Barnsley Preview – The Pressure is on

Fresh from their hard-earned FA Cup victory at Cardiff, Wigan Athletic are due to entertain Barnsley tomorrow in their 43rd game of the season. What’s more is that three difficult away games follow for Rosler’s men who seek promotion to the Premier League and further progress in the Cup.

At first glance Barnsley at home does not appear to be the most difficult task ahead. Owen Coyle enjoyed his most successful result at Wigan after giving the Tykes a 4-0 hammering on the first day of the season. Barnsley remain anchored in the bottom three with only one away win all season.  A win for Latics would appear a formality.

However, Uwe Rosler’s side have not performed well against teams closer to the lower end of table. The elation of away wins at promotion-chasing Derby and Reading has been tempered by defeats at Doncaster and Huddersfield.  Moreover it will be Wigan’s fifth match in eighteen days in the month of February. The victory at Cardiff means that the difficult home match against league leaders Leicester City will have to be rearranged, creating even more fixture congestion.

But thanks to some astute dealings in the loan and transfer market Rosler has a strong and well balanced squad at his disposal. The German has already shown that he can successfully operate a rotation policy, achieving results. The quality in depth within the squad is such that Rosler could choose an entirely different starting eleven tomorrow and still have a good chance of beating Barnsley.

Rosler wisely rested the dependable Leon Barnett on Saturday. The ex-Norwich man has played 40 matches so far this season, much more than any other player. However, the lack of cover for the central defensive positions has now been alleviated by the signing of Markus Holgerrson and the return from injury of Ivan Ramis and Thomas Rogne. Given that strength in numbers Rosler might be tempted to play a backline of three, especially against teams whose main mode of play is putting high balls into the box. Moreover it would free up Emmerson Boyce and Jean Beausejour to play in their best positions as wing backs.

Following a successful return at Cardiff, Ramis will be rested tomorrow. Rosler has already said that the Spaniard is not yet up to playing more than one game a week. Barnett will almost certainly return, but Boyce is likely to be rested, meaning a possible debut for Holgerrson, although Rogne is also a possibility. Rosler has also talked about giving Lee Nicholls a chance and this might be the one for the young goalkeeper.

Ben Watson went off injured at Cardiff, but James McArthur will be ready to return. Josh McEachran will be pushing for a start in midfield, as will Roger Espinoza.

Both Martyn Waghorn and Nicky Maynard are due to return after being cup-tied and fans will be hoping that Nick Powell is fit after missing the last five matches. Although still only 19 years old, Powell has started in 25 matches this season and come off the bench in five, scoring 10 goals. Rosler is aware of the physical demands on the young man and will try to get the best use out of the highly talented player, without overstretching him.

With tricky away matches at Brighton and Nottingham Forest looming, Latics will be keen to claim the three points available from the Barnsley game. Rosler is looking at an average of two points per game until the end of the regular season to get in to a playoff berth. Failure to beat Barnsley would make that difficult over the three league games which precede the FA Cup 6th round match at Manchester City.

The pressure is on and the coming weeks will be a test of resolve for Rosler, but he has the squad to cope with what is coming up, providing injuries keep to a minimum. Beating Barnsley tomorrow will be a step in the right direction.

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Post Match Reaction: Barnsley 0 Wigan Athletic 4 – Coyle’s revolution takes a firm step forward


 Owen Coyle’s revolution at Wigan Athletic took a firm step forward on Saturday with a rousing win at Barnsley. Not only was the result impressive, but Latics did it in such a style that it will send shockwaves to all teams in the Championship who consider themselves promotion contenders.

In a short amount of time Coyle has built on the style of play that was developed over a period of four years by his predecessor, Roberto Martinez. That silky approach is still very visible, but this Latics side can also mix its possession football  with a directness that adds an extra dimension to their play.

Latics lineup was a mixture of the old and the new, with five new signings starting. In contrast to the Martinez era only one of them was a player without links with the British Isles, that being Chilean winger Jean Beausejour.

The switch from Martinez’s tactical system based on a central defensive trio and wingbacks into a fluid 4-3-3 system has been smoothly implemented. Ben Watson played in front of the back four, giving James McArthur and James McCarthy the licence to push further forward.

Jean Beausejour – used as a wingback by Martinez – was able to play  a more attacking role on the left wing, not having to worry so much losing the ball and his defence being stretched as a result. Grant Holt is going to get a lot of goals from his sublime crosses this season.

Although best employed in a creative central midfield role, in the  hole behind the centre forward, Shaun Maloney can also operate wide on the right or left.

Latics latest signing, Leon Barnett, came out with flying colours after only joining the club in midweek and not having had a real pre-season under his belt. Barnett is another shrewd signing by Coyle, not only having Premier League experience, but having played the three Championship winning sides at West Bromwich, Norwich and Cardiff. To put the icing on the cake he was to score the third goal.

With quality target men like Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune to aim at, Latics are able to play the long ball forward when needed.  However, given the large number of matches ahead Coyle will surely continue to look towards acquiring a third central striker for his squad.

Looking at the starting lineups and the players on the bench for each team it was clear that Latics were going to be technically way ahead of Barnsley, who have struggled against relegation for the past couple of seasons.  The question was whether Wigan were able to put in the hard graft to withstand a physical Barnsley barrage.

One of the major criticisms of Martinez’s Latics teams over the years was that they were not always up for the physical side of the game. This game showed that Coyle has put together a squad that can battle and “get stuck in” when the going gets tough.

Both  James Perch and Leon Barnett in the centre of defence are strong tacklers, capable of ‘mixing it’ with opposing forwards. The starting midfield trio of Watson, McArthur and McCarthy are formidable at this level , not to mention Chris McCann, Roger Espinoza and Jordi Gomez who were on the bench. The highly promising Fraser Fyvie also awaits his opportunity in midfield.

Barnsley have another difficult season ahead. There will be much stronger opposition for Wigan to face, with a plethora of games to play over the course of the season.

However, it is not just the emphatic scoreline that will give Latics fans optimism for what is to come. More importantly, new players have already started to gel with those from last year’s squad . Moreover Wigan showed in this match that they have the necessary tenacity to blend with their technical ability. It is a mixture of the two that is needed to get out of a tough Championship division.

Owen Coyle’s revolution still has a long way to go, but it has already taken one further step forward.

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Barnsley v Wigan Athletic Preview – the Coyle revolution put to the test

How times have changed.

Less than a year ago Wigan Athletic were entertaining Chelsea in the opening match of last season’s Premier League campaign. On Saturday they travel to Barnsley to open their Championship season.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that encounter with the London giants. Wigan’s eighth Premier League season was constantly punctuated by injuries to key players and the impact was a very tospy-turvy season. The finale came in a bizarre last week of the season with them  winning the FA Cup, but getting relegated just three days later.

Maybe winning the FA Cup was the defining factor in Roberto Martinez’s decision to seek new pastures. It was the highest of highs in Wigan Athletic’s  history and has left an indelible mark on the club. But the reality is that now Latics face the challenge of getting back into the Premier League.

The visit to Oakwell is the first of many challenges that Owen Coyle’s new side will face this year. Coyle has done a wonderful job in bringing in nine new players to complement the strong backbone of a squad left behind by Martinez. His challenge will be to keep what was good from Martinez’s legacy, but to motivate a competitive squad of players to combine flair with the ability to slug it out over a really long season.

Barnsley finished one point above the relegation zone last year, having stayed up the previous year due to Portsmouth being docked points through having to go into administration. However, they will be keen to start the new season on a positive note and Latics can expect a stern physical tussle at Oakwell, which has been Barnsley’s home since 1888.

Wigan’s lineup is likely to be close to that which started the Dundee United game last weekend.  The main questions will be who will line up next to James Perch in the centre of defence and whether Callum McManaman will be fit enough to start.

If Thomas Royne  recovers from the back injury sustained in the match with the Tangerines he will most likely partner Perch. If not then Coyle has the option of throwing his brand-new signing Leon Barnett into the fray.

McManaman  did not feature prominently in the pre-season and there are doubts as to whether he has fully overcome the ankle injury received at the end of last season. If he is unavailable then Coyle has the option of bringing in Jean Beausejour on the left or fielding twin strikers in Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Latics will be hoping for a good start to the season. Providing they can match Barnsley physically,  their technical superiority should be sufficient to get a result. Owen Coyle’s revolution is in progress and we will see its fruits over these coming months.

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