McManaman can steer clear of the injuries that have impeded his progress over the past year or so. Being a flair player brings him extra attention from opposition defenders and Rosler has already publicly stated his views that the player needs due protection from referees, which at times he has not had. In recent matches Rosler has adopted the 3-5-2 formation, with McManaman able to operate in a free role upfront. That role not only gives him more of the ball, but makes it harder for defences to mark him out of the game. Playing on the wing in a 4-3-3 formation will remain an option, but if Rosler is to get the best out of his key flair player he will need to look at playing him in a role that is not so restricting.

James McClean has not featured so far due to an ankle injury sustained in pre-season training. McClean was called into Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad this week, but the manager considered him short of match fitness. McClean can be such an exciting player with his pace and aggression, but too often flattered to deceive last season. He has a career record of scoring a goal in every five appearances, but last year could only muster four goals in 25 league starts and 14 times coming on off the bench.

McClean and McManaman are different types of players, but with similar strike rates during their careers. Having had to play on the left so frequently during his career McManaman packs a strong punch with his left foot, although he favours his right. McClean showed that he can use his right foot to score goals at Ipswich last season, with a well taken goal from a cross from the right. Owen Coyle sometimes put him on the right, but he looked like duck out of water, seemingly too left footed to adjust. Rosler also tried him there without conspicuous success.

McClean cannot be faulted for effort, frequently helping out his full back and going forward on his marauding runs. At his best he adds enthusiasm to the team and can cause panic in opposition defences. The Irishman is still only 25 years old and his best is yet to come. Perhaps a switch from the left wing to the kind of free role that McManaman has been enjoying could open doors for McClean. The Irishman’s career record shows that he can score goals and make assists. If he can improve his finishing this season he will make a major impact.

Shaun Maloney can certainly score goals, as well as provide assists. Despite his lack of match fitness he has been called up for the Scotland squad to play Germany. At 31 years of age and an injury-struck career can the fan favourite make his mark on the season? Rosler certainly has him in his plans. Only time will tell if the Scot can stay fit and produce that same brand of skillful football that we have seen from him at his best. His combination with Waghorn for a beautifully engineered goal against Birmingham was a joy to see and whetted our appetites for what is to come. Maloney had spotted Waghorn’s run and laid the ball into his path for what appeared to be a simple tap-in.

Grant Holt’s future at the club remains uncertain. The player has had a nightmare time at the club and the abuse he has taken on the social media goes way beyind the norm. A fresh start at another club would appear to be the best case scenario for the player. But at 33 years of age, with his salary expectations, will it happen?

Rosler now has a much stronger strike force, with variety to match. His challenge will be in getting the best out of each of those players. With good service from midfield the strikers he has are capable of scoring lots of goals. We will then see the end of the goal drought that dogged Latics’ promotion chances last year.

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WIGAN ATHLETIC 0 MANCHESTER CITY 1 – A VALIANT DISPLAY FROM LATICS

A valiant display by Wigan Athletic, but in the end not enough to share the points. It was heartening to see the amount of fight and conviction shown by the Latics against a team way beyond their league in resources and sheer footballing talent. This was certainly no capitulation: no player could be faulted for effort from my viewpoint.

Latics switched their tactical lineup to the old 4-2-1-3 system, with Albert Crusat coming in on the left wing and James McArthur brought in to play the holding midfield role with James McCarthy. Mohamed Diame was absent on Senegal duty and David Jones out injured. Manchester City played Dzeko and Aguero up front and they were to give the Latics central defenders, Caldwell and Alcaraz, a very testing afternoon.

The first 20 minutes or so were really quite open with Wigan attacking with some verve and City promising, but not quite delivering. There was a warning sign after 10 minutes when a cross from Clichy found Dzeko unmarked, but luckily for Wigan he headed wide. It was therefore no surprise when he scored an opportunist header in the 22nd minute from Silva’s free kick. Neither Caldwell nor Alcaraz were close enough to challenge him in his leap. It was a pity to lose a goal like that because Latics had played some good football and had some half chances. Al Habsi made a great save from the dangerous Aguero as the first half was coming to an end.

The first part of the second half saw increasing City pressure, only the excellence of Al Habsi keeping them out. His double saves from Aguero, then from Silva, were absolutely outstanding. Not long after that Aguero skated through the Wigan defence, but somehow Dzeko got in his way and Wigan were let off the hook. Despite this pressure Wigan had still not thrown in the towel and seemed to grow in confidence. Watson and Di Santo were brought on to replace the tiring McArthur and Crusat and Wigan began to attack with some gusto. Their best effort came when a fine pass by Rodallega put McCarthy through, only for his cross shot to be blocked by Hart’s foot.

In the 88th minute Maynor Figueroa deliberately handled the ball when Aguero would have been clean through. He was fortunate to escape with a yellow card, although much has been made in the press since of Mancini’s cynical waving of the imaginary red card at the refereeing team. Mancini should have no complaints about the refereeing: practically every time City went down they got a foul whereas they were not afraid to stifle any attacking intent from Latics with tactical/professional fouling. City average over 12 fouls per game this season, significantly higher than those other clubs in the top six. The match stats read 17 fouls committed by Wigan and 15 by City, but those figures could have been easily reversed given the number of calls he made for 50-50 challenges, almost all of which went against Latics. Both teams finished with 3 yellow cards.

The Good

Martinez showed tactical flexibility in reverting to the old system and the lineup was well balanced. He played with three front players plus Jordi Gomez in the hole behind the centre forward. A bold move against such formidable opposition. Latics played some good football at times and, with luck, could have snatched a result in the last 20 minutes. There was certainly no capitulation and they were taking the game to City in that last quarter of the match. A spirited performance.

The Bad

The defence looked leaky throughout, despite really gritty efforts from the back four to hold back the floodgates. Having said that Dzeko and Aguero are two of the best strikers in the league and are going to cause problems for any defence. However, failing to challenge Dzeko in the air led to one goal and it was lucky it was not two in the first half.

Player Ratings

Ali Al Habsi: 9 – Another superb display. Kept Latics in the game with outstanding saves.

Ronnie Stam: 5 – Has been outstanding in recent games as a wing back, but in this game he had to revert to full back, where he struggles.

Antolin Alcaraz: 4 – The poorest game I have seen him play for Latics. We rely on him to win the ball in the air and he did not do it enough in this match.

Gary Caldwell: 4 – At times looked out of his depth. Tends to really struggle against the quality strikers of the top teams.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – Not one of his best days, but as always he hung in there and tried his hardest. Lucky not to be sent off.

James McCarthy: 8 – Worked tirelessly in shielding his defence from the City onslaught, showing good skills. Good to see him getting forward, unlucky with his shot on goal in the second half.

James McArthur: 6 – The perennial substitute was given a starting role in the Premier League for only the second time this year. Given his lack of match practice he did a pretty good job. Although he misplaced some passes he did a lot of solid defensive work and put some nice balls forward. Showed his technique with a good snap-shot in the first half.

Jordi Gomez: 7 – Worked hard to try to engineer Latics attacks. Put in some nice touches and covered a lot of ground.

Victor Moses: 5 – Was too greedy in this match, too many times opting to dribble when teammates were in better positions awaiting a pass.

Hugo Rodallega: 7 – Worked tirelessly as the lone centre forward. Gradually regaining his form.

Albert Crusat: 6 – Hardly got the ball. Looked good when he had it. Showing improvement in the defensive side of his game.

Substitutes

Ben Watson: – Surprising to see McArthur preferred to him in the starting line-up. Did a useful job after coming on in the 68th minute.

Franco Di Santo – Tried hard but to no end result after coming on in the 68th minute.

Callum McNamaman – Only came on in the last 10 minutes and had little chance to shine.

Man City 3 Wigan 0: Thumped without a whimper

Match Report: Manchester City 3 Wigan Athletic 0

We’d outlined the sheer gap in wealth between the two clubs in our match preview. Given that gulf, and looking at things from an unemotional and mathematical perspective, 3-0 in the away fixture is not the end of the world. Particularly when you consider that Spurs lost to them 5-1 at home and direct relegation rivals Swansea went down 4-0.

But these facts should not mask a limp performance from the Latics, who looked resigned to defeat before a ball was kicked. Only Ali Al-Habsi, at his brilliant best, seemed to believe a result could be obtained. He kept Latics in the match far longer than they deserved to be.

It was one of those games where you can’t really point the finger at any of the individuals. No one was shocking, but no one minus the Omani was much good either. Wigan was soundly beaten by an in-form all-star team, and if anything the scoreline was flattering to the visitors. The shame, for this writer, was the lack of belief and fight. Roberto’s men have, in the past, lost by larger margins by gambling a little more offensively, so perhaps this was a reflection of those difficult lessons and an awareness of the importance of goal difference. But as Jakarta Jack pointed out after the match, not even a yellow card was registered. While not advocating a Fat Sam-style approach, sometimes when you play a more skilled team, you do have to pull a shirt or two, break rhythm and momentum. I can’t remember one professional foul. You just can’t compete with players of that quality without disrupting them.

To be fair to Roberto, he recognized after the match that it was a poor performance. I personally think they missed Antolin Alcaraz and James McCarthy more than has been acknowledged — both inspirational performers whose all-action style galvanizes the side and gives them belief. But even if they’d found a way to keep Aguero and Silva quiet, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome with the firepower City have.

Positives:

Ali Al-Habsi. Outstanding performance complete with a penalty-save from Carlos Tevez, who has gone from big fish in a big pond, to regular fish in a very large pond, and it shows. Wigan’s keeper looks back to his best.

No suspensions or confirmed injuries. Although Emmerson Boyce was withdrawn in the second half, I haven’t seen any news confirming that he is injured. The flip side of getting no cards is that no one will be suspended for more winnable matches.

An improved Adrian Lopez. Didn’t have much protection in this match but still looked much better than his previous two. He made more important tackles than anyone else on the pitch to prevent the score from being worse. A bit clumsy in giving away the penalty. But given the news that Gohouri’s calf injury is going to keep him out at least another two weeks, Wigan needs Lopez to grow in stature, and he took a step towards that at Eastlands.

Negatives:

A weak resistance. Should have been 5-0 by half-time. Latics were lucky to escape 3-0 losers.

A Neutral Would Say:

Latics were lucky not to have lost by more.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 9 — Conceded three but couldn’t be blamed for any of them. Each of Aguero’s finishes was precise. Saved a penalty and made several other important interventions.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 — Linked well with Victor Moses on several occasions down the right.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — No real mistakes, but struggled to cope with Tevez and Aguero. I’d guess his lack of pace was the reason Mancini decided to play the two speedy Argentines up front rather than Edin Dzeko, who has been in excellent form but is the type of forward Caldwell defends quite well against.

Adrian Lopez: 6 — Gave away the penalty but was better than his previous outings, and made several very good tackles.

Figueroa: 6 — Very quiet offensively save for one excellent lofted pass for Di Santo in the first half. Struggled to cope with Adam Johnson, who beat him in one-on-one situations almost every time and fortunately had left his shooting boots at home.

Ben Watson: 6.5 — Passed the ball well enough from midfield but was outmuscled by Milner and Toure in midfield.

James McArthur: 6 — Presumably given the start to add a bit of industry to the midfield, he tried hard and did some good tackling, but could not assert himself on the game. Looked slow at times.

Mo Diame: 6 — Quiet display.

Victor Moses: 6.5 — Latics’ most inventive player, tried to take people on and make things happen, but was left frustrated.

Hugo Rodallega: 6 — Had one of Latics’ two chances, shooting at Joe Hart in the second half. Hugo is better on the left wing against weaker teams. He couldn’t beat Clichy. Ended the game as center-forward, but didn’t have too many chances.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Worked hard and made some intelligent runs, but spurned one very good opportunity in the first half after being put through by Maynor Figueroa.

Subs:

Albert Crusat: 6.5 — The game was lost by the time he was on. He got knocked off the ball fairly easily on several occasions, but looked lively and should not be judged on this baptism of fire. Looks quick and good on the ball.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Not much time to assert himself on the game. It’s a sign of how far he’s come in the first three matches of the season that I was actually sad not to see him name in the starting lineup.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Came on for Emmerson Boyce and wasn’t directly at fault for any of the goals, but the defense looked weaker when Boycey went off.

Man City vs. Wigan preview: Man City £354,000,000 – Wigan Athletic £26,500,000

A decent return of five points from three tricky opening fixtures, a positive defensive record of only one goal received, and a very successful transfer window have given Latics fans a lot of hope for the season. Unfortunately, the two trips no one wants at the moment are to the Manchester stadiums, and Eastlands is next for Roberto’s men. Manchester City’s last outing saw them humiliate Tottenham 5-1 at White Hart Lane, in what must be the London club’s heaviest home defeat in its Premier League history. New signings Aguero and Nasri appear to have turned City into genuine title-contenders — their squad is frightening, and on paper probably as strong as any other in the league. In transfer outlays, it’s probably twice as strong as the next closest.

I’m tempted to say there is nothing to lose in this one. No one expects Wigan to get a point, nevermind three. But as we learnt away to United last year, red cards to key players and high scoring losses are both things that can haunt you for the rest of the season.

The hope is that Steve Gohouri will have recovered from his groin strain to replace the uncomfortable Adrian Lopez in the centre of defense. I can’t see Lopez keeping Dzeko, Aguero, Tevez, Silva and company (not Vincent) quiet all game. There again, it’s hard to picture many centre-backs doing that, and perhaps Lopez will be more comfortable marshalling more cultured strikers than he was with the two big battering rams he’s faced so far, Grant Holt and Patrick Agyemang. Fingers crossed, but if Martinez made such a huge gamble on Alcaraz’s fitness against Swansea, he can’t have that much faith in his younger compatriot.

We’ll also be hoping Victor Moses and James McCarthy have recovered from their knocks and strains to be at their best. Judging by Roberto’s comments about the new trio, and in particular Shaun Maloney, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play some sort of role in this match. Probably best to wait for a lighter match to give Crusat his debut, and certainly no need to blood the Chelsea youngster Van Aanholt as long as Figueroa is fit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wigan start with the same eleven as against QPR (minus Gohouri, if fit), but add Maloney for Gomez or Di Santo in the second half.

The optimist in me says City will grossly underestimate us and we can go one better on last year’s excellent performance, to snatch a point. The realist says City are just too strong and the best we can hope for is a good defensive effort to keep the score low and morale high. Either way, a look at the arithmetic below makes it all feel better.

Manchester City (transfer fees, in British pounds) total, before wages, sign-on bonuses, etc:  354 million pounds

Hart: 1.5 million
Zabaleta: 6.5 million
Kompany: 6 million
Lescott: 22 million
Clichy: 7 million
Toure Yaya: 24 million
Barry: 12 million
Silva:  25 million
Nasri: 25 million
Agüero: 35 million
Dzeko: 27 million

Subs:
Pantilimon: on loan
Richards: product of youth system
Milner: 26 million
Johnson: 7 million
Savic: 6 million
Tevez: 40 million
Balotelli: 24 million

Not used:
Kolo Toure: 16 million
Bridge: 10 million
De Jong: 18 million
Kolarov: 16 million

Wigan Athletic (transfer fees, in British pounds) total, before wages, sign-on bonuses, etc:  26.5 million pounds.

Al-Habsi: 4 million
Boyce: 1 million
Caldwell: 0.5 million
Lopez: free agent
Figueroa: undisclosed, but thought to be less than 1 million
Watson: 2 million
Diame: 3 million
Jordi Gomez: 1.7 million
Moses: 2.5 million
Rodallega: 4.5 million
Di Santo: 2 million

Subs:
Kirkland: undisclosed, possibly free
Stam; 2million
McArthur: 0.5 million
Thomas: undisclosed, estimated at 1 million
Jones: free
McCarthy: 1.2 million
Sammon: 0.6 million

Not Used:
Alcaraz: free, out of contract
Gohouri: free, out of contract
McManaman, product of youth system