Latinos ready for Brighton

Both Jean Beausejour and Roger Espinoza have had a busy week, but neither would complain if Owen Coyle put them in the lineup against Brighton on Saturday.

What are the chances?

Beausejour played for the first 81 minutes for Chile at Wembley on Friday, then came on as a substitute after only 8 minutes against Brazil in Toronto on Tuesday, completing the remainder of the match.

Beausejour was a key component of Chile’s fine 2-0 win over England. His expert close control in tight situations, together with his patient approach, helped Chile build dangerous moves down the right hand side of England’s defence.

He came early in Toronto because of an injury to midfield dynamo Marcelo Diaz. Brazil went 1-0 up after 10 minutes but Chile got one back when Eduardo Vargas scored a spectacular goal from his headed pass after 71 minutes

Chile had been far from overwhelmed against Brazil, but eventually went down 2-1 to an 80th minute goal from Robinho.

Chile are certainly seeking the right kind of opposition in preparation for the trip to Brazil in June.

Espinoza played for the first 64 minutes against Brazil in Miami, in front of a crowd of 71,000. When he went off Honduras were losing 2-0. They let in another three without him. Check out  this video clip to see how impressive Espinoza looked in that match. Bleacher Report rated him Honduras’ best performer.

Espinoza came on after 46 minutes in the 2-2 draw with Ecuador in Houston on Tuesday. Honduras were trailing 1-0 at half time, but got to 2-1 ahead until Ecuador equalized in the 89th minute. Both teams had been down to 10 men, Wilson Palacios having been sent off after 84 minutes.

Honduras used a total of 12 substitutes in those two matches, in an attempt to give a wide range of players an opportunity to show what they could do against quality opposition. That Espinoza played 109 minutes in the two games is therefore not a reflection upon his performance.

Brazil are going to be the team to beat in June and Honduras needed to play strong opposition outside their usual opponents in CONCACAF. Ecuador are no push-overs either, having finished fourth in the highly competitive South American qualifying competition.

Despite playing well against world class opposition for their countries neither Beausejour nor Espinoza is likely to make the starting lineup against Brighton.

Beausejour missed recent Latics matches through a foot injury, but currently has to compete with James McClean and Callum McManaman for a place on the left flank.

Despite a Man of the Match performance in Kazan, Espinoza was not retained in the starting lineup at Yeovil. In fact he was brought off the bench with five minutes to go. Coyle is blessed with a strong squad of holding midfield players and has rotated them well, with the exception of Espinoza who he has repeatedly snubbed.

In the Brazil match Espinoza played wide in left midfield, not his best position, but he nevertheless looked very involved, winning the ball and putting in some excellent passes.

Coyle has lined up with both Jordi Gomez and James McArthur in wide midfield positions, with little success. He brought Espinoza off the bench in the Charlton match to play wide on the left and the Honduran did not do badly.

Juan Carlos Garcia was also in the Honduras squad for both matches and came on as a substitute after 81 minutes against Brazil. Coyle still has not started him at left back, although he did play in left midfield in the League Cup loss to Manchester City. It would be a big surprise if he started on Saturday.

There is good news for Latics in that the excellent Ivan Ramis is ready to compete for a place, after 10 months out through injury. It will interesting to see if Coyle is willing to put Ramis in the rotation with Leon Barnett, Thomas Rogne and Ryan Shotton for the centre back positions.

At the time of his injury at Fulham in January, Ramis was looking a quality Premier League defender –  a good reader of the game with a strong tackle. Ramis will have to adjust to the high ball game played by so many teams in the Championship, but at 6’2” he is quite capable in the air.

Passing the ball out of defence is something Ramis is good at and the other centre backs in the squad should take note. Too often they have taken the easy option of the long ball or the pass back to the goalkeeper, the end result more often than not being Latics losing possession.

It looks like Will Keane will be shortly be signed on loan.  Although Keane’s signing would look like  a positive move we will have to wait and see if Dave Whelan is going to allow Coyle to make a big money purchase of an experienced striker with a proven record of success.

With a busy month coming up it is going to be interesting to see how Coyle rotates his squad.

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Chile and Latics’ Identity

Above: Owen Coyle, Marcelo Bielsa and Roberto Martinez.

To beat England at Wembley is something to savour.  The look of joy on the faces of the Chilean players after beating England 2-0 on Friday was memorable.

Chile had beaten an experimental England team. Things would have been much harder against the first choice home country lineup. In contrast with England, Chile put forward a team that had played together throughout the demanding South American qualifiers for the World Cup. Moreover having a good prior record against England they were not going to be intimidated.

The  manner of Chile’s victory was something Roberto Martinez would have approved of.

In the first half they threw caution to the wind and attacked England. The forwards Jean Beausejour, Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez  were a constant danger and the Latics player got into a good scoring position in the 31st minute. He could not put it away. But then again, if Beausejour were able to score from positions like that on a regular basis would he still be at Wigan?

In the second half Chile had to defend against England pressure and they were unable to keep up the football of the first half. However, they maintained their composure, passing the ball out of defence, despite having ten England players almost camped inside their half.

It is something that Owen Coyle’s current defensive quartet could not even dream about.

Chile’s attacking style derives from the time Marcelo Bielsa was coach. Current incumbent Jorge  Sampaoli recognizes Bielsa’s influence saying  that “Through his excellence he justifies an attacking style that I have always identified with, and I subscribe to his philosophy and ideas.” .

Chile typically played a high defensive line, meaning their defenders were pushed into risky last-ditch tackles when their forward pressing was by-passed.

Bielsa clearly influenced Sampaoli, but probably also Martinez and his preferred style of play .

I first saw a Bielsa team twenty years ago when I was living in Cali, Colombia. Bielsa’s Newells Old Boys played at the atmospheric Pascual Guerrero Stadium in Cali in the semi final of the Copa Libertadores. They knocked out local club America – who had a great record in the Copa – on penalties . Newells were to be defeated by  Sao Paolo in the final, also on penalties. The football of that Newells of Cordoba team at the time was something different.

Back in Colombia a decade later, I was to see Bielsa’s Argentina team draw 1-1 with Colombia in a World Cup qualifying match in Barranquilla. Argentina  played an exciting formation with three central defenders and two wing backs. Captain Roberto Ayala was superb in the Gary Caldwell role in the centre of defence and Hernan Crespo  got their goal. Bielsa was not to achieve World Cup success with Argentina despite a record of W42 D16 L10 during his tenure.

Chile are an exciting team to watch, almost a throwback to the times when teams attacked with abandon. Last year Barcelona paid dearly against Bayern Munich for their lack of height in the centre of defence. But Chile played 5’8” Cardiff midfielder Gary Medel in a three man defence against an England team who are always going to be dangerous from set pieces.

Sampaoli has bravely continued with the tactical approach put in place by Bielsa from 2007-2011. The team seems to play without fear, characterised by high pressing and 3-3-1-3. Even when under intense pressure they continue to play with composure and belief. Critics would say that the approach is naïve, but it has produced the best results Chile have ever had.

In Bielsa’s  early days at Chile they were able to get a point away to Uruguay at Montevideo and also to beat Argentina. Both were firsts for Chile. But then there was the flip side –  heaviest-ever home defeats in qualifiers, 3-0 against both Paraguay and Brazil.

If Bielsa achieved anything with Chile then it was  giving them an “identity”. In order to play in such a way every player needed to buy in to the system. Players coming in would know exactly what was expected of them and would play with enthusiasm.

At Wigan,  Martinez probably aspired to what Chile do, but never quite had the players to do it. But there are clear parallels.

Latics certainly had those ups and downs, with fantastic  wins over the elite clubs that dominate English football, but also humiliating eight or nine goal defeats.

But then again, like Chile under Bielsa or Sampaoli, there was  certainly “identity”.

Chile will probably get undone in the World Cup finals through set pieces. For the moment they are fascinating to watch, playing with confidence and with a strong footballing philosophy.

Since Martinez left Wigan the style of football has nose-dived. There is a distinct lack of identity about the way this current Latics team plays.

It remains to be seen whether Owen Coyle can provide the results to go along with his more ‘direct’ approach of football.

In the meantime we continue to look for an ‘identity’ at Wigan.

But then again lovers of good football will hope it does not resemble an identity such as those developed by Sam Allardyce at Bolton and Tony Pulis at Stoke.

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Current Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino and current Southampton manager Mauricio Pocchetino played in Bielsa’s Libertadores Cup Final team for Newells. As coaches both follow the example of Bielsa
– an attacking approach, with high pressing.