Malky’s January Fire Sale

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What is critical……is to eliminate problem personalities – or what he calls the “s—-” – from the dressing room. It’s not just the 11 who play, If you have half a dozen s—- around you’ve no chance. You can’t win. They’ll contaminate the rest of them and bring the whole club down. They’ll be negative everywhere, getting in to good lads and bringing them down to their level. If you walk in and see one or two s—- then you’re watching them, watching who they talk to and what they are doing. They suck as much energy out of you as anything.”

These revealing Harry Redknapp quotes come from an article on the Daily Telegraph site on the key to survival in the Premier League.

Malky Mackay would be wise to listen to Redknapp’s words. He will be aware of what happened to his predecessor at Wigan. He has the January transfer window as a means of moving some of those elements on.

Mackay hardly had a positive arrival at the club and has yet to stamp his mark on the style of play. What we saw on Saturday against Norwich was players going through the motions. A spiritless and gutless performance. It is not the first of that type that we have seen this season, but one expects a new manager to inject new energy and change the style of play. Why has Mackay not had more effect on the performances up to this point? What can we expect any changes over the coming weeks?

Mackay has now been in charge for three matches. His record is D1 L2. The 1-1 home draw with Middlesbrough was the best performance of the three, not only in the result but in the way the team played. Mackay had brought in the “old guard”, only two players signed by Uwe Rosler making the starting lineup. Not surprisingly there was more cohesion and the team played with more spirit than of late. He continued to rely on the old guard in the losses to Sheffield Wednesday and Norwich, but the response was poor.

It could be said that Mackay has used his most experienced players in a time of crisis. The conspiracy theorist will say that he has given players who undermined Rosler the chance to show their mettle. Interestingly the lineup against Norwich included nine players who were born or raised in the British Isles. Moreover the two from overseas- Figueroa and Fortune- have been in England for a long time.

The upcoming game at Watford will surely provide an indication of Mackay’s future plans. Given the continuation of poor results he is not in a position where he can continue with the old guard. Confidence is low and even good players are looking poor at the moment. However, Mackay clearly has to shuffle his pack since the players he has used so far have largely let him down.

Mackay recently mentioned ten players being out of contract for Latics at the end of the season, suggesting they will be trying to impress him enough to be offered a new contract. However, the reality is that likes of Ali Al-Habsi, Shaun Maloney and Ivan Ramis are likely to be lured by other clubs who can offer them better deals. Most of those players are in their late twenties or in their thirties and will demand relatively high salaries, which Latics will find hard to afford with a drop of £9m in parachute payments next season.

It is not only the out of contract players who could depart in January. Dave Whelan has always said that any player can go if the price is right, but the realities of an unsuccessful season and an upcoming drop in revenues could well mean that players go at bargain prices.

One of the reasons cited for Rosler’s lack of success this season was that his squad was too large, leading to too much squad rotation and dissatisfied players who were not getting playing time. Mackay has already acknowledged that the squad is large. However, stats from the transfermarkt site suggest that Latics’ squad is around average size for the division. Its average age of 27.6 years is the second highest behind the squad of Millwall at 28.9 years.

However, this is not to suggest the squad is not too large. Too many clubs in the Championship are spending well over what they should be on player salaries, given the revenues they are receiving. Whelan will be keen to cut down the squad to a financially more manageable size, probably around 23-24 players.

We can expect a fire sale in January. If what ‘Arry was referring to has been the case at Latics then it might take until February for the passion to return to Latics’ play.

Let’s hope this is not the case.

Low confidence Latics throw it away – Sheffield Wednesday 2 Wigan Athletic 1

 

Malky Mackay has a tough job ahead of him, judging by this performance. In the end a battling Wednesday side might have just about deserved their win, having constantly nibbled away at Wigan’s defence throughout the ninety plus minutes.

But in reality Latics threw the game away. Poor defending presented the home team with two goals and once again they spurned opportunities at the other end.

Mackay made two changes from the team that played against Middlesbrough. The ill Sean Maloney not even on the bench, but Roger Espinoza found himself there. Ben Watson made the starting lineup for the first time in nine months and James McClean was brought in on the left wing.

One wondered if a midfield with Watson and Chris McCann – both in their early days after returning from long-term injuries – was going to cope against a combative Wednesday midfield. In the event they played the holding midfield roles with Adam Forshaw in the more advanced role.

Latics started with energy and enthusiasm, but it was clearly going to be a physical contest against a robust Wednesday side. In the second minute Adam Forshaw went down in the box after an untidy tackle by Glenn Loovens, but the referee did not see it as a penalty.

For once Callum McManaman was seeing his fair share of the ball and he was not afraid to take on defenders. After a good run he had an effort saved by Kieron Westwood. Then Jose Semedo’s powerful shot hit the post, with Scott Carson doing well to block Chris McGuire’s effort from the rebound.

Wigan were to take the lead in the 26th minute when a right wing corner from James McClean was powerfully headed in by Chris McCann, who had been their outstanding performer so far. One wondered if they could hold it, but as has been too often the case they could not do so. In the 28th minute none of the three defenders marking the 6 ft 6 in Atdhe Nuhiu could dispossess him and the unmarked Steve May who scored an easy goal from the Kosovan/Austrian forward’s intelligent pass.

Ex-Everton and Real Madrid winger Royston Drenthe was causing some problems on Latics’ right and he got clean through behind Emmerson Boyce but Carson did well to block his shot. Latics retaliated and McManaman, Fortune and Forshaw all had decent efforts on goal. There had been worrying signs for Latics in the performance of the centre of defence, which looked particularly vulnerable. Ivan Ramis was way off his usual level and Leon Barnett was looking shaky under pressure. The towering Nuhiu and the more mobile May were causing them problems.

Mackay was to take Ramis off at half time, with James Perch moving to right back and Boyce to the centre of defence. Latics could have taken the lead after 53 minutes when Marc-Antoine Fortune headed back a corner for James McClean whose header was blocked on the line. Wigan had been dominating possession, but Wednesday scored in the 70th minute when May out jumped Barnett. His flicked header hit both posts before Andrew Taylor hacked it away. However, the assistant referee indicated that the ball had crossed the line.

Latics fought back. Adam Forshaw was somehow unable to reach a McManaman cross that had ‘’goal” written all over it. Then McManaman‘s drive from inside the box went narrowly wide. However, there had opened up a big gap between defence and midfield and Wednesday’s long balls were catching Latics out. May was clear once again, but Perch managed to make a partial block and Carson saved his effort. Latics pressed right to the end but could not convert their possession into goals.

The Good

The effort was there, but to no avail in the end.

Mackay took a gamble playing both McCann and Watson in midfield. He is clearly looking long term. Watson looked comfortable on the ball, but the frenetic pace of the game did not make it easy for him. However, he will be delighted at playing the full game. McCann was excellent in the first half, but faded in the second.

Mackay had chosen two pacey wingers in his lineup and they looked dangerous on the counterattack in the first half. Callum McManaman was given the licence to take on the multiple defenders who marked him in numbers. He did well to force the goalkeeper into a couple of saves.

The Bad

Wigan’s centre of defence was vulnerable throughout. Ivan Ramis had his worst ever game in a Latics shirt and was substituted at half time. It was sad to see such a classy player so out of touch. Leon Barnett is an experienced and capable central defender, but has had some hard times in recent matches. It is a sign of Wigan’s lack of confidence that such experienced and capable players as Barnett and Ramis could be so out of touch. However, the lack of protection from the midfield surely played a part in it.

There have been concerns over Carson’s distribution since he arrived last year, but in this game it reached almost rock bottom. Carson is a fine shot stopper and did well to keep Latics in the game with important saves. But with three successive managers he has persisted in hoofing the ball for the opposition centre of defence to gobble up. Not only did he do that again yesterday, but also put several clearance kicks into touch.

Once again Fortune toiled alone upfront, chasing long balls. Despite his high workrate he rarely threatens the opposition’s goal and one wonders why Mackay is persisting with him. Delort and Riera sat on the bench throughout. It looked like Mackay had given his two wingers instructions to get the ball across more often. This they did, but there was often nobody near the ball when it came.

Many fans continue to lobby for two men up front, with Delort and Riera being touted as a possible duo. However, Mackay too is an adherent to the one central striker system. At Cardiff he had Helguson, then Campbell in that role. Helguson scored just 8 goals in 38 appearances in 2012-13, when they won the Championship division.

Flowing attacking football is unlikely to be a feature of Mackay’s reign at Wigan. But a solid defence is to be expected. That was not the case yesterday.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – made some good stops, but dire in distribution.

Emmerson Boyce: 5.5 – struggling to get back his form of last season.

Ivan Ramis: 4.5 – sad to see such a quality player perform so poorly. Was he 100% fit?

Leon Barnett: 5 – shaky, nervy.

Andrew Taylor: 6 – good in the first half, but Wednesday closed down his attacking moves in the second.

Ben Watson: 5 – did well to complete the 90 plus minutes after such a long layoff.

Chris McCann: 7 – resilient and creative.

Adam Forshaw: 5 – struggled.

Callum McManaman: 6 – looked dangerous, but well watched by the Wednesday defence.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 6 – full of effort, but no real goal threat.

James McClean: 5.5 – full of his usual effervescence and energy, but his finishing remains poor.

Substitutes

James Perch: – came on after 45 minutes. Solid and hard working.

Roger Espinoza: – brought on too late.

 

 

 

Barnett and Ramis can control the rollercoaster – Wolves preview

The season has been like an uncomfortable rollercoaster ride for Wigan Athletic, with some ups but too many downs. The downs have been quite depressing, characterized by low tempo football with little creativity and defensive weaknesses. In terms of performances there have been two “ups”, with a resounding first half display in a 4-0 defeat of Birmingham City and remarkably a 0-0 draw against Nottingham Forest.

A few weeks ago when the season started Latics fans would have had higher expectations of the clash with Forest. Last year Owen Coyle’s team beat them 2-1 at the DW to be followed up by a 4-1 win at the City Ground by Uwe Rosler’s side. Was this performance against Forest really an ‘up’ or was it really a higher ‘down’ than Latics have had in recent weeks?

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the fans above all. The disappointment of a draw and three losses in the first four games was tempered by two successive victories and promising activity in the transfer market. There was genuine optimism before the visit to Blackburn, but that dissipated following three losses and a draw in the next four games. The level of frustration of the fans was high and it led to hyperactivity on the fans forums and social media from the new darksiders, the keyboard warriors who wanted Rosler’s head on a platter.

Rumours were rife that Rosler was on his way out, but a show of support from Dave Whelan provided the German and his squad with the tonic they needed. The display against Forest was laden with the kind of physical endeavour that propelled Latics into the playoffs and cup semifinal some six months ago. It had been sadly lacking in recent weeks. Rumours about a divided dressing room and unprofessional behaviour from certain players were blown away by the chanting of “Uwe, Uwe” by the crowd at the end of the game.

Rosler will certainly be buoyed by the commitment showed by his team on Tuesday and by the backing of both chairman and fans. But then again, a football manager is above all judged on results. Latics will clearly have to start climbing the table or the manager’s future will be finite. Whelan has shown himself to be ruthless if he believes a manager cannot hack it. Rosler will surely know that.

An away game at Molineux is never going to be easy. Moreover Wolves are smarting from a surprise 3-1 defeat that broke an unbeaten home record in the calendar year. That it should be lowly Huddersfield Town who inflicted the defeat was a bit of a shock. But that Huddersfield’s star man was Grant Holt was even more so.

James McClean took the limelight against Forest with an all action display, but there were other players who also raised their games. The midfield was particularly improved, but the centre of defence looked more solid than it has done for weeks. In the absence of the injured Rob Kiernan, Rosler opted for the experience of Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis, who teamed up well before Boyce had to go off injured at the end of the first half. However, the introduction of Leon Barnett in the second half made it look even stronger.

Barnett is a player who is tailor-made for the Championship division. He is rugged and competitive and is more than a match physically for any opposition forward. He is a superb header of a ball. His absence this season has made the defence more vulnerable to the aerial bombardments employed by so many Championship teams. Moreover Barnett is also dangerous in the opposing penalty box, as evidenced by his five goals last season. Latics have not looked so threatening this year from set pieces, partly through mediocre delivery, but also through lack of aggression of the big men thrust forward. Barnett has his weaknesses, his passing in particular, but after playing for two clubs that got promoted out of the Championship he knows the league and what is expected.

On his day Ramis is probably the best central defender in the division. Since his return to fitness he has become an ever-present in Rosler’s starting lineup, although never hitting his top form until an excellent display against Forest. He is a totally different type of central defender to Barnett, often preferring to bide his time before making vital interceptions and tackles. Few defenders in the Premier League can match the quality of his distribution of the ball.

Barnett and Ramis have the complementary strengths that can make them an awesome pairing at Championship level. They can provide the backbone that Latics need to gain that defensive solidity they have so far lacked.

For tomorrow’s game Boyce is out of the reckoning, but Kiernan may well be available. Putting a young central defender in the team when the team is playing well is one thing, but putting him into a struggling team has probably not helped Kiernan’s confidence.

With Don Cowie likely to be ruled out through injury, Rosler is likely to bring the more attack-minded Adam Forshaw into midfield. However, away from home he will be looking for defensive solidity first and foremost.

Ex-Latics striker Nouha Dicko will be keen to give Wigan’s central defence a hard time. It remains to be seen who will make up the central defensive partnership for Latics and whether there will be two of them or three. Following a promising performance with a regular back four, Rosler might well want to stick with that same formula. He will also have to decide whether to continue with his two natural wingers, Callum McManaman and James McClean, away from home. He has the option of playing Martyn Waghorn wide. Andy Delort and Oriel Riera will compete for the centre forward spot.

So what is next for Latics in this rollercoaster season? Wolves have come up from League 1 full of confidence and will provide tough opposition. An adverse result would most likely put Latics into the drop zone.

No matter what the result tomorrow the season still has a long way to go. With a central defensive partnership of Leon Barnett and Ivan Ramis long term prospects would look brighter. They can help provide control for that rollercoaster.

 

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Selling off quality

“We need the right offer. I don’t want to stop the lad from going into the Premier League.”

The words of Dave Whelan regarding the probable departure of James McArthur over the coming days. Once again Latics are playing the role of a club selling off quality.

When thinking of James McArthur the words “automatic choice” come to mind. In fact his would be the first name most Latics supporters would pencil into a team lineup. The Scot might not be the most elegant of movers, but he has been the key man in the engine room of the team. McArthur grew up under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez, where good football was of the essence, even if the results did not always match.

Working under three different managers in less than a year, McArthur stayed with the club when relegation happened. He is a player of genuine Premier League quality, with a massive work rate to supplement his considerable skills. Even in the dark days of long ball under Owen Coyle, McArthur did not succumb. He stuck to his footballing principles, providing the link between defence and attack, preferring to keep the ball on the ground rather than make hopeful long passes. With McArthur on the pitch there has always been a chance of good football coming from Latics.

The same could also be said for Ivan Ramis, the club’s most classy defender. Ramis might well have proved to be one of Martinez’s most astute signings, had he not suffered that cruciate knee ligament injury at Fulham in January 2013. Ramis remains a class act and if he can maintain his fitness he can still be a top flight player. Martinez never had much luck with injuries to his squad and one can only ponder on what might have been if Ramis and Antolin Alcaraz had been able to play together in the centre of defence on a regular basis.

Reports suggest that Ramis is on his way to join Deportivo  La Coruña in Galicia, now back in La Liga after a year’s absence. No fee has been mentioned, but if there is one it is likely to be modest, given the player’s injury record over the past 18 months. Ramis is reputed to be one of the highest earners at the club and his departure has been imminent.

The media reports that both Burnley and Leicester City have made bids for McArthur, the latest one being around £5m from the Foxes. Whelan will probably try for £7m, but the final figure is likely be closer to £6m. The lure of playing in the Premier League and earning a commensurate salary will be hard for the Scot to resist, although the cynics might say that he could well be back in the Championship a year from now if he joins either of those clubs. However, possibilities remain for other Premier League clubs to get involved as the week progresses.

At the moment it looks like Latics are going to take one step forward – in signing Adam Forshaw – and two steps back in allowing players of the quality of McArthur and Ramis to leave.

The dismantling of Roberto Martinez’s squad continues. In July  Latics lost both Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez, skilful players who added poise to the team.  Martinez himself did his old club no favours a year ago when he took James McCarthy and Arouna Kone to Everton, along with Alcaraz and Joel Robles. Four of the players remaining from the Martinez era – Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Ali Al Habsi and Shaun Maloney – are now well into their thirties. Al Habsi is playing second fiddle to Scott Carson and might well be gone over these coming days.  Roger Espinoza and Fraser Fyvie have not impressed  Rosler sufficiently to push for regular first team places. Even Ben Watson could have left in summer if it had not been for his double leg fracture. On a more positive note Callum McManaman is getting back to his best form and both Rob Kiernan and Lee Nicholls have come up through the ranks.

Times have changed at the club. Few fans these days expect Whelan to get out his cheque book as he did in not only in helping Latics rise to the Premier League, but in keeping them there.   They made losses for six successive years in the elite league despite selling off prized assets like Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios. However, when Whelan brought in Martinez he cut the budget and somehow the Catalan managed to keep the club up there for three more years,  an horrendous injury list contributing to relegation in his fourth and final year.

A few years ago fans might have expected Whelan to back the manager in retaining quality players like Beausejour, Gomez, McArthur and Ramis. Uwe Rosler does not have such luxury. He is now likely to lose his classiest players in both defence and midfield. Rosler has to balance the books, using money brought in from transfers to fund his own searches for players.

Ramis played at his best for Rosler when in the centre of a back line of three. Although Latics remain well stocked for central defenders only Caldwell has experience in that position.

It looks like Forshaw will be McArthur’s replacement.  A young player who has excelled at League 1 level compared with an experienced campaigner who played in all of the most eventful games in the club’s history in the higher echelons of English football.However, Rosler clearly has confidence in Forshaw’s ability to make it in a higher level of football.

However, fans will hope that the proceeds of the sales of Ramis and McArthur will go towards improving the squad. The media reports that Latics are in negotiations to sign central striker Andy Delort from French second division side, Tours. It is rumoured that they are offering around  £2m-£3m for the player. This added to an investment of around £5m for Riera and Forshaw would come close to what Latics would recoup. However, the possibility remains of more players leaving, particularly those on higher salaries or out of favour with the manager.

In McArthur and Ramis, Latics will be losing two more players of genuine Premier League quality. However, Rosler has to take a wide overview and make sure that his squad is well balanced and competitive in all positions. At the same time he needs to make sure that he not only breaks even on his transfer dealings, but that he keeps a cap on the wage bill.

Rosler does not have the financial backing that Paul Jewell or Steve Bruce had during their time at Wigan. His situation is more akin to that faced by Martinez. Although he has recruited mainly UK based players he has had to look further afield to find strikers that he can afford.

Fans will be disappointed to see McArthur and Ramis go, less so the Spaniard given his injury problems. They are quality players capable of performing at a high level in the first tiers of football in both England and Spain.

 

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A calmness in the centre of defence

 

He is a centre back who stays cool under pressure, waiting for the right moment to intervene. He exudes a calmness that helps to gel the back line of defence. If it were not for the cruciate knee injury he probably would not be at Wigan.

The classy Ivan Ramis is the one most Latics fans would think of when reading that description. Probably the best centre back in the Championship division, the Spaniard’s career was hit by a cruciate knee injury at Fulham in January 2013.

Ramis had been signed by Roberto Martinez in summer of 2012 to shore up a centre of defence that was leaking goals. He had a wealth of previous experience in La Liga with Real Mallorca and looked every inch a Premier League player until that injury set back. Many Latics fans still ponder – what if Ramis and Antolin Alcaraz had both stayed fit? Surely with such a capable central defensive pairing they would not have conceded so many of the ‘soft’ goals that led to relegation.

After such a long injury layoff Ramis struggled for fitness on his return last season. He was picking up the telltale kind of niggling injuries that often happen after being out of action for so long. Uwe Rosler had to use him sparingly as the games came in thick and fast in a hectic end of season. Ramis played in the last league match at Blackburn but picked up an injury and had to go off at half time. The injury was to prevent him participating in the playoff games with QPR. Once again one can only ponder as to whether the London team would have got their two soft goals if the Spaniard had been playing.

It is possible that the 29 year old Ramis will leave the club over the coming weeks. He is one of the highest earners at the club and there are question marks about his physical ability to play week in, week out. In January he almost went to both Crystal Palace and Cardiff City, but both clubs backed out after he received medical examinations.

As far as Latics’ promotion chances this season are concerned the regular presence of the big Spaniard could be critical. Not only is his defending of high quality, but his passing out of defence is a joy to watch and he is a danger to the opposition on set pieces. Should Latics achieve promotion they are going to need players of Ramis’ quality. Many of us will be hoping that he will not be not successful in finding a new club and his injury problems are a thing of the past.

Although Ramis would be the first name to roll off the tongue when thinking of that calmness in defence and problems with injuries, there is another who could fit that description. Thomas Rogne’s career has been cruelly blighted by injury but he is still only 24 years old and can play a major role for Latics this season.

The towering Norwegian international suffered the cruciate injury when he was just 18. He was playing for Oslo club, Stabaek, in a pre-season game in Spain against Russian side, Krylia Sovetov, when it happened. The injury forced him to miss the whole season, but he was to return and play in the Champions and Europa Leagues for the Norwegian club. Rogne joined Celtic in January 2010 and made 50 appearances for the Parkhead club. However, as noted in our fan view post of July 2013 he was to receive a series of niggling injuries during his time in Scotland.

At 6’4” Rogne is commanding in the air. Moreover he maintains a calm presence when under pressure. Distribution is not his strongest point and this is something he needs to work on. The player himself will surely be praying for an injury-free season and be hoping that Latics’ physical fitness team can help him overcome his previous problems. Should he manage to stay fit he will mount a strong challenge for a regular spot in the centre of defence.

Last season Ivan Ramis made 18 appearances for Wigan and Thomas Rogne made 16. Providing both stay at the club and steer clear of injuries they could form a key defensive partnership for Latics’ promotion push.

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