Sheffield Wednesday preview – keeping a settled team?

SheffWed

Photo courtesy of SWFC.

Wigan Athletic travelled to Hillsborough on December 18th last year, only their second ever visit to that famous ground that hosted FA Cup semi-finals for so many years. Wigan were on a high. After a miserable run of defeats under Owen Coyle and caretaker management they had welcomed the charismatic Uwe Rosler. Just three days before the German had won his first game in charge, with a 3-2 victory over arch-rivals Bolton.

Almost a year on, Wigan Athletic find themselves with another new manager in his second game in charge, once again hoping to turn back a tide of bad results. With all the media hype about emails and racism the mood in Wigan is not as bright as it was a year ago, although there exists a significant faction of supporters who have faith in the ability of new manager, Malky Mackay, to turn things around.

Latics were playing well at Hillsborough a year ago, being 1-0 up through a goal from James McClean, only for the match to be abandoned after 59 minutes because of the torrential rain. They were to return to Hillsborough on February 11th to claim a 3-0 victory with two goals from Nicky Maynard and one from Marc-Antoine Fortune. It signaled the beginning of an eight game unbeaten run in the league with seven wins and a draw.

How times have changed. Latics currently lie in 23rd place in the Championship table, with Wednesday five points above them in 13th place. Strangely enough Wednesday have won only one out of nine home games this season, scoring just three goals. However, their defensive record is strong with only 14 goals conceded in 18 matches.

Latics put up a good performance in Mackay’s first game as manager, drawing 1-1 with high flyers Middlesbrough last Saturday, thanks to a superb free kick from Shaun Maloney. Mackay will be looking at building upon that performance to get a good result at Hillsborough.

One of the main criticisms levelled against Rosler was his constant rotation of the team. It will be therefore be revealing to see if Mackay sticks with the lineup that was a shade unfortunate not to beat Middlesbrough last weekend.

However, a lack of firepower upfront remains a huge concern for Latics. There are plenty of fans who would like to see a frontline pairing of Andy Delort and Oriel Riera. The two played together in midweek for the development squad, Delort scoring two and Riera hitting the post for Jordan Flores to tap in. Would Mackay be willing to vary his tactical formation to allow this to happen?

The big question is whether Mackay’s arrival can lift Latics in the same way that Rosler’s lifted them just over a year ago.

The performance on Saturday will give us at least an indication of whether Latics really can turn around a hugely disappointing start to the season.

Development squad beats Morecambe 4-0.

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Wigan Athletic 0 QPR 0 – a damp squib

Skybet championship play off semi final, Wigan Athletic v QPR

Gomez latches on to Caldwell’s long pass after 42 minutes.

Seldom will one see a game as sterile as this, with so few chances created. It was a damp squib. A Latics team looking low on confidence had 58% of the possession, but never committed enough men forward to pose problems for the visitors’ packed defence.

Uwe Rosler surprised us by leaving Martyn Waghorn on the bench, playing Marc-Antoine Fortune up front with Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney. Rosler preferred Rob Kiernan to Leon Barnett and he was joined by Emmerson Boyce and Gary Caldwell in a central backline of three. James Perch and Jean Beausejour were the wing backs, with James McArthur and Jordi Gomez in central midfield. Scott Carson continued in goal. Nick Powell did not make the squad.

Harry Redknapp put out a lineup with lots of creative players, but from the onset it was clear that his tactic would be to pack his defence and frustrate Latics. It was a measure of strength of the QPR defence that Wigan’s first decent shot on goal came after 42 minutes when Gomez pulled down a long pass from Caldwell and forced a good save from Rob Green. Carson had been virtually unemployed at the other end. It had been a scrappy, physical affair with McArthur, McManaman and Caldwell joining Richard Dunne in receiving a yellow card.

QPR came out more positively early in the second half with Junior Hoilett looking lively and having a shot go wide. Carson did well to punch away a cross from Hill, and then made a good save from a low shot from Traore.

Latics got back on top of possession and had the chance of the match when Kiernan found Fortune eight yards from goal, but the French Guinean spooned it wide. One was expecting Rosler to make his habitual substitutions around the 60 minute mark, but they were not forthcoming. The game continued to be scrappy, with Latics mainly relying on long balls which were gobbled up by the visiting defence.

The substitutes came after 76 minutes as Martyn Waghorn and Nicky Maynard replaced McManaman and Fortune, but it had little effect. The game reached its predictable conclusion in a dull goalless draw.

The Good

QPR came in to the match in better form than a Latics team that had lost 4 out of their last 6 games. It showed.

Wigan looked solid defensively.

Looking on the bright side Latics are still in with a chance in the return match on Monday.

The Bad

It was more like watching a game of chess rather than a football match. QPR stymied Latics, who had little to offer in the final third of the field. Apart from that first half shot from Gomez, Wigan’s flair players could not provide that telling pass or shot that would make the difference.

What was missing from Latics was tempo. Roger Espinoza is a player who can not only put energy into a game, but has a catalytic effect on his team mates. However, he sat on the bench the whole match. James McClean could also have come on and injected some life into Wigan’s play. He too was shunned.

We did not see Latics playing the Rosler way with high pressing and fast counterattacks. They were insipid and cautious, the wing backs holding back and not enough players getting in the box.

Fortune started the match after not having scored in his last 17 games. It was no surprise when he missed Latics’ best opportunity in the second half. However, that was the only opportunity he had, given the woeful service into the box. Rosler could be criticized for starting Fortune rather than Maynard who had scored two goals in the previous game. However, had Maynard started he would have been on the receiving end of too many long balls, which is not his forte. Fortune once again plugged away, given poor service.

Latics have played QPR three times this season and still not scored a goal.

However, all is not lost. An early goal for Wigan on Monday would provide a big boost for their flagged self-confidence and could see them go through. Stranger things have happened.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6.5 – did all that was required of him.

James Perch: 6 – solid.

Emmerson Boyce: 6 – solid.

Gary Caldwell: 6.5 – solid in defence and put some decent long balls forward.

Rob Kiernan: 6 – looked comfortable in defence. Injured by Clint Hill’s elbow in the first half, unseen by the officials.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – solid in defence, seemed afraid to go too far forward.

James McArthur: 6 – worked hard to maintain possession.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – worked hard but could not put his stamp on the game.

Callum McManaman: 6 – could not find a way through a massed defence.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 5.5 – spurned his only opportunity of the game.

Shaun Maloney: 6 – not at his best yet after a long time out injured.

Substitutes

Martyn Waghorn, Nicky Maynard: – came on after 76 minutes, but could not make the difference.

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Sheffield Wednesday Preview

In mid-December a Wigan Athletic team in transition traveled to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday. Uwe Rosler had just won his opening Championship match, with a tight 3-2 win over Bolton, following an unfortunate dismissal from the Europa League at Maribor.

I noted in my match preview of the time that  “..not only will it be Latics’ third match in a week, but they are also adjusting to a new style of play. The high pressing that Rösler expects is physically demanding for players who have not managed to keep up such a pace up till now. The question is whether the lineup Rosler puts out will be able to do what he wants most of the time.”

In the event Wigan’s high pressing game proved a powerful weapon against a Wednesday team that was struggling near the bottom of the table. Wednesday were relieved that the rain caused the match to be abandoned early in the second half with Latics a goal up. Since that day their fortunes turned. Wednesday have now lost only one of their ten matches since then. Their victories include a 2-0 win at promotion candidates Reading on Saturday and a 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United on January 11th.

Wigan Athletic too have had a better run of results since then, losing only two of the nine league games in that period. However, although fitness levels may be improving many players are still finding it hard to keep up the pace needed for Rosler’s high pressing game.  The ability of a player to perform the high pressing role clearly comes into Rosler’s thinking prior to choosing his starting lineup, as Callum McManaman found on Saturday, losing his place to Martyn Waghorn, despite looking sharp in the previous game against Charlton.

It will be interesting to see Rosler’s tactical approach to the rematch tomorrow. Wednesday will be ready for the high press and full of confidence following recent results.

The German tends to go more cautiously into away games and he might well opt for his solid midfield trio of James McArthur, Chris McCann and Ben Watson in front of a flat back four. He is unlikely to be able to call upon Ivan Ramis, Thomas Rogne and Markus Holgerrson in the centre of defence, the first two only recently having returned to training and the Swede not having played since the end of his MLS season in November.  That means Emmerson Boyce continuing to partner Leon Barnett at centre back, with James Perch on the right and either Stephen Crainey or Jean Beausejour on the left.

Rosler will have to decide whether to start with his two pacy wingers, McManaman and McClean, or to play with just one. Given Waghorn’s promising performance at Huddersfield it would not be surprising to see him start, possibly in his more natural role as a central striker.

There have been concerns among fans about the lack of flair in Latics’ play over recent games. Latics certainly have flair players but the chemistry has been lacking. It is unlikely that Rosler will risk Nick Powell tomorrow and Josh McEachran is still not one hundred percent fit, although he could come off the bench. However, the mouth-watering prospect of Powell moving on to McEachran’s incisive passes is something we hope to savour fairly soon.

When Rosler has all his players match fit he will have a very strong squad and be able to operate with a flat back four or three central defenders. Other teams might be geared up to deal with his high pressing tactic, but he will be able to alter the shape of the team at his whim. He will continue to rotate his squad, but will still have a very strong bench whichever starting lineup he chooses.

It promises to be a fascinating contest tomorrow – playing Wednesday on Tuesday at Hillsborough.

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