A Delort and Riera partnership

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“They’ll all be in for the start of pre-season on June 25, and they’ll all be big players for us next season.”

David Sharpe’s announcement has provided a fresh boost for Wigan Athletic’s bid to regain their Championship slot.

The return of Andy Delort, Rob Kiernan, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier from loan spells is surely a declaration of intent from the young chairman. Moreover if the club is as active in the transfer market as media rumours suggest, the squad for the coming season is going to be as strong as any in League 1.

Bringing back the loanees has its financial implications, but Sharpe is clearly willing to stick his neck out in the bid for promotion. At a time when the club is at the point of jettisoning its higher earners, Sharpe is clearly gambling on Delort and Riera delivering the goods. Strikers are an expensive commodity on the transfer market and rather than splash big money out on a player from another club, Sharpe is using the players he already has. Moreover Grant Holt, Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn remain on the books.

So many players suffered in the depressive climate of the relegation season recently concluded. That included Kiernan and Tavernier. Neither could reach his previous levels of performance and they were shunted off on loan in the January transfer window by the hapless Malky Mackay.

Kiernan remains highly regarded by Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett following a series of good displays. After leaving Wigan in January he had to wait until February 21st to make his first start against Brighton, playing in midfield, but from then on became a regular in the centre of defence. Kiernan had been promoted to Wigan’s first team in the second half of the 2013-14 season by Uwe Rosler, for whom he had played on loan at Brentford the year before. He performed well, particularly when playing in a back line of three, showing good positional sense, skilful in his distribution.

Tavernier too suffered in that spell at Wigan. He had arrived with good credentials from Rotherham where he was a favourite of the fans. His ability to strike on goal and make crosses with pinpoint accuracy was already evident in the pre-season. Sadly he could not produce his true form in the seven games he started at Wigan. He just did not seem to have the pace or quickness of thought to play as a full back in an orthodox back four. However, being employed as a wing back, Tavernier was to make a lasting impression in Bristol City’s League 1 title winning team. His spectacular goal from 45 yards against Colchester might look a freak, but given Tavernier’s technique and ambitious approach, it could well have been intentional.

 

Riera was shipped back to Spain in January after a frustrating time at Wigan. He had taken time to adjust to the physicality of the Championship and was hardly helped by the lack of service from a dysfunctional midfield.  However, a well taken goal against Blackpool surely boosted his confidence and he looked more comfortable in the 4-0 win over Birmingham City that followed. But Riera was surprisingly left as an unused substitute on the bench in the next game at Birmingham, in favour of a newly arrived Andy Delort. Riera was never given a run of starts after that and his confidence dwindled.

It was therefore no surprise when he joined Deportivo La Coruna. Since his arrival at the Galician club he has been a regular starter at centre forward and has scored four goals. His last one, a 60th minute header at Malaga, salvaged an important point for a side fighting to avoid relegation from La Liga.

 

Delort too will look at his time at Wigan with regret. Thrust into a lone centre forward role he looked like a duck out of water. A player who had scored 24 goals the previous season in Ligue 2 looked sure to make his mark in the Championship, but Delort had been used to playing with a twin striker at Tours. Rosler was to stick by his formula of playing with one central striker, as did Mackay when he first arrived.  Delort was sent back to a Tours side that was struggling against relegation. He has not been able to reproduce his prolific goalscoring of the previous season. Delort has scored two goals in thirteen starts.

During the time that Delort and Riera spent at Wigan many fans had hoped to see them play in tandem as twin strikers. But it never happened. However, there is now a prospect of seeing that Latin partnership for Latics in League 1.

Given their unhappy stays at Wigan, neither player will be over keen to return. Moreover stories of members of Latics’ coaching staff writing the two of them off have become more and more credible. Tim Chow too had been written off, being told that he would not receive another contract, only for Caldwell to intervene and bring the young player back into the fold.

Given the united front shown by Sharpe and Caldwell up to this point, we can assume that the manager is supportive of the return of the four players. It looks like Caldwell’s preferred formation will be 3-5-2, which would suit them. Tavernier is a natural wing back with great attacking potential. Kiernan would slot into a back line of three capable of passing the ball out of defence. Moreover Delort and Riera could make a formidable partnership up front.

Much will depend on the ability of Caldwell, and the coaches, to bring the best out of the four players. Latics paid around £5.5million for Delort, Riera and Tavernier. A good season from them could help the club back into the Championship, in addition to increasing their values on the transfer market, which will have nosedived over the past eight months.

Wigan Athletic are keen to put the nightmare 2014-15 season behind them. The slate needs to be wiped clean for those who suffered the contagion that swept through the squad. It is a fresh start and the four players still have much to offer.

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The stats of goalscoring at Latics

“One of our forward-thinking players is going to have to stick the ball into the back of the net and that’s the key to it.”

So said Malky Mackay after the Leeds match where Latics had 60% of possession and 19 efforts on goal without scoring.

But in these days of increased use of data in football, did Mackay bear in mind the stats when picking his starting strikers? Has he looked at the performance records of the players he has at his disposal?

Goalscoring stats can be misleading. So often they are quoted as appearances per goal, which can be so unfair on a player largely used as an impact substitute. How can we compare the record of a player coming on in the 85th minute with one who has played the full 90? When we calculate a stat of appearances per goal we should also take into account at the ratio of starts to substitute appearances to get a true picture of player performance. Perhaps a more reliable indicator is starts per goal, but what about a player like Callum McManaman who would rarely complete the full 90 minutes?

However, these stats together can help us get a picture of the player’s goalscoring capabilities. Moreover looking at the player’s past performance stats can give us an overview on their current performance.

Compiling stats is dependent on a reliable source. The data that follows was compiled using player performance information from www.soccerbase.com . It is based on appearances in league and cup.

Looking at the main strikers currently available to Mackay:

Goals1

The raw stats suggest that Mackay chose the two players with the least probability of scoring against Leeds, Marc-Antoine Fortune and James McClean. However, until his recent conversion to central striker McClean has been on the left wing, where it is harder to score goals, so the stats should be interpreted carefully. The career stats suggest that the pairing with the most likelihood of scoring goals is that of Leon Clarke and Billy Mckay.

The more senior Latics supporters will remember the lethal goalscoring partnership of Harry Lyon and Bert Llewellyn. From 1965-68 Llewellyn scored 96 goals in 115 appearances for Wigan. Lyon remains the club’s leading all-time goalscorer with 273 to his name in his stay from 1962-70.

More recently the most memorable pairing is probably that of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts, whose stats show that each of them needed only just over two starts per goal.

In the Premier League days the partnership of Emile Heskey and Amr Zaki was one the best. Heskey was never a natural goalscorer but he created the space for Zaki. The result was the Egyptian scoring 11 goals in 24 starts.

In the Premier League era, Henri Camara was Wigan’s most consistent goalscorer. Taking a look at the stats of strikers who have now left Latics gives considerable insight:

GOALSOLD

The case of Nouha Dicko stands out. Deemed not wanted by the club, but his goalscoring record for Wolves has been outstanding. Dicko never started in a league game for Latics.

The sad stays of such as Conor Sammon and Jason Scotland are reflected in the difference between their Latics stats and those of their careers. The simple explanation would be that they were not good enough for the Premier League. But then again, is Dicko good enough for the Championship?

Andy Delort and Oriol Riera are back to scoring goals again in their home countries following frustrating stays at Wigan. Given the downsizing at the club, even if the miracle happens and relegation is avoided, it is unlikely they will return.

Mackay is now talking about solving his goalscoring problem through the loan market. This must feel like a kick in the teeth for such players as Billy Mckay and Martyn Waghorn who have shown in the past that they have the ability to be in the right place at the right time as far as goalscoring is concerned.

The coaching and management at the club continues to ostracise players. It has been far too apparent over the past couple of years that HR skills are sorely lacking.

Mark Twain once said “Facts are more stubborn things, but statistics are pliable”. As outsiders we are not privy to the real facts about what is happening at the club during the Mackay era. But pliable as statistics might be there is no getting away from the woeful record the Scot has had since he took over.

In a season where Latics have scored only 32 goals in 36 league games, one begins to wonder where the next goal will come from. It is a sad result of the mismanagement of the striking talent that the club has had and continues to squander.

Kvist is back – but for how long?

 

His last appearance for Latics had been as a substitute at Derby in late October. Despite that William Kvist made a successful return, playing the full 94 minutes against Blackburn Rovers yesterday.

Why had the Denmark captain been left out in the cold for so long? Can he become a regular component of Malky Mackay’s team?

Kvist is by no means an exciting player to watch. His preferred role is to sit in front of the back four, making tackles and interceptions, using the ball economically. However, given the fragility of the Wigan Athletic defence the shielding that Kvist can provide could be invaluable.

Kvist was signed at the end of the summer transfer window and has now made seven starts for Latics, with three appearances off the bench. Strangely enough until yesterday he had made as many starts for Denmark this season as he had for Latics.

The Dane arrived at Wigan with a reputation for long throw-ins. Uwe Rosler did not utilize that part of his game. However, given Malky Mackay’s focus on set plays we are likely to see him use Kvist in that way, providing he is included in the team. But will Kvist still be at Wigan two weeks from now?

There were rumours that Kvist (and Thomas Rogne) were looking to move in January. Despite the midfield functioning as badly as it has over the past weeks Mackay has stuck with long term injury returnees Chris McCann and Ben Watson. McCann has started in all ten games since Mackay arrived, being substituted only twice in the closing minutes. Although still not back to his form of last season the Irishman has done well to get back his match fitness. Watson too has been an ever-present under Mackay, although his appearance against Birmingham was off the bench. Following two long spells out following leg breaks, Watson has shown his resilience, although the standard of his play has been disappointing. Given such injuries one wonders how comfortable he is coping with the physicality of Championship teams’ midfields.

The departure of Roger Espinoza and the indifferent form of Watson surely precipitated Kvist’s return. However, the conspiracy theorists will say that his reappearance against Blackburn was an effort by Mackay to put him in the shop window, with an imminent departure a possibility. But Kvist has never let Latics down and surely deserves the opportunity to stake a claim for a regular place.

Yesterday also saw the return of the 21 year old Welshman, Emyr Huws. The ankle injury that was hampering his fight for a regular place in the starting lineup under Rosler was to put him out of action for weeks. When fully fit Huws will be a big asset. He is strong, energetic and tough in the tackle. The opposition know his skills are a threat, as indicated by the 29 fouls he has suffered, compared with the 16 he has committed.

Andy Delort continues to bide his time but at least was given more of a chance yesterday, coming on after 72 minutes, rather than the dying moments. Mackay clearly does not rate him, but Delort will want to prove him wrong. Delort’s main problem under Rosler was being played as a lone centre forward, which he is not. However, Mackay has been playing two upfront as of late and if he will give the young Frenchman a run in the team we will finally get to know whether he is capable of becoming a top striker in the Championship.

The futures of such as Kvist and Delort at Wigan are in the balance. It may well depend on which other players are offloaded. So far Espinoza, Oriol Riera and James Tavernier have been offloaded, with Liam Ridgewell coming in on a short term loan.

It looked like Shaun Maloney might go to Leicester, but the Foxes did not offer him the length of contract that he was seeking. The alternative is for him to wait until the end of the season and be in a strong negotiating position as a free agent, with Celtic and Chicago Fire both reportedly interested.

Mackay will be keen to get in funds to help him seek his own transfer preferences. If money does not come in for Maloney the departure of Callum McManaman could be hastened.

The family silver is to be sold and by the end of the season the squad could be stripped bare of quality players. If Latics stay up and Mackay is still here in August we will be seeing a different brand of football, but hopefully one with commitment from the players.

Skill alone does not suffice, particularly in the harsh world of the Championship division.

Players who don’t seem to care – Norwich (H) match reaction

Can Mackay turn it around?

Can Mackay turn it around?

Over the years we have seen some abject performances from Latics with woeful scorelines. Too often when they were in the Premier League they would play a top of the table team and hold their own until the opponents scored their first goal. The confidence would sag and the legs would start to go. The exertion required to hold back the tide had taken too much out of the players, both physically and mentally. It almost looked like the players didn’t seem to care. It was akin to capitulation.

But those players did care. It was a learning experience for so many of them, but they would bounce back and get the most amazing results against those same elite clubs. One always felt with Roberto Martinez that he was trying to do something special, despite the very limited resources he had to work with. It was the mental side of things that he was building up. The players had to be mentally tough to compete against teams with so much more individual quality than they had.

After five decades of watching Latics I have rarely felt as depressed as I was after yesterday’s Norwich game. The stats show that Wigan committed just 5 fouls, to the Canaries’ 12. Neither side received a yellow card. Did those players really care? Where was the passion?

It was sad to see Uwe Rosler’s demise. It was inevitable, given the awful results that his team was getting this season. But Rosler at least had a vision of the kind of football he wanted, even if the players were unable or unwilling to produce it.

The football we saw yesterday was reminiscent of the worst days of Rosler’s predecessor, Owen Coyle. The goalkeeper and the defenders hoofing the ball upfield to a lone centre forward. To his credit Fortune did actually defy the odds and win some of those balls yesterday. But the possession he gained was too often squandered by teammates.

Despite his reputation as a motivational manager, Mackay was unable to motivate his players yesterday. His team selection and tactics surely did not help.

The local newspaper had got us excited about Shaun Maloney coming back after illness. When the team was announced it looked like he would play in the attacking midfield position, in front of Chris McCann and Ben Watson. But Maloney was to be confined to the left wing and James McClean occupied that role. McClean was like a fish out of water. He has a repertoire of skills,  but not those needed for that position. Maloney never got into the game and was substituted after 47 minutes.

Mackay left Emmerson Boyce on the bench and neither Gary Caldwell nor Thomas Rogne even appeared there. Instead Mackay brought in Maynor Figueroa at centre back. Figs rarely played for Latics as a centre half in a conventional back four in the Martinez days. When he did it was not particularly successful. He could be excellent playing on the left of a back line of three central defenders, but that is quite distinct from the position he played yesterday.

Mackay took most of us by surprise when he named both of the previously long-term absentees, McCann and Watson in the team to play at Sheffield. It was even more of a shock to see them paired together again yesterday. McCann had actually performed well in his first two matches, but he and Watson were unable to turn it on yesterday. The two are crucial to Latics turning the season around. Mackay is taking a gamble in playing the two so much after their long recuperations from injury. He runs the risk of losing them with their bodies taking a toll of not playing for 8-9 months.

As expected, Don Cowie made his first appearance under Mackay, who had been his manager at both Watford and Cardiff. Cowie went to right midfield where he performed as he has before in that position. Pedestrian to be sure, but Cowie will at least make the effort. The result was Callum McManaman being pushed inside and not seeming to know where he was playing.

The hard-working Fortune was taken off after 82 minutes to be replaced by Roger Espinoza. Given the insipid, characterless stuff we had seen up to that point it was a pity Espinoza had not been brought on earlier. The player has many qualities, not the least of which is to fight for the ball and run forward with enthusiasm. But, even then, he was a midfielder replacing a central striker with Latics a goal behind.

Mackay was to make his biggest gaffe of the afternoon by bringing on Andy Delort after 88 minutes for Chris McCann. Fortune can rarely be faulted for effort and he often does a remarkable job of bringing down and controlling Scott Carson’s long kicks. But he is rarely a threat to the opponents’ goal. Delort has been scoring goals for the development squad. Admittedly there is a gulf between the Final Third Development League and the Championship, but the Frenchman also has a fine goalscoring record in Ligue 2, not light years away. Bringing Delort on so late is hardly going to help his confidence.

Mackay has a difficult task ahead of him. However, for the last two games his players have not competed as they need to. Moreover he has made baffling team selections.

He needs to get his act together soon, or Latics will be in deep, deep trouble.

Reading Rosler

sardine_psychologist_779205

I think I have options but players have to realise that I can only give them so many chances because we’re a top club in the Championship and, with the personnel we have, it can’t take you ten games to find your form.”

Quotes from football managers can be misinterpreted or taken out of context. Uwe Rosler has come out with some gems in recent weeks that have had people thinking. What is he really trying to say? How does it fit in with how the team has been playing? What goes on in his head when he is  picking a team?

Latics fans learned that Rosler’s team selections can be perplexing during his early days at the club. Having a reputation as a serial rotator the German continued in the same vein last season. From his first game in charge in December to the end of season playoffs he used 29 players. Faced with extreme fixture congestion a degree of team rotation was certainly necessary. In fact his predecessor, Owen Coyle, also felt the necessity to rotate his squad. But with Rosler it was not so much the rotation that fans questioned, but the way in which it was being done. Sometimes there would be wholesale changes resulting in lineups lacking in cohesion.

At times it might be easier to predict the winner of the Grand National than guess a Rosler starting lineup. Are his choices linked to a tactical approach or are they influenced by the players’ attitudes and their levels of commitment in training?

So far this season Rosler has used nineteen players in eleven league games. However, nine players have started in almost 90% of those matches. Put simply Rosler has stuck by a basic core of players, with others used sparingly as starters or substitutes. Is Rosler sending a warning to that nuclear core of players that if they don’t perform they will be replaced? Or is he referring to the new players who have taken time to settle in? Has he shown favouritism towards them at the expense of those recruited by previous managers?

The critics will say that Rosler has his favourites and his management style involves a “My way or the highway approach”. Grant Holt has clearly never met the manager’s approval and has now been sent away on another loan spell. Moreover Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie, Lee Nicholls and Thomas Rogne have disappeared off the radar. Not so long ago Rosler was talking about sending players out on loan, with the inference that it could include those who had played in a recent development team fixture. They were Espinoza, Fyvie and Marc-Antoine Fortune. Since all three are in the final year of their contracts his remarks seemed to signal to those players that their time at the club was coming to an end. However, Fortune now finds himself back in favour with the manager.

Fortune is a player who has his critics, rightly so given his woeful goalscoring record. However, even they would acknowledge his ability to be effective in the target man role. Fortune is strong and hard to knock off the ball. Apart from his goalscoring he has fitted well into the Rosler machine. The big French Guianian would have surely realized his place would be threatened with the arrival of Oriel Riera and Andy Delort. In fact Rosler recently stated: “Marc-Antoine Fortune was told by me at the beginning of the season that the new strikers would be preferred at the beginning to get their chance.”

Fortune was on the bench for the season opener against Reading, with Riera leading the attack. He started in the next game, the League Cup debacle at Burton Albion. Riera was to go on to start in four consecutive league games. His form was hardly electrifying, but he scored a well taken winner against Blackpool and played reasonably well in the 4-0 home defeat of Birmingham. However, the arrival of Andy Delort meant that he was surprisingly relegated to the bench. Delort was to start in three consecutive games without really impressing. However, the names of neither Delort nor Riera appeared in the starting lineup at Bournemouth. Fans were flabbergasted when Fortune was named ahead of them both. Delort returned in the next match at home to Ipswich, only for Fortune to come back for the 2-2 draw at Wolves last Saturday.

Rosler has been full of praise for Fortune, following his fine performance at Molineux, which included a well taken goal. “Marco has been an exceptional pro. He’s never let himself down or us down. He’s continued to work hard and kept himself in good shape mentally and physically.  In the situation we’re in we need more Championship experience and Marco gives us that, he knows the Championship in and out. He has the physicality to cope with that and he takes the pressure off our new players because they need to adapt a little bit more.”

Rosler’s supporters will say that he is wise to bring in Fortune to allow Delort and Riera more time to adapt. Moving to a new country is a challenge in its own right, let alone being thrust into the physicality of Championship football.

However, critics would say that Rosler left Riera out of the lineup at exactly the wrong time, after he had started to show that he was adjusting to the pace of English football. Moreover Delort was immediately thrust into the deep end, rather than having a settling in period and a gradual introduction into the team. Both Delort and Riera came to the club following successful seasons with their clubs as central strikers who scored more than their fair share of goals. However, the poor service from midfield up to this point would have made it difficult for any Latics striker to get goals. Neither player could be accused of wasting valuable opportunities – the necessary level of service just has not been there.

Midfield was a strong point for Latics last season. However, the departures of Jordi Gomez and James McArthur and the long term injuries to Chris McCann and Ben Watson have hit Latics hard. Rosler clearly had to build a new midfield. In Latics’ three games of the season McArthur made up the midfield trio together with Don Cowie and Emyr Huws.

When McArthur left for Crystal Palace, Rosler had the option of bringing in Espinoza, Fyvie or youngster Tim Chow who had impressed in pre-season. However, it was William Kvist, newly signed just before the transfer window closed who was to claim McArthur’s spot in the next match at Blackburn. Fitness levels of Latics’ squad at the time were low and once again they caved in during the second half. However, having recently played a couple of games for Denmark, Kvist’s fitness level was possibly better than some. Moreover Kvist played for Fulham in the second part of last season, so his adaption was not as difficult as that of Delort and Riera.

Allegations that Rosler has shown favouritism to players he has recruited are hard to substantiate. He had little choice than to bring in new central strikers, midfield players and left backs. In fact, Rosler has signed ten players in his tenure at the club, but only four made the starting lineup for the Wolves match. Don Cowie has played in every league game so far, and Emyr Huws and Andrew Taylor in all but one. The experienced Kvist has already staked a claim to a regular place. Of the remainder Martyn Waghorn has started in only two games, as has Adam Forshaw. James Tavernier has been limited to appearances off the bench and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair has not featured at all.

Rosler has brought in a mixture of youth and experience. Delort, Forshaw, Huws, Tavernier, Taylor-Sinclair and Waghorn are in their early twenties and all are excellent prospects for the future. In Cowie, Kvist, Riera and Taylor he has players with proven experience. However, as new players come in others can be expected to depart. Espinoza and Fyvie may well be sent out on loan. Latics could well be open to bids for Ali Al-Habsi in the January transfer window. In the meantime Nicholls could be sent out on short term loan.

Having a new midfield has hampered Latics’ possibilities of getting off to a good start this season. However, the overriding factor that has contributed to only two wins in eleven league games has been a lack of fitness. Latics have so often wilted in the second half, losing the initiative against teams that could not be able to compete with them in terms of quality. The run of bad results has led to a crisis of confidence among the squad that has affected all players, new and old.

On top of that Rosler’s team selections have been surprising to say the least. However. the overdue return of Leon Barnett will help provide more defensive solidity. Fitness levels have improved and both Adam Forshaw and Shaun Maloney will be available to provide the kind of service that Delort and Riera have so desperately lacked.

As fans we do not know what is going on behind the scenes at a football club. If we did maybe we could better understand the reasons for some of Uwe Rosler’s more puzzling decisions.

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