Swansea City 2 Wigan Athletic 1: That sinking feeling

Without doing a terrible amount wrong, Wigan Athletic has found itself sinking into the all-too-familiar lower depths of the Premier League. We might be telling a very different tale if Arouna Koné’s headed equaliser had not been incorrectly disallowed for offside, but in the end those small margins told and it was another tight loss. There have been several of them in recent weeks against beatable teams — Fulham, Sunderland, and now Swansea — in which the side showed positives but failed to get the result. The good news is that fellow basement dwellers Southampton, Reading, Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR look a weaker set of competition than last year’s pack.

Of the aforementioned strugglers, Norwich were the only team to secure three points this weekend with a shock 1-0 victory over Arsenal. Chris Hughton’s side deserve full credit for an excellent performance, but it is no coincidence they got the result following an international break. Like Swansea, Norwich looked fresh and full of zip — both squads have few internationals and benefitted from two weeks of focused training. Like Arsenal, a majority of Wigan’s starting XI had played two matches in the previous week, spread across the far corners of the world. Between Al-Habsi, Figueroa, Beausejour, Caldwell, McArthur, McCarthy and Koné (who admittedly did not play but had an eventful week nonetheless) — Latics players covered four continents and hundreds of thousands of miles before this fixture. Thank goodness Barbados wasn’t playing. Maynor Figueroa, whose Honduran national team secured qualification after thumping Canada 8-1, certainly looked like he was in a different time zone.

A detailed analysis of post-international results will follow next time there is an international break. But in the meantime, it seems fair to raise the question why Roberto is not leaning a little more heavily on his squad for these fixtures based on recent post-international break results?

The Good: 

Despite a sharp-looking home performance from Swansea, Latics kept them out in the first half, and looked the more incisive team on the counter. James McArthur showed some touches of real class and vision. Arouna Koné was very good, despite seeing relatively little of the ball. After Latics conceded and bodies were pushed forward, Shaun Maloney was excellent, getting on the ball, making things happen.

The Bad: 

Figueroa had a bad day. The marking for the second goal was non-existent — they appeared to stand still as Michu ran in to score. The team didn’t show real urgency or ambition until it was 2-0. All of which was a shame against a team that demonstrated their attacking threat but were defensively wobbly throughout. Opportunity lost.

Player Ratings: 

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Caught flat-footed on the first goal, but there was not much he could do about either. Made one or two decent saves before then.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — Solid until he lost sight of Michu for the second goal.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Solid until Hernandez got the better of him for the first goal.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 — Not solid. Looked out of sorts, substituted to accomodate an attacking tactical change.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 — Brilliant improvised goal, but didn’t have an easy afternoon with Routledge in fine form.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Cracking cross for Koné, which would have been the equaliser but for an errant offside call. Also played a delightful ball in for Koné, which the Ivorian couldn’t make the best of. Need him to get forward more often.

James McArthur: 7.5 — Some real quality from the Scot, who always puts the miles in defensively but rarely gets a chance to show his skill.

James McCarthy: 6 — Not his strongest performance.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — Always trying to make things happen. But his finishing should have been better with both a first half opportunity and a disappointing second half free-kick.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Only got one chance and telegraphed it.

Arouna Koné: 7 — Strong performance that deserved a goal. His strength and pace are impressive, but he showed he can dribble and head the ball as well. The complete striker — just needs a bit more service and luck now. Took a heavy touch on a lovely Beausejour cross, mind.

Subs:

Ben Watson: N/A — His introduction saw a formation change, which resulted in more bodies forward and sustained pressure on the Swansea rearguard. It also left Latics’ defense a bit exposed.

Jordi Gomez: N/A — Went backwards too many times, to the support’s frustration. Played so well in the corresponding fixture last year, maybe he should have been brought on sooner — before goals were needed urgently. Urgency is not his strong suit.

Mauro Boselli: N/A — No service, barely touched the ball.

Swansea vs. Wigan Athletic: Goals guaranteed

Of all the clubs that voluntarily or otherwise replaced their managers over the summer break, the Swansea revolution has been the most intriguing. Steve Clarke’s positive start at West Brom has been surprising in its results, but not in approach or style. Norwich’s decline had been gloomily predictable, while their old boss Paul Lambert is going to need years and quite possibly a magic wand to steady Villa’s sinking ship. Andre Villas-Boas endured a rocky start but has started to show signs of the fast-paced attacking football that won him a treble with Porto a year and a half ago. All four of them were relatively known quantities or familiar faces.

Enter Michael Laudrup, and Swansea.

When Brendan Rodgers left to pursue a career in corny one-liners on “Being Liverpool,” many wondered if the style of play would go with him. It is often overlooked that it was not Rodgers, but our very own Roberto Martinez, that instilled such a style of play at Swansea long before Mr. Ok came along. That said, Rodgers deserves enormous credit for an excellent season brimming with possession-based, continental-style football. Until that magical final stretch for the Latics, watching Swansea last season had been like watching Wigan 2.0 — a new and improved version of our team with goals and clean sheets added.

In appointing Laudrup, they made a real statement. As successful as Brendan Rodgers was in Wales, he was never a big name. Appointing the Dane, such a stylish and well-travelled player, brings an air of prestige to the Liberty Stadium. And it opens up markets.

New signings Jonathan De Guzman, Michu and Chico admitted the Dane was the main draw in their respective moves to the Liberty Stadium, while Pablo Hernandez said he was his childhood idol. All four are proven performers in the Spanish league and Michu already looks like the signing of the season at 2 million pounds. Ki Sung-Yeung, signed from Celtic, has been described by the Swansea writer on ESPN FC network as “being able to do everything Joe Allen does at a third of the price.” Tidy business indeed.

And the style has changed. And not necessarily for the worse, from an entertainment perspective. They look a more potent threat in attack, committing more men forward, which in turn renders them a bit more susceptible at the back. Their results are extreme to say the least — starting with 5-0 and 3-0 wins before a 2-2 draw, then a three match losing streak, and another 2-2 draw. At home, they’ve won 3-0, lost 3-0, and drawn 2-2 twice. There appears to be a bit less tikki-takka and more direct attacking play. Still skillful and on the ground, but less patient, and more adventurous. The result is possibly an even more entertaining brand of football, but less reliable.

All of which should contribute to a mouthwatering fixture tomorrow. Wigan’s front three of Koné, Di Santo and Maloney showed tremendous movement and understanding against Everton and were unlucky not to win it for their teammates on the day. If Swansea take the initiative as one would expect playing at home, there should be space on the counter. The key will be who scores first. When Everton visited Liberty Park several weeks ago, Swansea were vulnerable on the break and conceded two more. Reading put two past them before a spirited second half fightback that rescued a point.

Wigan should expect to start with the same XI that faced Everton — unless anyone returns from international duties with injury or severe jet-lag. Maynor Figueroa will be buzzing after Honduras thumped Canada 8-1 to advance to the final phase of CONCACAF qualification. Jean Beausejour fared less well, with Chile losing both of their qualifiers. Ali Al-Habsi’s Oman beat Jordan to keep their dream alive, though Australia’s late winner against Iraq pegged them back on goal difference. James McArthur, Gary Caldwell and Shaun Maloney all featured for Scotland, while James McCarthy played two matches for the Republic of Ireland. Comparatively, Swansea lost few of their starters to international travel and may have an advantage there.

A difficult one to predict, but all signs point to goals galore. 2-2, anyone?