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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Bradford preview: More for Mauro?

I have often thought that the League Cup is a waste of time. Shadow teams playing each other in empty stadia. What purpose does it really serve? However, in a disappointing season for Wigan Athletic up to this point it has been the League Cup matches that have been the highlight. We have seen two successive 4-1 away wins where the finishing has been lethal, an uncommon experience for Latics fans. Moreover the ties have also shown that the club has considerable strength in depth, with ‘fringe’ players putting in excellent performances.

Will the finishing in the game against Bradford City tonight once again be of that order? Leading the charge, with three goals already in the competition, will be the excellent Mauro Boselli. Boselli is well on the way to proving his doubters wrong. It has been all too easy for the cynics to knock him. All kinds of misleading statistics have been thrown his way. Recently I even heard a football commentator on television say that Boselli had not scored a Premier League goal in three years at Wigan. It is not unusual for such people to put Wigan Athletic down, with their condescending attitudes towards the club. However, this recent comment was palpably unfair. Boselli started only five times in the first part of the 2010-2011 season before going off to Genoa and Estudiantes on loan. He has not started for Wigan in the Premier League since returning in July.

At Estudiantes, prior to joining Wigan, Boselli had scored 22 goals in 29 league starts in 2009-10 and 10 in 23 league starts in 2008-09. Impressive stats when playing for a relatively small club in a league with tight defences. He was the leading goalscorer in whole of the Copa Libertadores competition in 2008-09, helping his team lift the trophy with the match winner in the final against Cruzeiro. Since his return to Wigan he has been carefully nurtured by Roberto Martinez, being limited to three brief  substitute appearances in the Premier League. However, the snippets we have seen of Boselli’s finishing for Latics League Cup and Under 21 teams have shown us how he scored so many goals in tough and competitive competitions in South America. We may well see that tonight.

Prior to cup ties Roberto Martinez typically reiterates that they are an opportunity for the fringe players to break into the first choice lineup. However, he was careful to provide a backbone of experienced first choice players in defence for the wins at Forest and West Ham. Tonight he is likely to play both Roman Golobart and Adrian Lopez in the back three. They come from the opposite sides of Spain and have contrasting styles.

Roman Golobart – a Catalan from Barcelona in the east of Spain – is a big, powerful central defender, nevertheless with good passing ability. Golobart joined the club from Espanyol as a 17 year old in August 2009. Last season he had a successful loan spell at Inverness, being voted fans’ player of the year. Playing under the influence of manager Terry Butcher, ex-England centre half, will surely have helped his game. Still only 20 he is an excellent prospect.

Adrian Lopez –from the province of Coruña in Galicia, north west Spain – signed for Wigan in December 2010 from local team Deportivo La Coruña, as a free agent after a heated dispute over his contractual situation. In the previous three years he had played 26 matches for Deportivo, scoring one goal. In Spain he was known under his nickname ‘Piscu’ to distinguish him from the other Adrian Lopez ,a forward who plays for Atletico Madrid. Now 25 years old, Piscu has had 6 starts since joining Wigan. According to the Wigan Athletic club website, Lopez “ brings cultured development to Latics’ back line”. Clearly a different type of player to the more muscular Golobart. Lopez has struggled with the physicality of the Premier League, but Martinez retains confidence in the player.

Other likely starters for the match are Callum McManaman, Ronnie Stam, Fraser Fyvie, David Jones and Jordi Gomez. There are doubts over the fitness of Ryo Miyaichi. Albert Crusat remains out injured. Martinez may once again opt to put in some of his first choice players, although maybe fewer  than in the previous League Cup games with the away match at Tottenham coming up at the weekend.

Although tonight’s match is at the DW Stadium it might seem more like a home game for Bradford City, who have sold all of their 5,000 ticket allocation. Bradford are currently in 5th place in League Two, but have the highest average attendance in the division at just below 10,000.

Prediction: at least one goal from Mauro Boselli and a win for Wigan Athletic.