A refreshing change in formation for Wigan Athletic

In the summer of 2014 Uwe Rosler was a popular man with Latics followers. The German had taken over in early December with Wigan Athletic lying in the depths of the Championship table. Rosler went on to take them to 5th place and the FA Cup semi-final. They were narrowly defeated by QPR in the Championship playoffs and by Arsenal at Wembley. Although a section of the fanbase had not been happy with his squad rotation policy he produced the results and repaired the damage caused during Owen Coyle’s awful tenure.

The adage “Managers are judged on results” rang true for Rosler. Latics had been one of the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion but by mid-November the German had been sacked as they had slid down the table.

Leam Richardson too is popular with Latics fans. He worked wonders in helping the club avoid relegation last season and his newly assembled squad, with 15 new signings, has made an impressive start to the season. But three midweek home defeats, with the players looking “flat” had led to questions about whether he was too set in his ways, rigidly sticking to his favoured 4-2-3-1 system, not rotating his squad sufficiently to keep players fresh, making substitutions too late in the game, as fixture were piling-up.

If there was one factor that led to Uwe Rosler’s downfall it would be in making too many new signings over the summer, when he already had a strong squad. Richardson’s case differs in that he only had five contracted players when summer recruitment started. However, he now has a big squad which is going to need careful management in ensuring that fringe players do not get disenchanted through lack of game time.

Richardson took a major step forward in the Burton Albion game on Saturday when he brought in Curtis Tilt and Stephen Humphys and gave a League 1 debut to Jason Kerr. Fan concerns about the depth of quality of the squad soon diminished as all three players made fine contributions.

But the real surprise was a switch away from 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-1-2 formation. Kerr was employed as a right centre back, a role in which he enjoyed great success in St Johnstone’s run to win both the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup last season. Jack Whatmough looked very comfortable in the centre of the back three, with the experienced Tilt to his left. Max Power played a deep midfield role with Tom Bayliss more advanced. James McClean looked so at home at left wing back, a position he occupies for the Republic of Ireland. Tendayi Darikwa looked so much better back on the right- hand side and was afforded more freedom in the wing back role. The new formation allowed Richardson to play twin strikers in Humphrys and Charlie Wyke. Humphrys is a talented player who has spent too much time on the bench with only one central striker being employed in 4-2-3-1. Will Keane has looked somewhat jaded in recent games. The return of Thelo Aasgaard from injury will provide Richardson with a back-up in that number 10/creative central midfield role.

With Latics a goal up and Burton down to ten men after 15 minutes it is hard to evaluate the success of the new formation. But credit must go to Richardson for his willingness to go against his own previous orthodoxy. It was noticeable that there was less of a gap in the centre of the field and there was so much less long ball than we have been seeing so frequently. The formation helped to facilitate a more possession-based build up.  

3-4-1-2 offers differing opportunities to players than 4-2-3-1. Callum Lang was suspended and did not play. Lang nominally plays on the right flank but is not a conventional winger. He is a key player because of his willingness to run at opposition defences and he is always a candidate for scoring a goal. His ideal position is open to conjecture, but he would surely be comfortable in the front two of a 3-4-1-2 system.

Richardson has made a response to critics who have had concerns about the rigidity of his tactical outlook. He has shown himself to be a great motivator of his players and is a fine ambassador for the club, discreet in his comments, showing a dignity that is not the norm in football club managers. It was heartening to see him make this change.

Roberto Martinez made the switch to 3-4-3 in the middle of the 2009-10 season when relegation was imminent. It led to the most successful set of results in Wigan’s league history. It also paved the way to winning the FA Cup. Despite those successes there are Latics fans who do not favour a system with three at the back.

In the Cook/Richardson era Latics flitted with systems playing three at the back, but it could never really compete with the 4-2-3-1. Let’s hope that Richardson will give his new system enough time to evaluate it.  Another criticism Richardson has faced has been a lack of a Plan B. Getting his players accustomed to a change in shape, either from game to game, or within a game, would be a major step forward in his development as a manager.

The likelihood is that 4-2-3-1 will continue to be the modus operandi for Richardson, but one hopes that he will keep an open mind towards changes in shape. One way of looking at things is to decide on a system and look at how well players fit into it. Another way is to look at the individual talent in the squad and devise a system that can get the best out of them in their entirety.

Amigo and Social Media Reactions to a home defeat to Lincoln

Wigan Athletic 1 Lincoln City 2

“We’ll learn from tonight” said Leam Richardson after a third consecutive midweek home defeat.

After a high intensity performance at Wimbledon on Saturday this was quite the reverse. The Wigan players just did not have the energy and drive to deal with a stubborn and determined Lincoln side. They simply looked jaded as they did in those other Tuesday night defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons.

The style of football we have seen since Richardson took over has been a carbon copy of that we saw in the Paul Cook era. At its best it is dynamic, high intensity attacking football. At its worst it is lethargic, with seemingly endless, sterile, inter-passing across the back four, too often terminating in a hopeful punt forward.

Paul Cook’s side won promotion by a canter, buoyed by a solid defence, a functional midfield and flair up front. David Sharpe had allowed him a wage bill of some £12m, retaining a key core of players from the Championship, with Dan Burn bossing the defence and the talents of Nick Powell and Will Grigg further forward. The wage bill for this squad is reportedly well above the norms of League 1 but will surely not approach that which Cook was afforded.

Even with the departure of Cook his legacy has remained. Latics continue to play 4-3-2-1, doggedly sticking to the system even when things are not going well. Management remains loyal to a core group of established senior pros, substitutions are made later in the game than those made by the opposition and are “like for like”, with no modification of the team’s shape.

Despite there being 46 games to play in a League 1 season and despite having a squad laden with players of quality and experience, Richardson continues to stick to the same starting line-up, unless injuries intervene. Regular squad rotation is resisted, resulting in key players looking jaded as the fixtures pile up.

Despite now having experienced assistants and coaches around him Richardson continues to doggedly follow the old, familiar blueprint. However, that is not to say it does not have its advantages: sticking to a similar starting XI and that familiar 4-2-3-1 formation leads to a certain type of cohesion and motivation among those chosen players.

Despite those midweek home defeats Latics have 28 points from 14 matches, just two points behind the top two teams. A fine start to the season with a newly assembled squad, for which the manager and his coaches deserve credit. The challenge for Richardson is to avoid burnout of his key players and to provide opportunities to all of his squad. But, like Cook, he is reluctant to tamper with a formula that he has had success with in the past. However, adjustments will need to be made and he needs to seek a balance between squad rotation and keeping a settled team together.

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below:

Zakky commented:

Why are all our passes 15-20-25yarders every team that comes play short pass and move pass and move and play through us as there goal tonight. We are far better away and very frustrating to watch at home and if we don’t remedy this home form it will cost us dear.

He later added:

That was truly dreadful, Sunderland Sheff Wed MKDons Lincoln all played the same way pass and move and we just can’t cope with it.

FrancosLoveChild opined:

Probs the worst start we played so far this season, players losing every ball and can’t even play simple passes. Tactically outplayed so far, teams are starting to learn how to play Vs long balls.

Jocklatic commented:

For the last month or so been taking the usual path to the DW for a much anticipated under floodlight game hoping to see a tantalising, energetic & rip roaring game with three points or a cup progression in the bag….sadly this hasn’t been the case & surely this isn’t going to be a monkey on our back – a win at home midweek??

Tonight was much the same as previous visits where the visitors have sussed us out very early doors, counter act us, get on top & inevitably take control with us becoming an unrecognisable team who fluff passes, panic in possession & become a team who uncharacteristically lose confidence in what they’ve been doing well in previous matches. Sadly imo LR follows the team & seems unable to react to the oppositions gameplan…doesn’t bode well going forward & I really hope this midweek hoodoo doesn’t hang around long.

Jeffsright summarised:

All down to Leam. No hoodoo, no ultra tiredness. Just down to Leam and how we play at home.
Wolves youth, Sunderland, Sheff Weds, Milton Keynes and now Lincoln. Possession football and too many passes, lack of wideman, wing backs one up top, players out of position is just not working in home games.

The_Pon concluded:

I’m not having it that Lincoln were a decent team, nor did they play well. They were absolute cr.p. But somehow, we managed to be even worse. I can take losing to MK. They were a good team, well organised, came with a plan, executed it well, and fair play to them. It happens. Losing to Lincoln is an absolute embarrassment though. We need to change how we play.

Power is not a RB. He’s also too slow (not necessarily pace, though he’s no Usain Bolt, but I mean that far too often, he takes too many touches and ends up under pressure and playing it backwards, losing all our attacking momentum). He needs some practice hitting passes and crosses first time if he’s going to continue in that position.

Darikwa isn’t a left footer, so shouldn’t be playing at LB. He has to cut inside to hit a good pass or cross from wide positions, which isn’t going to work long term because good RBs force him outside so he can’t get a ball away. He should be playing RB, because that’s his natural position and he’s top quality when he plays there.

Bayliss isn’t a holding mid. He’s a #10 or attacking mid. Playing him so deep is wasting his attacking ability, and he’s not defensively minded so he gets caught out of position in that role, which puts him under pressure and then passes go astray. Further up the pitch, he’s going to look for those killer balls and if we attack with pace, he’ll create a lot because he has the attacking instinct; he won’t have to take half a second to think what to do: further up the pitch, it comes naturally.

Looks like Tom Naylor is going to be out for a while. I reckon it’s a hamstring from how he went down and he looked to be in a lot of pain. Could mean Power will step into midfield, which I have mixed feelings about: love his attitude, professionalism and commitment, but I still don’t really rate him for ability. Keane looks knackered. We know he’s a quality player, but maybe time to give him a couple of games R&R: let Bayliss play in his natural position because he’s a perfect like-for-like deputy for Keane.

Humphrys is a good striker, but he’s not a target man. To get the best out of him, we can’t just lump long balls to him. He needs proper service. Same goes for Wyke… though Wyke is more suited to that role, I still think we’re going to get far more out of him if we stop the hit and hope stuff.

Not going to get on Leam’s case though. We’ve played well in far more games than we haven’t, but I do hope he now spends some time on the training ground practising some alternative ways to play, because keeping doing the same things when it clearly isn’t working isn’t what genuine promotion chasing teams do. They have different ways to play, can switch between them on the fly, and by doing so find what works during the course of the game.

Hopefully, losing to such a poor team will be the catalyst for some of the changes we need to happen.

ExiledViking commented:

We’ve won all our Saturday Home games this season, so I’m not concerned at all about the tactics. The problem is Tuesday Night games come too soon after Saturday, Players don’t have enough time to recover and always look leggy and lethargic. 2 midweek games running we’ve been 2nd to the ball every single time. The big test for us will be next Tuesday. If it is tiredness after Saturday, then our 5 game unbeaten away record will disappear at Fleetwood.

Hampton wrote:

Would be very surprised at any tactical changes – 4231 is ingrained into our club and the Cook / Richardson playbook.
Get ready for another no man’s land in the middle of the pitch – hopefully with a different outcome ….!

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

Wigan Athletic: is it time for more squad rotation?

Alex Ferguson liked to use squad rotation as a means of freshening his starting line-up fresh and sending a message to his players that none of them had a guaranteed place there. For each game he would typically change one or two players, often central midfielders. From late 2008 until March 2011, he went 165 games without naming an unchanged starting XI.

On Tuesday night Sunderland manager Lee Johnson made five changes to the line-up that had beaten Bolton 1-0 the previous Saturday. They went on to beat Cheltenham 5-0. That same night Leam Richardson typically made no changes to his starting line-up for the encounter with Sheffield Wednesday. It was a line-up that had been producing a series of good results and the Latics manager saw no need to tamper with it.

Wigan Athletic have seven players who have started in all 9 league matches played this season, with two more players who have played in 8. Having such a backbone of regulars in the starting line-up has enabled the team to gel more quickly than might have been expected. Gary Caldwell’s League 1 title winning team of 2015-16 also had a large influx of new players and initially took time to gel with a record of W4 D2 L3, gaining 11 points in their first 9 games. Latics currently have a record of W6 D1 L2, amassing 19 points.

Leam Richardson has done a terrific job since taking over as manager in November 2020. Keeping Latics out of the relegation zone at the end of last season was a great achievement given the challenging conditions he faced.  He also deserves credit for the start his new squad have made this season.

There has been much conjecture on the social media regarding the splitting of the Cook/Richardson partnership. The former has had a hard time at Ipswich since joining them in March, winning only 22% of games played up to this point. It contrasts with his former assistant’s stats of 35% since last September.  

For so many years the names of Cook and Richardson had been synonymous: they were seemingly joined from the hip. But despite their parting the football Latics have continued to play has been pretty much like we saw in the Cook era. Moreover, Richardson has stuck with that familiar 4-2-3-1 system, being conservative with the introduction of substitutes, loyal to his senior professionals.

Among the strengths of the Latics team this season has been in winning “second balls” and in being dangerous from set pieces. They are a physically imposing team and have the height to trouble the opposition from corners and free kicks. They have proven able to grind down the opposition to the extent of becoming stronger in the latter part of the proceedings. The stats show that on first half goals alone their record is W2 D6 L1, opposed to W6 D2 L1 for the second halves.

Richardson has a squad that is the envy of most of the other clubs in the division. However, the challenge for the manager is to keep players happy who are not getting regular game time. He has a wealth of talent and experience in reserve, either on the bench or not even in the match day squad. He has a big squad with three players whose specialist position is left back, three for the left wing and five central defenders.

The manager has been reluctant, up to this point, to rotate his squad in a manner akin to that practiced by Alex Ferguson. Unless an unprecedented wave of injuries hits the squad there are likely to be players who will be starved of opportunities. Lowest in the pecking order is likely to be the young talent: homegrown players Thelo Aasgaard, Adam Long and Luke Robinson. It would be no surprise to see some of them being sent out on loan at some time during the season.

Will Richardson name an unchanged starting line-up for Saturday’s trip to Gillingham? Or will he make some small adjustments?

Can Latics get the best out of Charlie Wyke?

In the summer of 2019 Wigan Athletic signed big centre forward, Kieffer Moore, from Barnsley. Despite having a decent strike record at Barnsley and Rotherham before that, Moore had a lean time in front of goal for months. His first goal came in early November after not being able to find the net in his previous 12 appearances. By Christmas he had only added one more to his total.

Moore was playing in the Championship for the first time, against better defenders. There were serious questions about whether this player with successful experience in the lower divisions could reach the standards required in the second tier of English football.

Moore had become a struggling player in a team unable to consistently maintain a standard of football that would keep them out of the lower reaches of the division. Even though there were flashes of quality their performances were riddled with “soft” goals due to defensive errors and an inability to hold on to a lead. Too often defenders under pressure would apply the hoof to clear their lines. The lone centre forward had to feed on morsels, so often chasing wayward long balls with big defenders closely marshalling him.

Moore eventually went on to score 12 goals that season, several of which were of very high quality. It could be argued that he had got used to playing in the Championship and had looked more self-assured. But more than that it was the improvement in the football played by the team as a unit that enabled Moore to showcase his skills. As the season had progressed the hoofball had lessened. Midfielders were dropping back to receive the ball, even if space was tight. Moves were being built up from the back and the defenders were taking more responsibility in retaining the ball. With better ball retention the opposition were less able to constantly pressurise the Wigan defence. Put simply, Moore began to flourish as the team began to play football that had more of an emphasis on possession.

Since the Phoenix 2021 takeover in March the mood at the club and among its supporters has had a major lift. The positivity of the chairman, Talal Al Hammad, has been a major factor. He is relatively young and is adept with the social media, which he regularly employs to communicate with fans. The escape from relegation was a major achievement for a club that was on its knees during the period of administration. With the backing of new owner Abdulrahman Al-Jasmi and the direction provided by new Chief Executive Malachy Brannigan the club has new direction.

On his arrival Brannigan stated:

“The past 12 months have been extremely unfortunate for everybody. Our role and my job is to make sure this football club becomes a stable Championship club. From a business perspective, the assets that are here and the value we are getting for it. Then there is the medium to long-term vision of how we can rebuild the club, put it back on solid foundations and look to grow thereafter. We are not an ownership group that is going to be in and out”.

Since the end of last season there has been a lot of flux in playing staff. Most of those who helped the club avoid relegation have departed and the club has brought in players of proven ability at League 1 level. Most had been out of contract at their previous clubs, but it was uplifting for the supporters to see Latics enticing players from supposedly bigger clubs like Ipswich, Portsmouth, and Sunderland to Wigan.

The signing of Charlie Wyke in early July went down particularly well with the fans. Here was a centre forward who scored 31 goals in 51 appearances last season deciding to move to Wigan at the end of his contract rather than stay at Sunderland, where had recently been voted “Player of the Year”.

The 28-year-old, 6ft 2in striker was born in Middlesbrough and came through the town’s football club’s academy. After signing a 3-year professional contract as an 18-year-old in May 2011 he was sent off on loan spells at Kettering, Hartlepool, and Wimbledon. He left for Carlisle United in January 2015 without making an appearance for Middlesbrough. Wyke went on to score 32 goals in 64 starts and 13 substitute appearances for Carlisle in League 2. In January 2017 he signed for Bradford City for an undisclosed fee. During a season and a half with the Bantams, Wyke scored 22 goals in League 1 from 54 starts and two appearances off the bench.

Wyke signed for Sunderland for a fee around £400,000 in the summer of 2018. In his first two seasons he struggled, scoring only 9 goals in a total of 51 appearances. However, in the 2020-21 season he notched a total of 31 goals including 5 in 6 games in the EFL Trophy.

Wyke made his league debut for Latics last Saturday, at Sunderland of all places. He did not have a particularly good game, but neither did the rest of his teammates. Wigan had started off the game in style. Despite having only three players who were starters in the last game of the previous season the newly assembled team had appeared to gel remarkably quickly. When Gwion Edwards put Wigan ahead after 17 minutes following a flowing move they looked well in control of the game. But it was not to continue.

Just two minutes later Sunderland had scored through a soft penalty conceded by Tendayi Darikwa. They went on to win the game through another “soft” goal from their centre forward who had risen to head home without sufficient challenge from the Wigan defence. The smooth, fast-flowing football of the first quarter of the game had dissipated, with the long ball rearing its head.

Watching Charlie Wyke in the second half of the game brought back images to the mind of Kieffer Moore struggling in the first part of the 2019-20 season. He was receiving poor service as the midfield was being by-passed with hopeful long balls from defenders.  The pattern of the game provided parallels with what we saw happen too frequently in the first half of the 2019-20 season.

Unlike Moore who was playing in the second tier for the first time Wyke has ample prior experience at the level he is playing at. Given the right service from the wings he will score goals. But, like Moore, he will struggle if the ball is simply “lumped” to him from the back. But who will provide the kinds of crosses he needs?

This season’s team can pose a major threat to opposition defences with crosses from set-pieces. There is a potential threat from the aerial abilities of not only the central defenders and centre forward, but also the likes of Callum Lang, Tom Naylor, and Will Keane. However, much depends on the quality of the delivery from the player taking the free kick or corner.

To provide dangerous crosses from the flanks the full backs and wingers must build up a mutual understanding of each other’s play. If the full back advances deeply into opposition territory, there must be midfield coverage behind them to stifle counterattacks if possession is lost. Richardson has a choice as to which left full back he plays. Tom Pearce excelled in the first part of last season in a struggling side, creating chances through his runs and crosses. Luke Robinson is more conservative in attack, but stronger in defence than Pearce. On the right Tendayi Darikwa has shown that he can provide quality crosses but Latics have not yet signed another player who can challenge him in that position. The modern full back role is physically demanding and expecting Darikwa to play most of the 46 league games is a big ask.

Darikwa is well known to Richardson through their time together at Wigan and Chesterfield. The manager clearly has confidence in him through making him captain.

It was pleasing to note the captain’s post-match comment on Saturday evening: “I think we could have probably got the ball down a bit more today but we will look at it as a squad with the manager and come back next week.”

Wyke has made a quiet start at Wigan up to this point. The squad will take time to truly gel, but when it does will Wyke receive the kind of service he needs to be as successful as he was last season?

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Amigo and Social Media Reaction to a difficult contest at Sunderland

August 7, 2021: Sunderland 2 Wigan Athletic 1

It has been an uplifting summer with Wigan Athletic putting together a squad that might compete with any in the division. That rebuild is not yet complete, with more players due to arrive shortly.

But despite the upbeat mood it was always going to be difficult facing a crowd of more than 30,000 at the Stadium of Light. Moreover Bobby Madley had been assigned the match: a referee hardly known for giving favourable decisions to Latics.

Latics had opened the game in style, pushing players forward, causing headaches to the Sunderland defence. Their football was a revelation and it came as no surprise when Gwion Edwards opened the scoring following a flowing move in the 15th minute. But the clock seemed to be turned back a couple of minutes later when the home team launched a rapid counterattack, with centre forward Ross Stewart going down from a challenge by Tendayi Darikwa. The large crowd bayed and Madley obliged with a penalty decision in their favour. Aidan McGeady scored with ease.

The penalty knocked the stuffing out of an away team that had been buoyant up to that point. Sunderland went from strength to strength and the gangly Stewart scored the winner after 52 minutes, outjumping the Latics defence. Wigan’s football transformed into pumping long balls, a tactic that could raise its ugly head in the Cook/Richardson era when the team was under pressure. A disappointing end to a game that started with so much promise.

Darikwa made reference to the style of play in a post-match interview saying “It’s a new squad, we’re still working on new relationships and building on that. There is a lot more to come from us; I think we could have probably got the ball down a bit more today but we will look at it as a squad with the manager and come back next week.”

Let’s hope the captain and coaching staff can work on that with effect.

Leam Richardson commented:

 “I thought we battled well. I thought we started the game good. I thought we imposed ourselves quite quickly. We were worthy in front and then I think the penalty turns the game. I don’t think really we recovered.

Whether it’s a penalty or not, I’ve been told it’s not but I’ve not seen it, so it’s disappointing again. But it gave them momentum. I thought they built on that momentum so I thought the were worthy winners in the end. It was eight or nine debutants and I think it showed in some parts but you can see they come together quickly.

In other parts as well, they’ve been in a matter of weeks. Everybody knows that we’re a football club we’re building slowly and I think you could see that little bit today.”

Let’s take a look at how fans reacted to the match through the message boards and social media. Our thanks go to the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below:

FrancosLoveChild commented:

Problem with Cook and Leam we always end up playing hoofball to suit the striker. We have always been better actually playing football and we have the players for it.

True Believer opined:

First game of the season for players brought together in the last 6 weeks and people expect them to play like they have been together for a couple of seasons.

Whatever happened to “give them time to gel”.

We have just lost by one goal in three to a side that have played together for the past two seasons and made the play offs in both those seasons. Get real.

Definitely need to see some action in the transfer market though as this is a reality check.

Jocklatic replied:

So no criticism allowed then TB, posters will def be driven off if not allowed to have their say be it against your point of view or a certain moan of a player. Went today & imo for first 10 min we seemed like a side that knew each other & how to go down field….cue the certainly unnecessary penalty by Darikwa n we seem to fall apart not helped through the game with some bizarre refereeing decisions in favour of Sunderland. Think we …well me anyway had expectations of a decent game against Sunderland but we seemed to lose our way after the penalty n made a very mediocre Sunderland side look good, again not helped by dire ref decisions. Coming away from the ground it was easy to hear that Darikwa is already a possible whipping boy….imo shouldn’t be captain as he certainly didn’t seem to command anything on the field today…..upwards and onwards to our first home game.
On a side note didn’t rate Amos, thot Power / Lang were our best players with motm….the ref

Power was the only player that performed.


Victor Moses 🙂 added:

Darikwa cost us the game, might of went that way anyway. But you cannot foul a player that is near the byline going nowhere, at best he gets a shot off at worse a cross. We we’re getting shredded down our right all game.

Wasn’t expecting an optimal performance, but thought we would have had better composure. Lots of players bottled it, Naylor was shocking on the ball. Played great against Preston, but I wouldn’t trust him to take care of the ball after today he was panicking. Cousins looked much calmer.

Edwards did nothing apart from scoring an open goal, doesn’t deserve to start next game. Jones was very wasteful when he came on.

Long ball, after long ball from the back. Too much time and space for them when they had the ball wide.

Lots of work to do, much further away then I was hoping we would be. But we do have an excellent team that will get better game by game.

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com