Will injuries haunt Caldwell?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Roberto Martinez had bad luck with injuries in his final season at Wigan. Will Gary Caldwell prove more fortunate in his promotion push?

Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis are now playing for UD Las Palmas and Eibar in the Primera Division of La Liga. Both were fine centre backs in their time, strong in defence and comfortable on the ball.  In fact they were the kinds of players that Roberto Martinez liked to have in the centre of his defence.

Ramis was signed from Real Mallorca in the summer of 2012, to supplement the centre of defence of a team that had beaten the best in England in the final months of the previous season.  Alcaraz had starred in that run, playing in a backline of three with Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa. Ramis had a fine record in La Liga and looked an excellent signing by Martinez. The squad that Martinez had built up was probably the strongest Wigan Athletic had had in their history. Our hopes were high as the season approached.

The Paraguayan and Spaniard played together in the centre of defence for the first three games of the season, a 2-0 home loss to Chelsea being followed by an away win by the same margin at Southampton and a resounding 4-1 League Cup victory at Nottingham Forest. But that was to be the last match in which they featured together. Alcaraz had picked up an injury and did not return to first team action until February. In his absence Ramis stablished himself as a regular, solid in defence, with excellent distribution.  Sadly Ramis’ season was to end in January when he picked up an anterior cruciate knee injury at Fulham.

Injuries to key players were to be the main factor in Wigan Athletic’s relegation from the Premier League that season. Indeed by the time the FA Cup Final came in May, Martinez was deprived of not only Ramis, but also of fellow central defenders Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa and wing back Jean Beausejour. Midfielders Roger Espinoza and James McArthur were to be employed as wing backs, with a back three of Alcaraz, Emmerson Boyce and Paul Scharner. But, not surprisingly, the energy dissipated in that fabulous victory was to be lacking three days later when the 4-1 defeat at Arsenal sent Latics to the Championship.

Neither Alcaraz nor Ramis was able to reach their peak form again in the future. Martinez was to take Alcaraz with him to Everton, but the big Paraguayan was to struggle with injury and poor form, his release at the end of last season proving no surprise. Following a long period of recuperation Ramis had some good moments under Owen Coyle and Uwe Rosler, but niggling injuries were to constantly plague him. He was subsequently released by Malky Mackay in January 2015 to join Levante in La Liga.

Both UD Las Palmas and Eibar would have known of the two players’ injury issues prior to signing them this summer. Each signed a one year deal.  They are clearly calculated gambles by newly promoted clubs looking for experienced central defenders to do a short term job for them in a highly competitive league. Up to this point Alcaraz has played in all five league games for UD and Ramis in the first four for Eibar.

Gary Caldwell’s acquisition of Kevin McNaughton was also a calculated gamble. McNaughton has been a fine player in his time in the Premier League and Championship, but injury meant he only made 9 appearances for Bolton Wanderers last season. The 32 year old had fallen out of favour with Neil Lennon who had been critical of the player’s fitness. McNaughton’s his misery was compounded by a fractured fibula at the beginning of March in a match against Reading. It had been his first start since October. McNaughton is on a one year contract at Wigan.

Given the return to Everton of Jonjoe Kenny following a two month loan, Caldwell will be hoping that McNaughton will make a swift recovery from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the Gillingham game a month ago. In the meantime he will either look for an out-of-contract or loan signing to provide further cover at right back/wing back, although midfielders Tim Chow and Max Power have experience in that position.

Caldwell took a bigger gamble in signing the 29 year old Craig Davies from Bolton on a two year contract. The big striker has had his fill of injury problems in his career, but none more than last season when he was restricted to just three starts from the turn of the year following a succession of hamstring problems.

After a series of excellent displays Davies missed the Fleetwood match with a hamstring injury. However, Caldwell explained to Wigan Today that:

“We knew his history when we signed him, and I have to say the fitness coaches and the physios have done magnificent with him. The actual injury he has now is on the other leg and is very minor for a hamstring injury. We’re looking after him very well and I’m sure he’ll be back stronger than ever.”

At his best, Davies is surely among the top central strikers in League 1. The question is whether he can overcome his hamstring problems and stay fit.

Other than McNaughton and Davies, Latics were also without Will Grigg, Francisco Junior, Craig Morgan and Haris Vuckic and for the Fleetwood game.

Grigg has torn ligaments in his elbow and missed the Fleetwood match after previously being away for international duty.  Morgan damaged his shoulder against Crewe on August 29th and Vuckic injured his ankle at Port Vale.

Junior has not played for a month due to a muscle injury, having been substituted at half time at Gillingham.

All of the six would surely challenge for a place in the starting line-up were they fit.

Injuries can make or break a club’s season, as Martinez found out in 2012-13.

It is to be hoped that Caldwell will have more good fortune in this regard than his ex-boss. Given their recent history Davies and McNaughton will have a challenge on their hands to regain their fitness and maintain it over the course the season. Caldwell and his coaches know that and will carefully monitor the two players’ fitness.

In the meantime Caldwell will be hoping that there will be no long term injuries to key players this season. Latics have had more than their fair share of those over recent years. Maybe the pendulum will turn in their favour this time around?

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Wigan Athletic v Swansea City Preview

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Following a nail-biting win at West Bromwich, Wigan Athletic entertain Swansea City at the DW Stadium on Tuesday evening. Since the Welsh team’s return to the top flight, Latics have been unable to beat them. The Swans won their last match at the DW with two beautifully taken goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson in March 2012.

Wigan desperately need to win this game, but can expect to meet resistance from a stubborn Swansea outfit. Michael Laudrup has kept up the good work of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez at the Welsh club. They continue to play that silky kind of football the Latics boss put in place there, but under Laudrup they can also play with a more pragmatic and direct approach.

The Swans have had some difficult recent fixtures against top teams and have not won for the last seven league matches. However, they still remain in 9th place and will be hungry to get a good result.

Both Latics and Swansea go into this game without key players due to hamstring injuries. Jean Beausejour is a major loss for Wigan, an unsung player  who covers huge distances each game, covering his defence and stretching the opposition defences by receiving the ball wide. He has provided an amazing 7 assists this year, putting him on a par with attacking midfield players like David Silva and Santi Cazorla.

Miguel Perez, better known as Michu, is unavailable for the visitors, probably for the remainder of the season.  Previously a midfield player, Swansea have converted him into a striker to such effect that he has scored 17 league goals in his first season in England.

Latics fans will be hoping that Antolin Alcaraz will be able to make his return  following the hamstring injury he picked up at West Ham. He has been badly missed in the Latics rearguard over the past couple of weeks.

Roberto Martinez’ dilemma will be who to play on the left of his defence. With both Maynor Figueroa and Jean Beausejour unavailable, he does not have a natural replacement.  Roger Espinoza substituted for Beausejour in that position on Saturday. Espinoza is always brimming with enthusiasm and he has no mean level of skill, but the left of defence is not his forte.

One wonders if David Jones might be available to take over now that his loan spell with Blackburn has been completed? Jones has played in the position before and his height can be useful when defending set pieces.

Given  the absence of an orthodox left back, Martinez will probably opt for a back three and wing backs.  If Alcaraz is back he will join Paul Scharner, plus one other in central defence. Young Roman Golobart came on in the second half at West Bromwich, although he looked nervous in that pressure cooker atmosphere.   Emmerson  Boyce could play in the centre of defence, allowing Ronnie Stam to return as right wing back. Stam continues to promise as an attacker, but his defensive work can leave much to be desired.

Gary Caldwell should not be forgotten. Although said to be continuing to struggle with his hip injury, the captain made a return at West Ham, only to be consigned to the bench for the past couple of games. He might well be back before the end of the season, but one wonders if he will be risked against a pacey Swansea side.

Given the congested fixture list coming up, Martinez might use more of his squad players. Ben Watson made a return on Saturday, following the broken leg he suffered in November. Martinez used him in a hybrid role, part holding midfield and part central defender. Watson did not do badly, but his lack of pace was exposed when the midlanders broke away for their first goal.

If Martinez does opt to play someone in that position he might go with the more speedy James McCarthy. Moreover he might not want to risk Watson for a second game in three days, following his long lay-off.

Martinez will be wary of burnout for young Callum McManaman and it can be expected that Franco Di Santo will either start or come on at a key stage in the match.

Robert Martinez is hopeful of winning his 150th Premier League game at Wigan on Tuesday. His challenge will be in finding the right lineup and in getting the best out of his players with Wembley coming up on Saturday.

This is not an easy match and the nerves will be jangling. The support and patience of the home crowd will be crucial. It could go down to the wire.

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Wigan Athletic v Tottenham Preview – Can Caldwell do it?

Tomorrow Wigan Athletic face a  resurgent Tottenham side currently in fifth position, desperate to reach the top four and thereby gain a place in the lucrative Champions League. Very difficult opposition for a team like Wigan, in the relegation zone.

The nerves will be jangling for both Latics and Spurs, with so much at stake for the two clubs, at opposite ends of the table. The odds favour Tottenham, who have caused Wigan so much damage in  previous years. No Latics supporter will forget the horrible 9-1 drubbing at White Hart Lane three seasons ago. However, they will also point to stoic performances, which produced 1-0 wins at that compact London stadium in November of this season and in August two years earlier. Wigan have surprised the Spurs before and can do it again.

The loss of Antolin Alcaraz – for what looks like three weeks – is a body blow for Wigan. The question is whether Gary Caldwell can step up to the plate and make a seamless transition. This time last year Caldwell’s form was a revelation and it led to a player, who had many fierce critics among the fans, being voted ‘Player of the Year’.  Can he do it again this year?

Alcaraz had been building up a defensive partnership with Paul Scharner. With the two together the aerial threat of the opposition had diminished and the defence had conceded a lower proportion of goals than over previous months.

Caldwell will have to forge an understanding with Scharner, not an easy matter, given the Austrian’s maverick tendencies. The interaction of those two strong personalities will prove pivotal in Latics’ attempts to avoid that trap door of relegation.

Despite his frustrating ways, Scharner has already proved to be an excellent January loan signing. Wigan fans cannot help but warm to his effort, his  excellent interceptions and his technique in the tackle. We are told that Paul Jewell never really trusted him as a central defender, but Scharner has always had the skills to excel in the position. However, years after Jewell’s reign, doubts still remain of the Austrian’s ability to be a reliable team player.

Providing Caldwell and Scharner can forge a strong partnership Latics will approach their remaining games with a strong defensive backbone. It is going to be particularly crucial tomorrow. Dealing with Bale and co is never easy, but Wigan have done it successfully before and can do it again.

Gary Caldwell has had a difficult season, having been dogged by niggling injuries. Fans have rarely seen him at his best. This is the time for him to show what he can do. He has shown himself capable in the past and much will depend on his performances.

Roberto Martinez will certainly consider the opposition when he decides on his lineup. Given that Tottenham are likely to start with a lone striker – Jermain Defoe or Emmanuel Adebayor – he may well revert to a conventional back four. This would push Jean Beausejour into a left wing position. Up front he can choose between Franco Di Santo and Callum McManaman, to join Arouna Kone. Jordi Gomez will most likely continue to operate as a midfield anchor, although Martinez might think of putting in James McArthur to neutralize the threat of the Tottenham midfield.He might also consider packing the midfield by including the two of them with James McCarthy.

A tough game for Wigan, with the odds stacked against them. However, Wigan Athletic have proved their resilence, time after time. Providing there is strength in the centre of defence, an upset is by no means impossible. Believe Latics!

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Alcaraz injury blows away Latics

West ham

Injury forced Antolin Alcaraz to leave the field after 15 minutes. Up to that point Wigan Athletic had taken the game to the home team and looked confident and composed.  The psychology changed after the Paraguayan went off. Once again, playing the better football, Wigan were to come  home pointless.

Roberto Martinez had brought back Gary Caldwell in defence and Callum McManaman in attack. Maynor Figueroa was moved to left wing back and Franco Di Santo  was  left on the bench.

The result hinged on crucial moments, Alcaraz’ injury foremost.  Early in the first half Shaun Maloney had been put through with a one on one with Jussi Jaaskelainan, but the goalkeeper blocked his shot. West Ham were to score a scrappy goal after 30 minutes when Matt Jarvis put in a centre that eluded everybody, including Robles in the Wigan goal. It went in somehow.

Following Alcaraz’ exit Wigan’s defence were all at sea and West Ham could have scored more goals before the half time whistle blew. Jean Beausejour had come on for Alcaraz, with Maynor Figueroa reverting to central defence from wing back. Wigan supporters would have been glad to hear the half time whistle, with their team just one behind.

Wigan came out with resolve after the break, taking the game to the home team. The second  crucial moment of the match was to come  came after 70 minutes.  James McArthur’s shot was parried by Jaaskelainan but somehow eluding Arouna Kone at the far post.

No matter how much Wigan dominated the second half goals eluded them, with West Ham packed in defence.

West Ham were to seal the game with another “Bolton goal”  Somehow Andy Carroll’s speculative volley  found Kevin Nolan who deflected the ball in. Wigan attacked constantly but could not score. They had 63% of the possession in the match.

The Good

These matches are always set on a knife-edge. Latics had attacked the hosts from the start. They  were there to win the game. Had Maloney’s shot gone in it would have been a different ball game. Then if McArthur’s effort in the second half had been put away, who knows what might have happened?

In the second half West Ham had dropped deep, to protect their lead. Wigan’s effort could not be faulted. They tried hard but could not scale that brick-wall West Ham defence.

The Bad

Antolin Alcaraz has proved to be the cornerstone of Latics’ revival in recent weeks.  He has been superb since he came back, making a huge difference to the defence. When he went off today, Wigan visibly wilted. It was to be the turning point of the match.

One hopes Alcaraz will be back. Otherwise Wigan’s central defence will be lacking its best player. It could be the key factor that determines their status in the Premier League.

Player Ratings

Joel Robles: 7 – could be faulted with that scrappy opening goal, but so could the defence. Looks a very good young goalkeeper.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – cannot be faulted for effort and commitment.

Antolin Alcaraz: injured and substituted aftger 15 minutes.

Paul Scharner: 6 –could not stamp his mark on the game.

Gary Caldwell: 5 – a less than auspicious return for the captain.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 – his poor final pass or shooting killed a number of promising moves.

James McCarthy: 6 – not up to his usual level, but worked hard as always.

Jordi Gomez: 5 – ineffective. Should have been substituted at half time when McManaman went off.

Callum McManaman: 5 – peripheral. Taken off at half time.

Arouna Kone: 6 – hard to understand how he was not in place to slot McArthur’s effort home after Jaaskelainan’s parry. Worked hard, but found the Hammers defence tough.

Shaun Maloney: 7 – tried to get things moving in the second half. Lots of good touches, but with no end result.

Substitutes:

Jean Beausejour: 5 – came on for Alcaraz after 15 minutes, but not at his best.

James McArthur: 7– came on after half time. Helped Wigan gain the midfield.

Franco Di Santo: – brought on too late after 86 minutes.

QPR v Wigan Athletic Preview – Keep Grinding, Latics!

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Joel Robles – the young Spanish goalkeeper is key to Wigan’s hopes tomorrow at Loftus Road.

Around this time last year the great revival started. Wigan Athletic were to not only beat the elite, but to beat them on merit, through champagne football, winning 7 of the last 9 games. Before the revival started we saw an awful performance from Latics at Loftus Road in January, with Queens Park Rangers winning 3-1. Somehow QPR managed to stay up, but by the skin of their teeth. Given the upturn in recent results for Wigan Athletic can we expect a better result in tomorrow’s key encounter at Loftus Road? Some champagne football, even?

Wigan Athletic come into this game after gaining 6 priceless points from home games against Newcastle and Norwich, following a momentous 3-0 win at Everton in the FA Cup. Only one goal has been conceded in these last three matches and late goals have sealed the league wins. Last week Norwich did not force Joel Robles to make a single save, such was the quality of the Wigan defence. In those home games champagne football was a scarce commodity, but the results have been just what the doctor ordered. Latics ground both Newcastle and Norwich down, restricting them, then delivering the hammer blow.

“Must win” is a term that is banded about too freely. Wigan supporters have seen their team lose “must win” games, but nevertheless survive. If this game is a must win for one of the teams tomorrow , then it must be more so for QPR. They lie 8 points adrift with only 7 games left. Even a draw would put them under great pressure in the matches that remains. A draw would not be ideal for Wigan, but it would help keep them afloat. Put simply, this is a more crucial game for QPR than for Latics.

Roberto Martinez deserves credit for sticking his neck out and rewarding the players who helped the club reach the FA Cup semi final. Ali Al Habsi and Gary Caldwell were pivotal in last year’s revival, but they are now on the bench. How times can change. The upturn in results coincides, not for the first time, with the return from injury of Antolin Alcaraz. His recent performances have been a revelation and one wonders what league position Wigan would be in now, if he had been available all season. His central defensive partnership with Paul Scharner has been the centrepiece of recent performances.

Joel Robles is clearly a very capable young goalkeeper, tall and dominant. It was never going to be easy to step into the shoes of fans’ favourite, Ali Al Habsi, but he has handled it well so far. The Omani has not been in the same form this season that he showed previously. However, he is such a capable goalkeeper that his time will come again. For the moment Robles is first choice. The defence has managed to shield Robles up to this point, but tomorrow could well prove to be the acid test for him. His performance could well be the main factor that helps decide the result.

Harry Redknapp refuses to accept that QPR will go down. Looking at the real quality players they have in their squad they should be able to stay up. However, like Wigan they have a penchant for throwing away good results through appalling defensive errors. Tomorrow’s result might well depend on which defence gives it away, rather than which team plays better.

Wigan will probably field an unchanged lineup, although there is a possibility that James McArthur will replace Jordi Gomez in the holding midfield role. Although he made the pass for Arouna Kone’s goal against Norwich, Gomez did not have a good game.

With the FA Cup semi final coming up next weekend, this game comes at a difficult time for Latics. Wembley is sure to be in their players’ heads, although Martinez will surely emphasise the need for a good result tomorrow.

QPR have a wealth of good players to choose from. At their best they could thump Wigan. However, they are in deep trouble and they are playing a team that has a good record against relegation rivals. It is one of those matches that is very hard to predict: it could be a stalemate or even a spectacular result for either team. As far as Wigan are concerned, grinding out another result though strong defence, is probably the way to go. Keep grinding, Latics!

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