Five talking points following an excellent display against WBA

Wigan Athletic 1 West Bromwich Albion 1

What a transformation: the long ball approach hardly reared its ugly head. In its place we saw Latics building up moves from the back in the manner of yesteryear. If it had not been for a woeful lack of concentration by keeper Jamie Jones Wigan would have surely won this game against the league leaders. They were the better team throughout.

Paul Cook made seven changes, mostly through injuries. Kal Naismith reverted to the centre of defence and Josh Windass was played at centre forward in preference to Joe Garner.

What caused the transformation?

The style of play was a revelation compared with the awful stuff we have seen so often over these months. Rather than launch long balls the defenders passed the ball to midfielders who made themselves readily available to receive it. Was Cook’s absence from the side-lines through suspension a factor?

The fourth official was possibly relieved to find out that he did not have to listen to Cook’s constant ranting and raving. It is an ugly side of a manager who otherwise behaves with dignity compared to most of his counterparts from other clubs. There is much to be said for a manager’s passion, but one wonders whether Cook’s attention to detail on the pitch has been distracted by a constant need to berate that fourth official.

The big question is whether the return to playing good football was due to Cook’s match strategy or whether it was down to Liam Richardson  directing the team from the side-lines.

Energy levels not a problem

The stats show that Latics had 44% of the possession. Their pass completion rate was 82%, the highest for some time. The players did not look leggy in the closing stages as they so often have this season.

The long ball approach that has been so often used has typically ceded possession, causing Latics players to have to constantly press to get the ball back. Not surprisingly their energy would sap as the games progressed.

The message is clear: Cook must insist that his defenders eschew the easy option of launching long balls. They must take responsibility in building up moves from the back.

Why Windass for Garner?

It was a welcome surprise to see Josh Windass played at centre forward. It was reported that Kieffer Moore was injured but Cook did have an orthodox target man available in Joe Garner. With Windass playing up front, the defenders were less likely to launch long balls. Windass has the pace that Garner and Moore do not have, although he does not have their physicality.

Round pegs in round holes

One of the criticisms of Cook’s management has been his habit of putting round pegs in square holes. Last night we saw Gavin Massey look so much more comfortable playing on the right wing rather than looking like a duck out of water out on the left. Through playing Jamal Lowe at number 10 Cook was able to include both players in positions that suited them.

 What will happen when Dunkley and Moore return?

Chey Dunkley has been one of the mainstays in Cook’s teams since he arrived at Wigan. At his best he is strong in the air and can make stunning last-ditch tackles. However, he is prone to kicking the ball out of play at the merest hint of danger and nobody has launched more long balls than he.

Kieffer Moore’s presence on the pitch almost invites defenders to send long balls in his direction. Sadly, he has rarely been able to do what is more important: getting into right place in the penalty box to score goals. For once he got a good cross when he headed home against Luton. The quality of crossing from the flanks has so often been woeful.

If both are available for Saturday’s game against Huddersfield will they be in the starting eleven? If so, what style of football can we expect?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Best transfer window yet? Crusat, Maloney, Van Aanholt strengthen Wigan

With another dramatic deadline day safely behind us, I daresay Wigan Athletic has enjoyed its most successful transfer window yet. While other clubs wheeled and dealed and were ultimately forced to re-shuffle their packs to cover for unexpected losses, Roberto got the two wingers he had been looking for all summer to replace N’Zogbia and Cleverley, plus a much-needed alternative at left-back, something the team has lacked for a couple years. The squad not only looks competitive, it looks large. There is cover for everyone in the squad, no one is indispensable. It’s another mark of how far the club has come under Martinez.

So, lets recap the summer’s activity. It is an unfortunate truth at a club of Wigan’s size that one must sell to stay afloat — at least until the club’s fan base has grown enough to fill the DW week in and week out, sell shirts around the world, and be competitive enough to bring in television and prize money from European tournaments.

Given this fact, and the probability that the player would have forced the transfer anyway, N’Zogbia’s sale was unavoidable. Nine million was underwhelming for a player of his ability and Premier League experience, but from a strictly business perspective, the club paid six for him, got two-and-a-half excellent seasons out of him, and made a three million profit. And they almost certainly replaced him with a player on half his wages.

Meanwhile, seven million has been spent to bring in four players permanently, plus a very promising season-long loan. Last year’s player of the season, Ali Al-Habsi, should prove to be worth every penny of the four million Latics paid for him earlier this summer. Despite his first-match blunder, he was absolutely outstanding last year and at 29, is just entering his best years as a keeper. He seems to really love the club and I could see him playing out the rest of his career at the DW.

Albert Crusat, also 29, arrives from Almeria, where he spent six “magnificent” seasons. An Almeria fan site says he was one of the most loved players at the club, and should be a success in the Premier League based on his style of play. We understand he is a skillful, fast left winger, small but with good strength.

Shaun Maloney, 28, arrived from Celtic, where he spent most of his career. He is a right-footed winger, also quite small but tricky and with a dazzling highlight reel of direct free-kicks. He has had some injury trouble but has been fit for a while. He was chosen as the Scottish Player of the Year in 2006 and has played for his country 20 times. Celtic fans sound sad to see him go, and Aston Villa fans, who had him for a season and a half, reckon we have done tidy business for a “talented little player.”

Dave Jones joined the club during pre-season after failing to agree a new contract at Wolves. The 26-year-old is a left-footed central midfielder, much loved by Wolves fans for his efforts at Molineaux. This goal gives you an idea about the type of player he is. He hasn’t featured yet, but seems destined to play in an advanced role in the midfield diamond. His eye for a through ball and shooting threat make him a more than useful replacement to the current starting midfielders.

Nouha Dicko came in on a free after financial difficulties forced Strasbourg to release some of their players. He looks to be one for the future, but has already been lighting up the reserves with his pace and dribbling from the wing.

Patrick Van Aanholt is a 21-year-old left back, on a season-long loan from Chelsea, where he moved from PSV Eindhoven in 2007. He has been out on loan spells at Coventry, Newcastle and Leicester City since joining the London club. Hard to get a game with Ashley Cole and Yuri Zhirkov ahead of him in the pecking order, but he has represented his country at U-19 and U-21 levels and was even close to the senior squad on a few occasions. He should provide excellent cover for Maynor Figueroa at left back.

In Conclusion:

The deepest squad the Latics have ever had. Roberto already had a young, promising team and has added several players at the peak of their careers. Crusat and Maloney should not need a lengthy adjustment period (although they probably won’t go straight into the starting lineup either, given the strong performances by Rodallega and Moses on the wings last time out), and are proven players. There is now cover in every position. Kirkland for Al-Habsi. Stam for Boyce, Gohouri/Lopez for Alcaraz/Caldwell, Van Aanholt for Figueroa. Jones/McArthur/Thomas for Watson/Diame/Jordi/McCarthy. Sammon for Di Santo. Crusat/Maloney for Moses and Rodallega. And that’s not to mention young players knocking on the door like McManaman, Dicko and Redmond.

The starting lineup may not be any stronger, on paper, since N’Zogbia and Cleverley’s departures. But the depth is something we’ve never seen. And options. Looking forward to watching the new boys soon.