Wabara the next on Caldwell’s latest wish list?

Reece Wabara. Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Reece Wabara.
Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Wigan Athletic currently stand in 5th place in League 1, just 5 points behind second placed Gillingham. They are desperately seeking an automatic promotion place.

On November 9th we posted “Caldwell’s Christmas Shopping List”. At that time Latics were coincidentally 5th in the League 1 table, 5 points behind the Gills in second place. We advocated the need for another central striker (Alex Revell was brought in soon after), a right back, a central defender and an influential central midfield player.

Since then short-term loanees Francisco Junior, Donald Love and Sean Murray have left the club, with Yanic Wildschut being signed on a permanent contract. Revell was recalled early by Cardiff City from his loan spell. Moreover Richard O’Donnell has joined Bristol City on loan.

Since November 9th Latics have a record of W5 D3 L2. Statistics supplied by www.statto.com show them lying 8th in the form table for games played between then and now.

Statto

Wigan’s average of 1.8 points per game over the period has helped then maintain their position in 5th place, but the teams that were above them in November remain above them now.

Both Burton Albion and Walsall have had managerial changes since then.  Since Nigel Clough took over from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Burton on December 4th he has had a record of W4 D1 L0. Sean O’Driscoll succeeded Dean Smith at Walsall on December 18th, his record so far being W3 D1 L1.

Latics clearly cannot rely on the teams above them defaulting over the remainder of the season. History tells us that teams who have gained automatic promotion from League 1 have amassed a minimum of 90 points. To achieve that minimum target Latics would need 45 points from their remaining 20 games, an average of 2.25 points per match.

The January window is crucial to Wigan’s quest for automatic promotion. Caldwell’s squad is strong, but somehow the team rarely fires on all cylinders. The chemistry just does not seem quite right. The question is whether Caldwell can bring in the types of players who can provide an appropriate balance.

A right back/right wing back is surely high on Caldwell’s wish list. Donervon Daniels can excel when attacking, but can be suspect when up against a speedy wide player. Daniels is basically a central defender who has been helping the team by playing out of position. Rumours are that Latics are about to sign right back Reece Wabara whose short term contract at Barnsley has come to an end. Wabara is a 24 year old  ex-Manchester City youth player.  He made 43 appearances for Doncaster Rovers last season before joining Barnsley for whom he appeared 19 times.

According to press reports it appears that Aberdeen are interested in taking Don Cowie on loan for the remainder of the season. With the departures of Junior and Murray and a possible exit from Cowie, Caldwell will be keen to bolster his central midfield.

For some time now Latics have looked short of a midfield enforcer who can close down opponents when the going gets tough. Sam Morsy of Chesterfield is certainly that, being known for his toughness in the tackle. Signed by Paul Cook from Port Vale in summer 2013, the 24 year old  captain has made 97 appearances for the Spireites. His contract expires at the end of the season, suggesting that a relatively small transfer fee could secure his services.

Latics have also been linked with Oldham Athletic captain Liam Kelly. A 25 year old Scottish international, who started his career at Kilmarnock, Kelly is a holding midfielder that Oldham fans don’t want to lose.

With the departure of Junior, Latics look short of variety in midfield. Although dogged by injury during his stay at Wigan, Junior could offer alternatives when coming off the bench. Michael Jacobs is the main creative force for Latics, but there is a need for another player of his type.  So many teams will “park the bus” when they come to the DW Stadium and someone is needed who can help unlock visiting defences.

Grant Holt is now back at Wigan after his loan spell at Wolves, but it seems most likely that he will loaned out to another club. Should that happen Caldwell will surely seek another centre forward. The latest name to be mentioned is Lukas Jutkiewicz who has played for 9 clubs even though he is only 26 years old.  Jutkiewicz is a big target man, but his career strike record is not particularly impressive and he has not scored for his current club, Burnley, in 30 appearances.

Leon Barnett’s contract is up at the end of the season and he might well be looking for a move in January.  Previous rumours linked him to Preston North End. Should Barnett leave then Caldwell will seek to bolster the centre of defence with a new signing. Given the long ball approach that can prevail in League 1 he might well look for a tall player who is strong in the air. Good passing of the ball is not Barnett’s strength and it is an attribute that Caldwell will look at from any incoming player.

Latics have already announced the signings of 19 year old Torquay goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe and the 22 year old Macclesfield midfielder Danny Whitehead. Both players will continue playing for their former clubs for the remainder of the season. They are clearly players for the future.

However, Caldwell’s main priority is to recruit new players for the 20 games that remain this season. How many will be able to recruit will largely depend on the departures of players on Championship-level salaries whose contracts expire in summer.

Given the difficulties he has faced with the right back position Caldwell will be keen to bring in a new player as soon as possible. Reece Wabara might well be a Latics player within the next couple of days.

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Will it be 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 for Latics?

Harry Lyon latches on to a Walter Stanley (third from right) cross. Carl Davenport lurks for any rebounds.  Photo courtesy of WiganWorld.

Harry Lyon latches on to a Walter Stanley (third from right) cross. Carl Davenport lurks for any rebounds.
Photo courtesy of WiganWorld.

In the mid 1960’s Allan Brown’s Wigan Athletic team played the kind of football fans liked to watch. There were two excellent wingers, Les Campbell and Walter Stanley, who would put over a stream of tantalizing crosses for the twin strikers to feed on. No wonder that Latics scored 121 goals in the 1964-65 season, when they won the Cheshire County League. Harry Lyon led the scoring with 67 goals in all competitions.

Football was an attacking game in those days, with 4-2-4 prevalent.

Then came England’s World Cup victory in 1966. Alf Ramsey’s team played without wingers, the ‘wingless wonders’ . They packed the midfield with four players, leaving just Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt up front. With the rugged Nobby Stiles playing the role of  ball winner in front of a back four marshaled by the superb Bobby Moore, England were a very difficult team to play against. Ramsey’s success was based on solid defence, but he also had a superb midfield general and match winner in Bobby Charlton to help generate goals. 4-4-2 was to become the norm for years to come.

Fads come and go, especially football formations. Putting labels on formations is always tricky, as would be the case in Paul Jewell’s side that won promotion to the Premier League in 2005. Dave Whelan had forked out what was a lot of money at the time for twin strikers who would both score more than 20 goals that season.The names of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts are etched into the history of the club.

They were fed from the right wing by Gary Teale, as Campbell and Stanley had supplied Lyon and Davenport some forty years before. However, on the left flank was converted centre forward Lee McCulloch. McCulloch could not in any way be called a winger – his role was to bolster the midfield and ghost in at the far post to poach goals, with the opposition defence being occupied in coping with ‘The Duke’ and ‘JR’. The formation they played was usually referred to as 4-4-2, but it could be argued that 4-3-3 was a better descriptor.

Wingers are back in fashion in modern football, although they are expected to play their part in defensive duties too. But many managers shun the idea of playing with twin strikers, preferring to deploy a lone centre forward with support coming through from midfield. Up against two central defenders the lone centre forward has a difficult job. He is not only expected to hold-up the ball when he is almost always outnumbered, but also to score goals. Inevitably the goalscoring ratio of the modern centre forward, in terms of goals per game, has dropped over the years.

In terms of holding up the ball Marc-Antoine Fortune is the best centre forward that Latics currently have. However, his goalscoring ratio for Latics is low even for a modern day lone centre forward – a meagre 1 per 10 games. Although Fortune’s career average is higher – almost 1 in 5 – it is bettered by those of Andy Delort (1 in 3.4) and Oriel Riera (1 in 4). How much longer will Rosler continue to play Fortune at the expense of the other two?

If one trawls the social media and fan forums there are lots of supporters who advocate the kind of attacking approach that uses two wingers with two central strikers. Many refer to it as playing 4-4-2 although it is probably more akin to the older 4-2-4. Over these pasts weeks several fans have advocated starting lineups that include Callum McManaman and James McClean on the wings and Delort and Riera as twin strikers. It brings back memories of the days of Allan Brown.

But it is something that is unlikely under Uwe Rosler or any manager who might succeed him. Most prefer the security of a packed midfield rather than risk putting too many players far forward. Were Rosler to suddenly have a paradigm shift and choose such an attacking formation the reality on the pitch would be something different, with players having to drop back to help a beleaguered midfield?

Some managers like to stick to a set formation and recruit players who can fit into it. Rosler is not one of those. His players are expected to adapt to whatever formation he decides upon, which in turn can often depend on the opposition his team is to face. Having a set formation has its advantages. Roles are clearly defined and players can slot seamlessly into the system. However, it also makes it easier for the opposition to plan their strategy well in advance.

So far this season we have seen formations that can be broadly labeled as 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. In recent games Rosler has operated a modified 4-4-2. He has deployed three central midfield players, with Roger Espinoza playing further forward than the other two. He has used Don Cowie in right midfield to provide cover for the attacking runs of James Tavernier from the full back position. Fortune has played the target man role with Callum McManaman in a more fluid attacking role.

From time to time Rosler has used a 4-3-3 system with two genuine wingers in McManaman and McClean. The formation offers balance, together with a direct threat to the opposition defence coming from both sides of the pitch. However, both McManaman and McClean need to see a lot of the ball to be effective and this has not always happened. An alternative would be to use Shaun Maloney and Martyn Waghorn in wide positions, with a tendency to move inside. Both have been more consistent goalscorers than McManaman and McClean.

There are those who do not like the 3-5-2 system. They say that it often reverts to 5-3-2 with the wing backs not supporting the forwards. But when properly put into practice it can yield good results. Moreover the squad is well stocked with good quality central defenders and Rosler has lots of options when choosing a back three. He has the aerial power of Leon Barnett and Thomas Rogne to counter those teams who rely on route one football. In Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis he has players who have proved themselves to be as good as any central defender in the division.

Some players thrive more in some tactical formations more than others. James Perch is a solid and dependable right back who has worked hard when pressed into action as a wing back. His attacking play has undergone a significant improvement over the last year. Perch is a fine athlete with good lungs, as evidenced by goals he has scored through getting into positions where he would not have been expected to show up. However, Tavernier has more to offer going forward. His delivery is so often of real quality. But he needs to work hard on the defensive aspects of his game.

One recalls the promise of Ronnie Stam going forward, but he just did not have enough defensively, even as a wing back. At this stage Tavernier looks a good possibility as a wing back or as an attacking option at full back later in a game. Perch remains the best option at right full back.

With three games in less than a week Rosler has already made it known that he will be rotating his squad for the away games at Brighton tomorrow and Bolton on Friday. Delort and Rogne made appearances for the development squad last week and are likely to feature in at least one match. It is to be hoped that Maloney‘s goal against Fulham will help to kick-start his season, which has been disappointing up to this point. Waghorn was a key element of Rosler’s system last season, but has seen little action up to this point. Riera too has seen little playing time over recent weeks and is overdue to return.

Latics have looked at their best this season when they have been able to deliver the high pressing game that the manager espouses. The ability to do that seems to outweigh the tactical formation he chooses to adopt.

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Do Latics really need Adam Forshaw?

Forshaw

Rarely can a football club get as inflamed as Brentford have done these past few days. Wigan Athletic have made bids for Adam Forshaw that Brentford just don’t seem to appreciate.

“Warburton fumes as Brentford reject second ‘unacceptable’ bid from Wigan for Forshaw” was the headline in the London 24 newspaper a couple of days ago. So what is it about Latics’ bid for the ex-Everton youth player that has touched a raw nerve at the west London club?

Forshaw is clearly a key player for the Bees in their attempts to hold their own in a higher division. A 22 year old midfield player with a degree of elegance and skill, he was named League 1 Player of the Season. With Chris McCann and Ben Watson recovering from major injuries it is going to take a matter of months before they will be fit enough to challenge for a first team place again. Moreover Shaun Maloney did not play one minute in the pre-season matches. Rosler clearly likes to have a balance of experienced and young players in his squad and would see Forshaw as a good long-term investment for the club, given his age.

Manager Mark Warburton is quoted as saying “A bid is only a bid when it’s realistic. When it comes in and unsettles a player – that’s unacceptable. There’s been a second bid which is totally unacceptable.” He left Forshaw out of a pre-season friendly at the weekend against Crystal Palace because “the bid was unsettling for the player” and “he needed to go away for a couple of days to get his head straight.”

Wigan Athletic fans know all about their top players being courted by bigger clubs who do not hide their interest in the player they seek. It does not seem so long ago that Latics were receiving derisory bids for Victor Moses, but they hung in there until Chelsea eventually came in with a more realistic figure. A similar case happened with Charles N’Zogbia, who was certainly unsettled by interest from other clubs, but eventually stayed for another year and helped keep the club in the Premier League.

In effect all clubs outside the elite handful that dominate the Premier League are selling clubs. It is unsettling for a player when a bigger club takes interest in him because he wants to improve himself professionally and big clubs pay bigger salaries.

Being Player of the Year in League 1 is a great achievement for Forshaw, but there is no guarantee that he can perform to the same level in the Championship or the Premier League. Latics will be loath to pay out a big transfer fee for a player that is of yet unproven in their tier. Reports suggest that Everton will receive a sizeable chunk of the transfer fee if Forshaw does leave, having built an agreement into the deal they made with Brentford. It is rumoured that Brentford want £6m for the player, but Wigan’s first bid was £1.5m. Somewhere between the two figures would apppear realistic, but it is doubtful that Latics would stretch that far for a midfield player, given the need to strengthen other areas in the squad.

Clearly much of the Brentford venom has been aimed at Dave Whelan. He was the one who snatched Uwe Rosler from them at a time when they were on a high, with the announcement of a new stadium coming through. This time it is the Wigan chairman again, who in their eyes is trying to poach away their brightest young player without adequate compensation. Whether it is Whelan, Rosler, Jonathan Jackson or whoever else at the club who has been making the bids is academic. In the real world opening bids tend to start on the low side and gradually build up until a consensus is reached. Whelan might be a tough negotiator, but other labels currently being attached to him are clearly unfair.

But then again, do Latics really need Forshaw?

Much depends on the injury situation. Rosler tends to play with three box-to-box midfielders. Don Cowie has been brought in from Cardiff and can be expected to adopt the role previously held by Ben Watson, as an anchorman sitting in front of the back four. James McArthur is an automatic choice. In pre-season Rosler played new signing James Tavernier in midfield and his shooting, his quality crossing of the ball and ability at set pieces makes him an attractive proposition in the long term. However, Tavernier arrived at the club as a full back and only time will tell if he will develop into a quality midfielder. Should Tavernier not become a regular in midfield, Roger Espinoza is the obvious candidate for that third position. Rosler also has a revived Fraser Fyvie, loan signing Emyr Huws and under 21 player Tim Chow as possibilities in midfield.

The media has also reported Latics’ interest in Chelsea’s George Saville, who was on loan at Brentford last season. Were they to sign both Saville and Forshaw it would be interesting to see how Brentford reacted. Many Latics fans consider that Warburton over reacted to the bid for Forshaw, when it is not unusual for a manager to go back to his previous club for a player. They will also cite Whelan’s oft stated view that should any player want to move on to higher things from Wigan, he would not stand in his way, providing the price were right.

Two questions remain. Would Latics be willing to pay £3m-£4m for an extra midfield player and one who has not proved himself at Championship level? Is Rosler seeking more midfield cover because one of his current squad might be leaving?

If there is a number one priority for adding to the squad it surely lies in the acquisition of another central striker. Would those funds be better used in that area rather than spending it on Forshaw?

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Don Cowie – a Cardiff City fan’s view

 

 

Cowie

With a shortage of midfield players available for the start of the season Uwe Rosler has moved wisely and snapped up Don Cowie from Cardiff City. Cowie’s contract had expired and Cardiff had made a new offer, but Cowie chose to join Latics.

On signing Cowie, Rosler remarked that “Don also played over 20 games last season in the Premier League; he’s 31 but he’s an extremely professional person and I’ve known about him for quite some time. From his training regime to the way he lives and breathes football he has the attributes to allow him to play football until his late 30’s. I think he knows the position, he has the ability to play a high-pressing game and an attacking forward game and I think he will add experience, reliability, a technical ability where all our players have to be so I look forward to working with him.

The 31 year old Cowie was born in Inverness and made his debut for Ross County as a 17 year old after coming through their youth system. Cowie was to go on to become captain for the Dingwall club, making 160 appearances, before joining Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2007. He adjusted quickly to the higher level of the SPL and was top scorer and Player of the Year in his first season at Inverness.

After two seasons at Inverness, Cowie signed for Watford in July 2009, under the management of Malky Mackay. He made 88 appearances for the Hornets, scoring 9 goals. When Mackay moved on to Cardiff he signed Cowie (and Andrew Taylor) for the Welsh club. From 2011-14 Cowie made 82 appearances for Cardiff, scoring 6 goals. Like Taylor, Cowie played in the League Cup final for the Bluebirds in 2012, when they were beaten on penalties by Liverpool. Cowie has been capped 10 times by Scotland.

In order to learn more about Taylor’s time at Cardiff we have one more reached out to Benjamin James of the View from the Ninian fan site.

Here’s over to Benjamin.

Don Cowie was often seen as Malky’s son at Cardiff; no matter how well he was playing, he always got a game. But I think that is unfair to Don Cowie. He came in on a free and was absolutely committed to Cardiff from day one.

A player who can play all along the midfield, his biggest asset is his fitness. He genuinely doesn’t stop running and leaves everything on the pitch. He does pitch in with assists and the odd goal but his work rate is phenomenal. When we got the prem, I didn’t expect him to feature much but he played a big role in some of our biggest wins; particularly in the home win over Man City.

I’m sad to see him go. Never one to shirk or hide away and has a great cross on him. Thought he would be a big player for us next year but, instead, he will be a big player for Wigan instead.


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