Rosler is the man to take Latics forward


What a difference results make. A couple of weeks ago Uwe Rosler was the flavour of the month and had almost universal support from the Latics faithful. But now after three disappointing performances dissent is becoming rife.

This is not unusual at a football club in England or any other part of the world. The manager is only as good as the team’s next performance and his time in the job is finite. If the results do not improve, he goes, as was the case with Owen Coyle at Wigan last year. But there are exceptions.

The long-term reigns of such as Ferguson and Wenger and their triumphs are well documented. You can add to that the likes of the unsung Dario Gradi and the miracles he worked at humble Crewe.  All three had enough support from their chairmen to be undeterred by the naysayers and snipers who would undermine most managers at football clubs.

So it was with Roberto Martinez at Wigan. Martinez had to shield all kinds of criticism from a hostile minority who were uncomfortable with him as manager. The criticism came forth in his early days as in charge and continued for four years. It was based on the team’s style of play, but if the results had been better would there have been so much dissatisfaction?

Martinez was courageous and strong in his beliefs about the way football should be played. He never let the naysayers sway him, although it must have been tough for him. He had taken over at a time of austerity within the club after Steve Bruce had done a fine job at stabilizing Latics’ position in the Premier League, but at a financial cost. His achievement in winning the FA Cup will be hard for any future Latics manager to emulate.

It was Dave Whelan’s spoken and unspoken support that gave Martinez the backing to go ahead and continue to do what he considered right. Martinez not only won the cup, but kept Latics in the elite league until a cruel injury situation proved his undoing and led to him moving on from the club.

Dave Whelan has made Wigan Athletic into a dream come true. Who could have dreamed twenty years ago that Latics would have a superb stadium and compete with teams that were household names? Whelan’s success has been through appointing the right man at the right time and giving him support. Without Paul Jewell, Steve Bruce and Roberto Martinez where would Latics be now?

But then again, Whelan also appointed Chris Hutchings and Owen Coyle, both of whom he dispatched when he realized he had made the wrong decision.

So what of Rosler? Will he get the support from Whelan that Jewell and Martinez enjoyed?

Rosler maintains the support of the majority of fans who are not fazed by indifferent early season results. He did a remarkable job last season, lifting a team that was drifting down towards the lower layers of the league table. To go into extra time in an FA Cup Semi Final and reach a playoff spot would have beggared belief months before.

Like Martinez, Rosler has a clear view how football should be played. If he had been appointed to take over from the Spaniard the changeover might have been easier to handle. In appointing Coyle, Whelan damaged much of the legacy left by Martinez in one fell swoop. Football at Wigan took a nosedive and it still has not fully recovered.

At the risk of repeating myself from a previous article, it took Martinez some two and a half seasons to get his players to fully respond to his ideas. Fans will remember those wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United for years to come, as they will Ben Watson’s header at Wembley. But it is not just the results, but the style in which Latics gained those victories.

Injuries in the pre-season have severely hampered Rosler’s plans. Critics will say the players were “overtrained”, leading to niggling injuries for too many. But only time will tell if Chris Haslam’s routines pay dividends over the coming weeks, with Latics physically outperforming the opposition.

The loss of free agents Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez over summer was a body blow for the German. Both were able to provide a certain poise that has been lacking since their departure. The lack of creativity in midfield is a cause for concern, although a fit Shaun Maloney would go a long way to solving those problems. It remains to be seen whether the Adam Forshaw saga will be resolved, but the Brentford player would also add creativity if Rosler could get him.

Rosler continues to scour the market for central strikers to add a third to his squad. Marc-Antoine Fortune remains an option in attack despite his poor goalscoring record. Oriel Riera just could not get into the game in the first half at Charlton, where there was a disconnect between midfield and the big forwards. One hopes he will not go the way of Mauro Boselli who was starved of service with Charles N’Zogbia on the right flank and Hugo Rodallega on the left, both of whom were going to go for goal themselves, rather than supply the central striker. Boselli’s demise is a chilling reminder of what can happen to central strikers at Wigan.

Rosler’s new signings will take time to settle in. Andrew Taylor was troubled by injury in pre-season and is clearly not at his best. Don Cowie made a useful contribution at Charlton and with time he will become an important player. Despite having a good technique, Cowie keeps things simple, harrying the opposition, tacking, intercepting, and making sure his passes reach his teammates. Emyr Huws has already made a positive impression. Strong in the tackle, with a cultured left foot, he is playing in the Chris McCann position. The young full backs, James Tavernier and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair will be gradually eased in, more often used as wing backs where the defensive duties are less onerous.

Rosler will continue to demand that his players embrace his high tempo, high pressing game. It has been unrealistic to expect a team that has been palpably unfit up to this point to perform at that level of intensity. The end result has too often been hoofing the ball out of defence, although football returned to their play at The Valley.  The team was clearly playing under orders to play the ball out of defence and build up through midfield. With two new players in the middle of the park it is going to take time to develop the mutual understanding that will make the midfield tick like a well-oiled machine. Cutting out the hoofing is the important step.

Only two teams in the division – Bournemouth and Millwall – have won both of their opening league games. There are four teams who are pointless. Latics have not made the worst start, but expectations are high and they have disappointed so far. But there are another 44 matches to go.

Like any manager Rosler will be judged on results. With the signing of another creative midfielder and another central striker he will have a squad that will be the envy of most other clubs in the division. As the squad gets fitter and his key players raise their levels of performance the results will surely come.

For the moment Rosler needs the continued support of the fans and the owner. Latics are lucky to have such a talented and bright manager.

Despite the poor start, promotion remains a distinct possibility. Uwe Rosler is the man to lead Latics back into the Premier League.

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Off to Charlton in an air of uncertainty

James McArthur is pivotal to Latics' promotion hopes.

James McArthur is key to Latics’ promotion hopes.

Uncertainty creeps up on us. Only a couple of weeks ago there was a mood of buoyant optimism about the season ahead. Uwe Rosler was seen as Latics’ saviour. Trust in Uwe said so many people. But now after a draw and a defeat in the first two games and rumours of the departure of James McArthur, fans are getting edgy.

Following his achievements last season Rosler has deserved the level of support he has received from fans. A home draw against decent opposition followed by an exit from the League Cup is not a huge deal. But what has been disconcerting has been the lack of fitness shown by the players and disjointed play that has not approached the high pressing, high tempo style that the manager espouses.

When Latics played at the Valley last October they had lost their previous three away matches, so the dull 0-0 draw that followed was an improvement. Charlton were struggling on a low budget and Latics’ form had been indifferent. Since then Charlton have had changes at board and football management levels and their outlook is looking brighter.

Rosler’s honeymoon period at Wigan is closing in on him and he will be keen to get a good result at Charlton. Critics are already starting to say that the manager’s vision of the football he seeks is not being realized on the field of play. Rather being super-fit and playing at a high tempo, Latics have looked sluggish compared with their opponents. Moreover the lack of creativity in midfield stands out like a sore thumb. If Oriel Riera is to become the successful striker that Latics so desperately need he is going to need decent service from midfield.

However, only two games have gone. Latics are out of the League Cup, but their clear priority this year is the league. It takes time to impose a style of play upon a squad of players, as Roberto Martinez found in his time at the club. Martinez arrived in the summer of 2009 and it took until the second half of the 2011-12 season before the players were able to realize his vision. The eventual realization was stunning, with Latics beating the elite clubs in the country on merit.

Possibly the most worrying thing for supporters at this stage is the possible exit of more quality players. The exits of the skilful Latins, Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour, are already being felt. However, with time it is to be hoped that the new players will adapt to fill the void.

James McArthur is probably the club’s most important player. He typifies total commitment and brings genuine quality to the midfield. To allow him to leave would be a body blow to Latics’ promotion possibilities. However, Dave Whelan has so often stated that any player wanting to move on can do so if the price is right.

One would have to be a mind reader to predict the lineup that Rosler will send out there tomorrow, let alone the team shape. However, both the manager and the players will be keen to show their commitment and their quality at The Valley.

A good result for Latics is a distinct possibility.

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The Paderborn game is important for injury-hit Latics

The Benteler Arena, Paderborn.

The Benteler Arena, Paderborn.

On Friday Wigan Athletic travel to face SC Paderborn, newly promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history. In May, Paderborn clinched second place in the Bundesliga second division with a 2-1 win in the last game of the season at home to Aelen.

As with Latics entering the Premier League in 2005, the skeptics are not expecting Paderborn to survive for long in the higher league. Paderborn play in the Benteler Arena, which has a capacity of 15,300. They will be keen to prove their critics wrong by holding their own in the Bundesliga.

Over recent seasons Wigan Athletic have had more than their fair share of injuries and Uwe Rosler will be keen to get his squad in good physical shape for the opening Championship match against Reading on August 9th. Although they are convalescing well from major injuries, neither Chris McCann nor Ben Watson is going to be available over the coming weeks. Shaun Maloney has not played a single minute in the five pre-season matches up to this point and James McArthur’s only action has been coming on as a 72nd minute substitute at Dusseldorf. On top of that, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Rob Kiernan, James McClean and Andrew Taylor have picked up injuries in the pre-season preparations.

However, apart from the injuries, Rosler has managed to share out the playing time among the rest of the squad. Most of the senior players have amassed between 220-250 minutes of playing time in the pre-season games with Havelse, Walsall, Besiktas, Rochdale and Fortuna Dusseldorf. With so many midfield players unavailable the 21 year old Fraser Fyvie and 20 year old Tim Chow have stepped up to the plate and have amassed 375 and 369 minutes of playing time respectively. Another young player, James Tavernier, has played 332 minutes. Of the senior pros Leon Barnett has had the most playing time, 290 minutes. The three goalkeepers have shared the playing time, with Ali Al-Habsi having slightly more than Scott Carson or Lee Nicholls.

The last pre-season match typically provides indicators as to the manager’s preferred starting XI from the players available. Rosler will be keen to get his most experienced players ready for the beginning of the league season, but will have to tread lightly in the case of James McArthur, who is still trying to overcome an injury suffered at the end of last season. Rosler will look for experience in midfield and Don Cowie is likely to be a starter. Fraser Fyvie has come in from the cold and it will be hard for Rosler to leave him out of the starting lineup, given his good recent performances.

In defence the injury worry is Andrew Taylor, likely to be the preferred left back against Reading. Given the inexperience of Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, Roger Espinoza might be retained as a left wing back. There are good options in the rest of the defence. Ivan Ramis has played in all five pre-season matches, with 272 minutes of game time. Rosler will be hoping to get the Spaniard to the level of fitness he had before that cruciate knee injury at Fulham. He is likely to line up in the centre of defence with Emmerson Boyce. Leon Barnett and Thomas Rogne have both played in all five games and will challenge for a place, together with Rob Kiernan, if he is fit. The solid and dependable James Perch is likely to start at right back, with the more attacking option of James Tavernier available later in the game.

It could be anyone’s guess who will start in goal. Latics are blessed with two experienced and highly capable ‘keepers in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson, with the huge potential of Lee Nicholls breathing down their necks.

Up front we can expect Oriel Riera to play as the target man. Callum McManaman has been getting fitter and fitter and the 90 minutes he put in at Dusseldorf is something he has not been able to do for a long time. McManaman is typically played on the flanks, but might well find himself in a more central role, effectively as a second striker. Latics have been so short of players with the ability to finish, but Riera and McManaman are players who can show the kind of coolness and poise needed to put the ball in the back of the net. Martyn Waghorn scored two goals against Besiktas and will challenge for a starting spot.

Following a poor defensive display at Dusseldorf, Latics will be keen to tighten up at Paderborn. Once again Rosler will employ his high pressing, high intensity tactic in the hope that Latics can sustain it throughout the match.

The Paderborn match is an important one for Rosler in that he needs to get his key available players as match fit as possible. Paderborn will provide tough opposition, but Rosler will be looking at the performances of individual players more than at the result of the game. Last year Owen Coyle’s squad enjoyed success in terms of results in their US tour, but were to be palpably short of match fitness as the season progressed. Rosler and his conditioning team are clearly demanding more of the players and despite the current injury situation, they will are unlikely to be deterred. The success of the high tempo style that Rosler seeks is dependent on the players’ physical abilities to meet its demands.

It promises to be a fascinating contest and an indication of what we can expect over the coming weeks.

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Callum, Jordi and Maloney ready for QPR


Some football managers are predictable. Their teams are built around a nucleus of players who play week in, week out. Their tactical plan is the same every match, but it is well defined and players know their roles within it. Given information on injuries and suspensions an astute fan can practically name the manager’s lineup for the next game.

Over these past six months we have learned that Uwe Rosler does not fit that model. One would need to be a clairvoyant to predict his team selection and its shape. Added to that is the unpredictability of the way he uses his substitutes.

Rosler is an advocate of a rotation policy, frequently citing the example of Alex Ferguson who he says never picked the same team twice. Given the sheer volume of games Wigan Athletic have had to play over these months the rotation has been a necessity, which the German has handled with skill.

However, some players have rarely been rotated out and have remained almost permanent fixtures. James Perch and Emmerson Boyce have played with a lot of different partners in defence, but their almost constant presence has provided stability. The same can be said of James McArthur, who has had a myriad of partners playing with him in central midfield.

At times Rosler has had to rotate in too many players producing a lack of cohesion. The end product has been occasional poor performances and results. But now with only two or three games left he can rotate his squad as he wishes, not as a matter of necessity.

Rosler has varied the team’s shape at will, switching for instance from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. However, there has been a common theme to Latics’ play – that of high pressing.

When Rosler first arrived his players really struggled to adapt to his demands for the high pressing. However, as physical fitness levels improved so did his team’s ability to disrupt the opposition’s game through energetic pressing. Results moved in an upward spiral. But as the games kept coming in thick and fast, key players started to look jaded and the pressing was not so effective.

Substitutions have been paramount to Rosler’s game plans. Playing with such intensity takes a lot out of players, both physically and mentally. The message to the players is clear – start to flag and you will be replaced. Moreover the German is not afraid to take off a player who has not played at all badly, if he feels a need to change the team’s shape.

Sometimes his hand has been forced. Having to think of the next match coming up just a few days later he has had to take off players who were performing close to their best. Rosler has tended to make his substitutions much earlier than what we were accustomed to during the Martinez era. More often than not his substitutions have made a difference, those fresh legs helping to raise a flagging tempo.

Earlier in the season it looked like QPR were going to get automatic promotion through finishing in the top two. On paper their squad is far superior to those of Leicester and Burnley who succeeded in securing the top two spots. Harry Redknapp’s team have learned to their cost that there are teams in the Championship division who are willing to scrap it out to get a result and are no respecters of the Premier League quality players that QPR possess.

Rosler’s approach to the QPR games will surely be to put in a solid defensive line, relying on the individual brilliance of his flair players. Jordi Gomez has been a revelation over these past months complementing a very high work rate with a great temperament and goals at crucial times. Callum McManaman is approaching the form he had near the end of last season and is a real danger to the Londoner’s defence. Rosler has carefully nurtured Shaun Maloney following his return from long term injury and the Scot is a potential match winner.

With high pressing and a solid and well organized defensive line QPR’s more talented players can be neutralised. It will then be a matter of Latics’ flair players breaching the London team’s defence.

Paramount to Latics’ chances will be the ability of the players on the pitch to press for the full 90 minutes. So often we have seen them struggle in the closing minutes as tiredness sets in. Rosler is going to ask for one final push from players who have played so many games already, often defying niggling injuries.

Wigan Athletic have had an awful record in playoffs over the years. So often they have fought to get there, but let themselves down.

However, they have had an amazing amount of success in difficult cup ties over the past two years. The cup runs have given them the kind of experience and belief that is going to be needed to get through the Championship playoffs.

The players at Rosler’s disposal have the ability to go on and beat not only QPR, but go all the way back to the Premier League. Things are going to be tight and a moment of brilliance or a controversial refereeing decision could tip the balance.

But the crucial question is whether his key players will have the energy levels at the end of this marathon season to consistently produce the high tempo football the manager seeks.

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