A touch of steel needed at Bournemouth

steel2

“…..Don’t be surprised if one or two players who have not played much for us in the last weeks maybe will start on Saturday.

The words of Uwe Rosler ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Bournemouth.

Rosler is ready to shake things up, following displays seemingly lacking in commitment. With just one point from the last three games the team is short of confidence. On Monday Latics allowed themselves to be bullied off the ball by an Ipswich side that was there to get a result at all costs. Put simply it was the lack of steel that lost Latics the game.

Gone are the days when Latics had a combative midfield. Lee Cattermole and Wilson Palacios were a pair to be feared in the Steve Bruce era, both rugged tacklers but possessing no mean level of skill. The ultra-competitive Michael Brown provided back up. Palacios had already gone to Tottenham when Roberto Martinez arrived. Cattermole was one of the first to depart before the new season started. However, Hendry Thomas was to arrive and Martinez use the steely Honduran in front of the back four. Thomas was successful for a while in the Makelele role, winning the ball and laying off simple passes. However, the emergence of James McCarthy saw Thomas lose his place. McCarthy was more mobile, not only strong in the tackle but adept at making interceptions. Together with James McArthur he formed a central midfield partnership that could compete on an even keel with the best that the Premier League could offer.

Midfield has been a problematic area so far this season. The loss of the excellent McArthur was a body blow for Rosler. In the absence of Chris McCann and Ben Watson through long-term injury, new players have been brought in and they have found it difficult to gel into a compact unit. Two of the three who played against Ipswich – Adam Forshaw and William Kvist – were recent signings, still short of match fitness.

Last season Rosler’s preferred midfield trio was that of McArthur, McCann and Watson. All hard working, forceful in the tackle and strong technically. Sadly McArthur has gone and it is going to take weeks before the other two will be fit enough to compete for a place. Moreover both suffered serious injuries and one can never be sure that a player can get back to the same level following a long recuperation.

Rosler has brought experience into the midfield through his signing of the 29 year old William Kvist and the 31 year old Don Cowie. Both players are strong defensively, with high work rates. However, they have their limitations going forward. However, Rosler has clearly made a good investment in younger players. The 19 year old Emyr Huws can play in either a holding role or further forward. He has a superb technique and is strong in the tackle. Adam Forshaw, aged 22, made his first start against Ipswich. Not having played a full game since May, he looked out of touch in the first half, but rallied in the second when he switched to a more central role. Some have likened his style to that of Jack Wilshere, through his ability to constantly receive and run with the ball. In the closing minutes he put through a couple of exquisitely timed passes to split a stubborn Ipswich rearguard. He looked the part in those closing minutes.

Rosler’s preferred midfield over the coming weeks could well be a trio of Forshaw and Huws, together with either Cowie or Kvist. However, given the need to inject energy and steel into Latics’ play, will he give a first start to Roger Espinoza?

James Tavernier could well start tomorrow. Rotherham fans will tell you that Tavernier’s strength is in going forward, not in his defending. For that reason he is more likely to be used as a wing back, rather than a full back. Would Rosler be willing to “rest” James Perch to bring Tavs in? Most fans will hope that he will not play Perch at left back again. The other possibility is to put Tavernier into midfield.

Oriel Riera looked lively after coming on in the second half against Ipswich and will probably take the centre forward spot from Andy Delort. Rosler will be hoping that Callum McManaman will be fit enough to play. Shaun Maloney looked a shadow of his former self on Monday. He needs more match practice, but it is difficult for Rosler to give him that time with the team struggling. Martyn Waghorn will be pushing for a place in the starting lineup.

It would be no surprise to see Leon Barnett return in defence, where his steel will add another dimension.

Bournemouth won 3-0 at Cardiff in midweek in the League Cup, breaking a run of five games without a win. The Cherries have won only one of their four home games so far. Latics have not won away from home this season.

It promises to be an interesting contest. Will Rosler be able to rally Latics into showing that touch of steel that is so necessary in the Championship division? If he can, then Latics could get a good result.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

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.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Wigan vs. Arsenal: Latics out to defy reason

2012-arsenal

If the deepest injury crisis of Wigan’s Premier League existence has led to a slide down the table, Saturday’s home fixture against Arsenal — on paper — promises to extend the misery. Not only are the Latics potentially without two more players, bringing the injured or doubtful list to nine senior players — the London club are enjoying a resurgence and love nothing more than a leaky defence.

The last time these two clubs met was a glorious occasion for Martinez’s men, but it would be a minor miracle if Wigan could repeat the feat on home soil with the casualty list so strong and morale so fragile.

The biggest question is who will play alongside Maynor Figueroa and Emmerson Boyce at the heart of the defence. Gary Caldwell, Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz and most recently, Adrian Lopez, are injured. While it is feasible one of the four will recover in time to play, there are no guarantees. David Jones deputised at left centre-half against QPR, but a similar move would force Maynor Figueroa into an unfamiliar central role. Roman Golobart is untested at this level and it would be a baptism of fire to face Walcott, Cazorla and company in this sort of form. A change of shape would be an option if there was another left back in the available squad, but not so.

And yet, in situations like these when it all seems impossible, Wigan is capable of surprising everyone. Shaun Maloney has been eased back from injury and should start after being Latics’ brightest spark in a poor team performance against Norwich. Franco Di Santo has also been used a little more sparingly recently but could return to partner Arouna Kone up front. The big question is whether Jordi Gomez will be dropped for one of them. And whether James McCarthy’s ankle injury heals in time. His importance to the team grows by the match.

It’s always an unfair contest when Wigan faces Arsenal. But when you have nine senior players injured, including your four senior centre backs, against a team that just scored five goals away from home, all you can do is your best. Reason says straightforward win for Arsenal today — Wigan will be out to defy it.

Wigan vs. QPR: Clean sheets unlikely

2012-qpr

Wigan Athletic returns to the DW to face a Harrified QPR with even fewer available players than they left it — some feat! — including all four of the club’s first-choice centre-backs. The injury total now stands at eight senior players.

Word on the street is Roberto Martinez will revert to a more traditional four-man defence featuring Emmerson Boyce and Adrian Lopez as centre-halves — which sounds fine until reminded of Ronnie Stam’s defensive frailties as a traditional right-back, and the lack of a Maynor Figueroa understudy on the left. The idea of Boyce and Lopez being flanked by two wing-backs playing as full-backs — Stam and Beausejour — is not a warm and fuzzy one, not least because the team’s attacking play has largely been built around their ability to get forward and put crosses into the box.

A perhaps more fluid adjustment, if not without its own set of risks, would be the inclusion of promising Spanish youngster Roman Golobart as third centre-half. This would allow Beausejour and Stam to play in their natural positions and the rest of the team could remain unchanged.

Whichever way Martinez decides to go, statistics suggest the rest of us are in for some goals tomorrow. While Southampton lead the goals conceded table with a remarkable 32 — more than 2 per game — Wigan is close behind with 28, followed by QPR on 27. Considering Wigan’s four first choice defenders are unavailable and the goalkeeper is suffering from a bit of a confidence crisis, a clean sheet does not look likely, though stranger things have happened. If reports of Julio Cesar’s fitness struggle are true, we could even be in for another Robert Green appearance at the DW, thus furthering the argument.

Have you ever sat down to write something and realized five paragraphs in that it’s all coming out wrong?

Despite the defensive crisis and unlikeliness of a clean sheet, I am backing Wigan to win this fixture. Harry has already made big improvements at QPR, with the defence tightened up and Sean Wright-Phillips enjoying a second chance. They showed last week that they are quite good at hitting the post, which should sound familiar. But despite the negative results of the last two fixtures, Latics’ form overall has not been okay. If the general play and discipline of the City match can be retained, three points should be up for grabs.

Prediction: Wigan 2 QPR 1, Jordi Gomez style.

Resistance broken

Roberto Martinez was on the money when he said Wigan Athletic would need to be tactically perfect against defending champions Manchester City — a soft goal halfway through the second half was the difference in this one.

James Milner added a wonder strike two minutes later but probably wouldn’t have gambled on a shot from that far out without the one-nil cushion. It gave City the confidence to attack with verve against a Wigan side that had until that point looked both resilient in defence and composed in attack.

The Good:

The makeshift defence performed admirably. Adrian Lopez was a revelation and is clearly well-suited to a back three. The midfield pairing of James McCarthy and Dave Jones was excellent, as was Franco Di Santo, who skillfully and energetically led a number of breakaways.

All in all, given the injury crisis the club is going through, this was a positive performance against a team full of match-winners. If you’d pulled four starters and several other senior players out of the squad three years ago, it would have guaranteed a hammering. Not so anymore.

The Bad:

A missed opportunity. City were starting to grow frustrated and Wigan were growing in confidence. Al-Habsi’s mistake was his second in two matches. You can get away with it against Reading — just — but not Manchester City. It was effectively game over.

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 5 — Though it pains me to say it, but his mistake led to the goal that changed the game.

Emmerson Boyce: 7 — Could have done better after Ali spilled, loses a point for that. But he was otherwise excellent in his old position.

Adrian Lopez: 8 — A revelation in the Gary Caldwell role. No fault in the goals, made numerous timely interceptions and tackles, and distributed well.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — One near disastrous backwards header aside, he did well alongside unfamiliar defensive partners.

Jean Beausejour: 6 — Played one delicious cross in the second half but otherwise failed to have a strong impact on the game.

Ronnie Stam: 6 — Rusty. Struggled to get his ball into the box. But he shows promise and could be very useful in the right wingback role in weeks to come. Especially as Boyce appears to be set for an extended run at centre-back.

James McCarthy: 8 — Outstanding. Didn’t put a foot wrong all game. Broke up play and started counter-attacks.

David Jones: 7.5 — His best outing for some time. Good passing, strong tackling.

Jordi Gomez: 6 — Better in the first half, although casual at times. Might have had a penalty shout but stayed on his feet and then went down under lesser contact. Faded as the game went on.

Franco Di Santo: 8 — Broke up play, broke with pace, created opportunities, but often found himself alone.

Arouna Koné: 7 — Linked up well but couldn’t put away any of the half-chances he had.

Subs:

James McArthur: Glad to see him back.

Callum McManaman: Came on with a minute to play for Ronnie Stam. A bit late.