Fulham v Wigan Athletic: Moment of truth for Boselli?

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Tomorrow Wigan Athletic face Martin Jol’s Fulham side at Craven Cottage. The tight stadium, adjoining the Thames, has proved a difficult venue for Latics in the past, with the only win coming in 2006-2007, a goal from Henri Camara proving sufficient for a 1-0 scoreline. Last year, in the middle of Latics’ storming late run, they looked a little stale at Craven Cottage, but went ahead through a cracking shot by Emmerson Boyce. The Cottagers were to fight back and a soft goal in the last five minutes from Philippe Senderos won them the match.

Fulham have since lost key players in Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey, who went to Tottenham for big money. Their midfield general and talisman, Danny Murphy, was released at 35 years of age. Blackburn’s gain was Fulham’s loss. In Murphy’s absence they have readjusted their tactical system, bringing in a handful of new signings, some more well known than others. Their high profile signing was Dmitar Berbatov, now 31 years old, who has a formidable record against Wigan with 8 goals in 11 appearances against them. Since their arrival in the Premier League he has tormented Latics as much as any other player. One recalls his precise cross leading to Hugo Rodallega’s headed goal at the DW Stadium in September. That day Rodallega himself did not celebrate his goal in front of his previous fans. However, he is going to be enthusiastic to play against his former club and do further damage tomorrow.

The absence of Arouna Kone on African Nations Cup duty is a major blow for Wigan. The big question is who will replace him. The moment of truth must surely come soon for Mauro Boselli. Limited to a single league start after showing excellent form — and several goals — in the first two league cup ties, his time is surely now. His success relies heavily on the ability of the wingbacks to provide him with the right ammunition. Eighteen-year-old Angelo Henriquez, bright off the bench against Bournemouth, should not be expected to lead the line and like any other young player from a different continent, will take some time to adapt. Another option is Callum McManaman as a second striker, and there is always the possibility of an extra midfielder in the shape of David Jones or Jordi Gomez, a more conservative approach.

Fulham’s success over the past few years has been largely based on their home form, which has been outstanding. However, this season has seen a few cracks develop in the Craven Cottage fortress. They have already lost four Premier League matches at home, including their last to Swansea, after only drawing previously with Southampton. If there is a time for Latics to get a good result at Fulham then surely it must be tomorrow.

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Wigan vs. Fulham: Battle of the strikers as Hugo returns

Wigan’s record Premier League goalscorer Hugo Rodallega returns to the DW Stadium this weekend with his new club, but most eyes will be on his illustrious strike partner, Dimitar Berbatov.

The Bulgarian notched his first two goals in a Fulham shirt in the 3-0 win over West Brom, while Hugo hit the post from three yards out, something he specializes in. The Colombian has already amassed more shots per minute than any other striker in the league — it is no wonder Mauro Boselli didn’t get any service playing between Hugo and Charles N’Zogbia. But the reception should be warm for a player who worked his socks off in that lone striker role, scored some very important goals, and developed a warm relationship with the Latics support in his years with the club.

Interest should not be fully reserved for Fulham’s strikeforce, however, as Roberto came out with a public promise of playing opportunities for Boselli yesterday. Franco Di Santo has been excellent with two brilliant finishes in four matches, really beginning to fulfill his huge potential; Arouna Koné is still adapting but has pedigree and looks a little sharper with his touch as the days go by.

Assuming Antolin Alcaraz is not yet ready to return to action, Roberto should be able to field the same XI as he did at Old Trafford. But he has options if he is looking to mix things up. Home games like this where we would expect to control possession should theoretically be ideal for Boselli, with crosses flying in from both sides. Ryo Miyaichi looks fast and skillful and offers something closer to what Victor Moses did. There is cover in midfield, though it is hard to imagine any interference there.

Aside from Swansea, whose style of play was instilled by Roberto long before Brendan Rodgers or Michael Laudrup came along, Martin Jol’s Fulham have become one of the more pleasant teams to watch. They’ve lost the excellent Moussa Dembele, playmaker-in-chief Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey. But if fit, Bryan Ruiz is a very exciting player behind the front two of Rodallega and Berbatov. New left winger Alexander Kacaniklic looks lively and has already contributed goals and assits, while Damien Duff has had an effective start to the season on the right. Steve Sidwell has been waiting for regular football for years and now has it. He will provide steel in midfield, though he can play a bit too. And the defense is well established, with Haangeland and Hughes, and Schwarzer behind them always difficult to beat. They were the one team we didn’t outplay in the fantastic run-in last season.

So a tricky but intriguing encounter on the cards. The good news is that both Clint Dempsey and Andy Johnson have moved on and therefore cannot score against us anymore — for Fulham, anyway. The bad is that Berbatov has a very decent record against us, while Hugo has scored a few at the DW as well. Lets hope this is a day for Latics’s stikers to rise up and keep them in the shadows.

“I want to become a part of Wigan’s history” – Mauro Boselli, exclusive interview

Few players in the current squad divide opinion as does Argentine striker Mauro Boselli, who returns for a fresh crack at the Premier League following a season and a half on loan in Italy and Argentina. A lot has changed since his troubled first half-season — particularly in the way the team attacks. While many have long written him off, there are plenty — Roberto Martinez and the writers of this blog included — that believe the best of Boselli is soon to come.

Signed for six million pounds from Estudiantes de la Plata of Argentina after top-scoring in South America’s equivalent of the Champions’ League — la Copa Libertadores — the Argentine struggled to make an impact in his half-season stint at Latics. Operating as the lone centre-forward between Hugo Rodallega and Charles N’Zogbia, he found chances to be at a minimum and pressure at a maximum.

With money comes expectation. The transfer fee heaped undue pressure on the striker, known for his clinical finishing but not necessarily pace or his ability to hold up play as a lone target. Unlike many Roberto Martinez signings, Mauro did not enjoy the luxury of an adaptation period, despite arriving in Lancashire after a career spent in Argentina.

All this said, Mauro’s first pre-season with the club was hugely promising, bagging several goals as he has two years later in the current version. In the league, he never looked far away from a goal but was largely starved of service. But for a narrow headed miss and a penalty miss against West Ham  moments after being substituted on, which ultimately proved the last straw (more on that penalty in the interview below)… his first season may well have turned around.

But much has changed at Wigan Athletic since then, and Mauro is delighted to be back. He scored a well-taken header in Tuesday’s cup match against Nottingham Forest, and was unlucky not to have been awarded two penalties. He describes the squad as having a real sense of togetherness — one of fewer individuals and a real team ethic. What follows is his exclusive interview to the Three Amigos of Wigan — given before the beginning of the season. iMuchas gracias Mauro, y mucha suerte!

* note: this interview was translated from Spanish, by the author.

Q: How does it feel to be back in Wigan?

A: I feel more mature in this new chapter with Wigan, with a lot of experience that I didn’t have when I first arrived here. I’m back with motivation to succeed in English football.

Q: How is the club different from your first season, two years ago?

A: I found a very different group now to when I first arrived. The group is more together and the focus is on the team, rather than the individuals.

Q: What are your personal goals for the season?

A: My personal goal is to win my place in the starting lineup and regain the confidence the club put in me with goals and good performances.

Q: Have you tasted the famous Wigan pies? What is your favourite filling?

A: I’ve unfortunately not yet been able to taste the traditional food of Wigan, so I can’t comment on this one.

Q: Many of us think you were a bit unlucky in your first season at the club because the midfielders were not providing much service for you. How you do see that season?

A: Contrary to the first season I was at the club, there are many players that have the ability to assist me and give me the chance to take advantage of my strengths as a footballer. I am a centre-forward that needs my team to score goals.

Q: Why did you take that penalty against West Ham — you’d just come off the substitutes’ bench?

A: I’ve taken penalties all my life and will continue to do so. That day, I’d just come onto the pitch and couldn’t feel my feet it was so cold — and no one was stepping up to take the kick. If there is a penalty and I am on the pitch, I will take it because I am confident I’ll score it.

Q: Roberto’s new tactical system uses wingbacks such as Jean Beausejour, Ronnie Stam, and Emmerson Boyce, who love to get forward and put crosses in the box. Do you think this system suits you?

A: In my first season at Wigan I played with Rodallega and N’Zogbia on the wings. They are players who like to finish the attacking move themselves rather than assist. Now, there are players like Maloney, Crusat, Jean (Beausejour), Di Santo — players who could favour my game. This tactical system that encourages more crosses into the box is the one I like the most. I hope I am allowed opportunities and a run in the team to show what I can do.

Q: What can Latics supporters do to help you on the pitch?

A: The thing that would be most helpful is to always support the team. Personally, before every game in Argentina, people would sing my last name (Boselliiiiii, Boselliiiii) before the game which really motivated me a lot and I’d take to the pitch with absolutely everything I had.

Q: Which striker, current or former, do you idolize?

A: The forward I idolize is Ibrahimovich. He is, without doubt, the best centre-forward in the world.

Q: How was your time on loan in Italy?

A: When I was in Italy, I had some bad luck. Two days before I signed the loan deal, I suffered a muscle injury that left me sidelined for a month. Then I suffered a setback that put me back another 15 days. The club had to find another forward, and he did well when he arrived, so it was hard to get back in the team. All this said, I came back and scored the match-winning goal in the last minute of the derby against Sampdoria, and I am very proud that I became a part of the club’s history.

Q: And Argentina?

A: I had a good season in Argentina even though (Estudiantes) did not have a great one. I scored 11 goals and performed well.

Q: What do you miss most about your native Argentina?

A: There is only one thing that I miss: the affection I leave behind in Argentina which is the most important thing. Everything else can be managed, but not that.

Q: Your former club, Estudiantes has gone through some changes in the last few years, with a new stadium. Tell us about the club.

A: When Veron arrived at Estudiantes in 2006, the club grew and it is now considered one of the strongest teams in Argentina. Thanks to God that things have always gone very well for me there and I am proud to say I am part of the great history of Estudiantes. I hope to do the same at Wigan and will do everything I can to achieve it.

Koné and change? Tactical formations at Wigan Athletic

Trawling the internet for news on upcoming football transfers can certainly be entertaining, if often misleading. I quite enjoy it, but have learned to take it with a pinch of salt. This is not to denigrate the work of the internet journalists who give us these revelations: quite often they may have received a tip off from a player’s agent, family member or a club. Sometimes even the player himself. What is clear is that only a small proportion of the transfers reported by our sources, actually happen.

Over these weeks I have read  that Wigan Athletic have been interested in quite a few central strikers. The names of Victor Anichebe and DJ Campbell have been banded about more than others. But why would Latics want a fourth central striker, with Di Santo, Boselli and Sammon already on the books? If they played 4-4-2 it would be perfectly understandable, but our knowledge of Roberto Martinez and his tactical preferences precludes that possibility.

Arouna Kone has now arrived.  Although Kone has not played in the Premier League before he has all the attributes to be successful. He is strong and agile and to score 15 La Liga goals for Levante (the “other” team in Valencia) last season means he is sharp.  No league in the world plays the same kind of fast and physical football that we see in England, but La Liga is a highly competitive league, one of the world’s best. None of Latics’ previous acquisitions from Spanish clubs had established themselves as mainline players to the same degree  as Kone and the other acquisition from Mallorca, Ivan Ramis. I view both as potentially excellent signings.

Let’s get back to those internet transfer gossip sites. Today’s digest suggested Conor Sammon was headed for Derby County. The link between Sammon and Derby has come up repeatedly  but now there is talk of a permanent transfer rather than a loan deal. We may well be back to to three centre forwards again. However, is there going to be sufficient playing time for three central strikers, who are going to be on the same par, despite contrasting styles? Di Santo was developing into a fine centre forward last year, with his brilliant hold-up play and superb technique. Boselli is a natural goalscorer who has come back to Wigan motivated to show us his best. He has a fine pedigree. Kone is maybe a cross between the two in the way he plays.

So how do you fit in three quality central strikers, given the manager’s preference for the lone centre forward? Last year Victor Moses was given licence to roam, cutting in from the wings, getting into central positions. If and when Moses goes there will be wealth of players to compete for his role. Crusat,  Dicko, McManaman and the exciting new loan signing Miyaichi are the natural winger-types, who could slot in there. However, given the quality of the three central strikers now at his disposal, Martinez might choose to play one of them in the Moses  position. This would require some tactical adjustments, with a shift towards a more conventional twin striker system. Let’s hope Martinez has this in mind.

The change in tactical formation midway through last year proved to be the catalyst that helped Latics stay up, defying the odds. It helped to get the best out of the players at Martinez’s disposal. Assuming the Moses transfer, he will soon be faced with a similar challenge – how to get the best out of three quality central strikers, while not leaving out the winger-types. An exciting prospect.