Incohesive Latics let down the fans– Wigan Athletic 0 Brentford 0

Scott Carson was Wigan's best player.

Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player.

That goalkeeper Scott Carson was Wigan’s best player was a reflection on the mediocrity of Latics’ performance. It was a display so lacking in cohesion that an outsider might wonder if Wigan’s players had ever played together before. Brentford will probably be happy with a mid-table spot at the end of the season, after coming up from League 1, but it never seemed like Latics would beat them.

Uwe Rosler chose the kind of lineup that could be labelled “attacking”. He left James Perch on the bench to put in James Tavernier, left William Kvist out to include Adam Forshaw, and put in Oriel Riera for Marc-Antoine Fortune, Callum McManaman for Emyr Huws. The 4-3-3 lineup would have pleased those fans who have been demanding a more attacking lineup, but one wondered if it would have the right balance.

Both sides were cautious early on, but Brentford looked more dangerous. However, in the 12th minute Riera found Don Cowie on the edge of the box with a shooting opportunity that was deflected wide. Brentford continued to threaten Wigan up front and the Latics’ defence was at sixes and sevens keeping them out. The “light” midfield of Adam Forshaw, Don Cowie and Shaun Maloney was not able to repel the visitors forward movement. Callum McManaman looked disorientated, not seeming to know where he was meant to be playing, hardly in the game.

However, on the half hour mark Riera did well to put through Maloney, whose low shot was pushed wide by Brentford goalkeeper David Button. But Brentford continued to press and Andre Gray found himself clear of Wigan’s defence but chipped his shot over the bar.

Brentford had been the superior team in the first half against a Wigan team that looked rock bottom in terms of confidence.

The game continued in a similar vein. In the 55th minute McManaman’s good work caused a goalmouth scramble, but no Latics player was able to force the ball home. Then the ball came to Leon Barnett close to the goal but he was surrounded by defenders and the opportunity was lost. Brentford then really tested the Wigan defence, Scott Carson having to make two fine saves to keep out efforts from Pritchard and Jota, and then Douglas shot into the side netting.

In the 63rd minute Rosler had brought on Andy Delort for Riera and Fortune for McManaman. Kvist replaced Cowie in the 78th minute. A couple of minutes later Latics were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box, but Maloney’s well struck shot was well saved by Button. Then five minutes later Tavernier put in a superb trademark cross on to James McClean’s head but the Irishman put it wide.

That was to be the final chance for Latics and the game finished as a goalless draw, which Latics might have just about deserved. The fans had given the team terrific support throughout the game and they deserved more than this.

The Good

Despite playing so poorly, Latics could have won the game if they had taken the limited chances they created.

Tavernier did not have an easy first start for Latics in the Championship, but he nevertheless conjured up that superb cross in the 85th minute that McClean was unable to convert. Despite having a fine pre-season the ex-Rotherham and Newcastle man had to wait for his chance to get into the starting lineup. In this game he had to play in a flat back four, but he is more likely to prosper as a wing back, where he has more freedom to go forward.

Carson once more proved what a fine keeper he is. Not only was he Latics’ best player in this game, but he has been the most consistent all season.

The Bad

On paper and man-for-man, Latics looked a much stronger team than Brentford, but Rosler’s lineup just did not work. Although it looked like a bold attacking move, the end result was something different.

The centre backs, Barnett and Ramis, deserve credit for their perseverance. Brentford sensibly put a man on Ramis when Carson had the ball. The result was Barnett having to distribute the ball from the back, which is not his strong point. The midfield did not support him sufficiently and too often the ball was wasted.

Forshaw struggled in the role of holding midfielder and Cowie looked pedestrian. Maloney certainly did not look the same player who had done so much for Scotland over the international break, although he forced a couple of good saves from Button.

Playing Forshaw and Maloney together in central midfield role is unlikely to work, as both need a lot of the ball to be effective. Leaving a ball-winner like Kvist on the bench until the latter part of the game was a mistake.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 8 – a fine performance. He kept Latics in the game.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – looked exposed at times, unable to attack in the way he would have liked.

Ivan Ramis: 7 – solid defensively, but Brentford seldom allowed him to display his fine passing skills.

Leon Barnett: 7 – a defensive rock.

Andrew Taylor: 6 – worked hard.

Don Cowie: 5 – poor.

Adam Forshaw: 5 – poor.

Shaun Maloney: 5.5 – disappointing.

Callum McManaman: 5.5 – disappointing and substituted after 63 minutes.

Oriol Riera: 5.5 – apart from a couple of good passes he looked peripheral. Substituted after 68 minutes.

James McClean: 5.5 – energetic as always, but ineffective.

Substitutes:

Andy Delort: – came on after 63 minutes, but apart from one delightful flick he was unable to impose himself on the game.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: – also came on after 63 minutes, tried hard but with little effect. Why was he not on from the start following his performance at Wolves?

William Kvist: – brought on after 78 minutes.

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Rosler gets it wrong as Latics bullied out of the game– Wigan Athletic 1 Ipswich 2

Rosler lost the tactical battle to McCarthy.

Rosler lost the tactical battle to McCarthy.

Latics played quite well in the opening minutes, then again in the last 15 minutes. For the rest of the time they were bullied out of the game by a typical Mick McCarthy team. McCarthy had clearly done his homework and got his tactics right. Uwe Rosler’s tactic of high pressing was thrown back in his face.

Rosler had us all guessing as to his formation when the starting lineup was announced. Adam Forshaw and Shaun Maloney came in for Emyr Huws and Andrew Taylor. That meant that Latics did not have a single left footed player in their team. It proved to be a 4-3-3 formation, with Emmerson Boyce at right back, with James Perch moving to the left. Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan were at centre back, with William Kvist, Don Cowie and Forshaw making up the midfield three. Callum McManaman lined up on the right wing, Shaun Maloney on the left, with Andy Delort at centre forward.

Latics were lively in the beginning, with McManaman looking dangerous. However, the visitors realized his danger and gave him heavy treatment. Ipswich were thrusting players forward, their high pressing forcing Latics into making errors and the home team defence looked vulnerable.

Ipswich scored on 20 minutes as a result of that pressing, with Latics losing possession for central midfielder Luke Hyam to convert an Tyrone Mings’ low cross from the left. A couple of minutes later centre back Christophe Berra clattered McManaman, somehow escaping with just a yellow card. It was not surprising when the young winger had to go off injured in the 36th minute, with James McClean coming on. Soon after the referee incurred the crowd’s wrath yet again when Maloney was brought down by Mings when he had a clear run on goal. Mings too avoided red, being given a yellow card.

Ipswich’s physical approach, aided and abetted by an over-tolerant referee, completely threw Latics off their game. When the home team went in for half time one wondered what Rosler could do to turn things around. Having already used a substitute in the first half his options were limited. In the event he sent the same lineup out in the second half, which continued in similar fashion, with Latics being constantly bullied off the ball. It came as no surprise when Ipswich scored their second after Conor Sammon’s shot ricocheted back to him for a tap in. Latics’ defence was all at sea.

Rosler brought on Oriel Riera for Maloney after 64 minutes, then Martyn Waghorn replaced Delort after 72 minutes. Gradually Latics got their way back into the game, at last taking the fight to the visitors. Forshaw had moved from the right to the centre of midfield, where he looked more effective. Cowie had moved to the right where he was looking lively, putting over some teasing crosses. As always McClean epitomized pure effort and hard running. He got his reward after 82 minutes when finding himself free in the area, his shot from 12 yards being diverted home by Waghorn’s knee. Wigan’s charge continued and Riera hit a powerful shot against the post in the closing minutes.

In the end it was not to be and Ipswich hung on for a win.

The Good

After being inept for most of the game Latics fought back in the final quarter. For once their legs had not gone and they took the game to Ipswich. If they can play with that kind of spirit they can get a result in the next match at Bournemouth.

The Bad

Rosler’s lineup was unbalanced from the start. Perch and Maloney, both right footers, could not make progress against the right hand side of the visitors’ defence. Every time they got the ball they too often passed it inside or back. Delort was out of his depth at centre forward, so Wigan depended on McManaman on the right. Rosler has already stated that McManaman needs protection from referees, but this official certainly did not provide it. Ipswich must have been relieved when he went off injured after 36 minutes.

The midfield had another new face in Forshaw and it showed. There seemed to be no cohesion between them and defence. Rather than play Maloney as the third midfield player, Rosler put him on the left wing where he was peripheral. For much of the first half Forshaw did not look on the same wavelength as his teammates, but the young player looked useful later in the game when he switched into the centre.

Delort had a game to forget, being totally shackled by the ruthless Berra and Chambers. Like Riera he is adjusting to life in the Championship. Rather than bring Delort in gradually, Rosler had brought him in against Blackburn, dropping Riera who had by no means been playing badly. After three successive starts for the Frenchman it could be that the tables will turn for the next match at Bournemouth and Riera will get the nod. He was unlucky with that late effort.

McCarthy’s tactic of pushing players forward upset Wigan’s defence who at times looked besieged. It was sad to see Boyce looking a pale shadow of what he was at right back. Rosler will have one of the toughest decisions to make in his time at Wigan, if he decides to leave the captain out of the starting eleven at Bournemouth. Kiernan too had a rocky time and one wonders how long he can continue to keep a player of Leon Barnett’s ability and experience out of the team.

Perch is clearly a player that Rosler rates highly, but playing him at left back stifles attacking moves that side. The natural left back, Taylor, was left on the bench. If Maloney is to be played wide on the left, Latics need a left footed full back behind him. This was not an ideal game for the Scot’s first league start of the season, being played wide on the left against a very physical defence. Maloney’s best position is in the centre of midfield, where Forshaw was to play later in the game.

Latics are going to meet more teams who will press like Ipswich and who are not averse to being over physical. Rosler needs to find an answer to such tactics. Playing with two central strikers is anathema for him, but it is worth considering.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – unlucky for the second goal. Made some good saves.

Emmerson Boyce: 5 – soldiered on, but well away from his best. Does not look fit. Or are the years finally catching up with him?

Ivan Ramis: 6 – not at his best.

Rob Kiernan: 4.5 – a game to forget.

James Perch: 5 – cannot be faulted for effort, but offered limited attacking options.

Don Cowie: 6 – worked hard as always. Looked at his best in the final quarter of the match.

William Kvist: 6.5 – worked hard and kept his composure.

Adam Forshaw: 6 – struggled for the first 60 minutes, but looked useful in the closing stages.

Callum McManaman: – dangerous until he had to go off after 36 minutes,

Andy Delort: 4.5 – a game to forget.

Shaun Maloney: 5- ineffective on the left wing.

Substitutes:

James McClean: 6.5 – full of running and endeavour.

Oriel Riera: – a pity he could not have been brought on earlier. Looked lively.

Martyn Waghorn: – another goal to add to his tally.

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Deploying a stronger strike force

Callum McManaman could be the 20 goal striker that latics have lacked.

Callum McManaman could be the 20 goal striker that Latics have lacked.

When Uwe Rosler first arrived at Wigan he inherited a blunt strike force. Owen Coyle’s new signings just had not clicked and players remaining from the Martinez era were dogged by niggles and injuries. The shining light appeared to be provided by a loanee from Manchester United, but he was to fade as the season progressed. The end result was a forward line that just could not put away so many of the chances that were created. It was largely the lack of forward power that was to thwart Latics’ chances of getting back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

Some 10 months later Rosler has a strike force which has the potential to do much more. The question is whether it can realize that potential and propel Latics into contention for promotion. Can the two new central strikers adapt to English football? Can the key players Rosler inherited from previous managers achieve full fitness and consistency?

Both Andy Delort and Oriel Riera arrive with good goalscoring credentials from last season. Delort scored 24 goals in the French second division, Riera getting 13 in La Liga for a team that was relegated. Rosler does not favour a system with two central strikers, so the two are likely to be alternated. With the physical demands of high pressing, Rosler typically substitutes the central striker some two thirds of the way through a game.

Riera continues to adapt to English football following his move from Osasuna and his best is yet to come, although he scored a fine goal against Blackpool. Delort comes with the label of an English-style centre forward, but is going to need time to get match fit.

In the meantime, Marc-Antoine Fortune, remains an option. Fortune scored a paltry 4 league goals last season, but made 6 assists. The big man from French Guiana has never been a prolific scorer, but last year’s strike rate was only around a half of his career average. Fortune remains a handful for central defenders, being strong and pacey, with a good technique.

Martyn Waghorn has had slow start to the season, but made such a favourable impression when arriving from Leicester City on loan that he secured a permanent contract at Wigan. The 24 year old Geordie scored 8 goals and made 6 assists in the 28 league starts and 5 appearances off the bench. Waghorn was typically played wide on the right, but sometimes in the hole behind the central striker. Having started out his career as a central striker it continues to be his preferred position, but he is versatile and makes a major contribution to the high pressing that Rosler seeks.

Callum McManaman has had an excellent start to the season, following the frustrations of last year when he just could not hit a consistent run of form. There are few English players who can match him for skill when he is at his best. McManaman remains just 23 years old and is such an exciting talent. The irony for Latics fans is that once McManaman adds consistency to his game he will be the target of the elite clubs that dominate English football. A transfer fee between £20m-£30m is not out of the question.

McManaman could become that 20 goal per season striker that Latics have lacked since the days of Ellington and Roberts. Last season he was usually played wide and scored three goals in 19 starts and 13 appearances off the bench. He has already exceeded last year’s goal tally with four goals in his first five league starts. Moreover the goals have been superbly executed.

It is to be hoped that McManaman can steer clear of the injuries that have impeded his progress over the past year or so. Being a flair player brings him extra attention from opposition defenders and Rosler has already publicly stated his views that the player needs due protection from referees, which at times he has not had. In recent matches Rosler has adopted the 3-5-2 formation, with McManaman able to operate in a free role upfront. That role not only gives him more of the ball, but makes it harder for defences to mark him out of the game. Playing on the wing in a 4-3-3 formation will remain an option, but if Rosler is to get the best out of his key flair player he will need to look at playing him in a role that is not so restricting.

James McClean has not featured so far due to an ankle injury sustained in pre-season training. McClean was called into Martin O’Neill’s Ireland squad this week, but the manager considered him short of match fitness. McClean can be such an exciting player with his pace and aggression, but too often flattered to deceive last season. He has a career record of scoring a goal in every five appearances, but last year could only muster four goals in 25 league starts and 14 times coming on off the bench.

McClean and McManaman are different types of players, but with similar strike rates during their careers. Having had to play on the left so frequently during his career McManaman packs a strong punch with his left foot, although he favours his right. McClean showed that he can use his right foot to score goals at Ipswich last season, with a well taken goal from a cross from the right. Owen Coyle sometimes put him on the right, but he looked like duck out of water, seemingly too left footed to adjust. Rosler also tried him there without conspicuous success.

McClean cannot be faulted for effort, frequently helping out his full back and going forward on his marauding runs. At his best he adds enthusiasm to the team and can cause panic in opposition defences. The Irishman is still only 25 years old and his best is yet to come. Perhaps a switch from the left wing to the kind of free role that McManaman has been enjoying could open doors for McClean. The Irishman’s career record shows that he can score goals and make assists. If he can improve his finishing this season he will make a major impact.

Shaun Maloney can certainly score goals, as well as provide assists. Despite his lack of match fitness he has been called up for the Scotland squad to play Germany. At 31 years of age and an injury-struck career can the fan favourite make his mark on the season? Rosler certainly has him in his plans. Only time will tell if the Scot can stay fit and produce that same brand of skillful football that we have seen from him at his best. His combination with Waghorn for a beautifully engineered goal against Birmingham was a joy to see and whetted our appetites for what is to come. Maloney had spotted Waghorn’s run and laid the ball into his path for what appeared to be a simple tap-in.

Grant Holt’s future at the club remains uncertain. The player has had a nightmare time at the club and the abuse he has taken on the social media goes way beyind the norm. A fresh start at another club would appear to be the best case scenario for the player. But at 33 years of age, with his salary expectations, will it happen?

Rosler now has a much stronger strike force, with variety to match. His challenge will be in getting the best out of each of those players. With good service from midfield the strikers he has are capable of scoring lots of goals. We will then see the end of the goal drought that dogged Latics’ promotion chances last year.

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Rosler’s promotion winning team at Wigan

They are the fittest team in the division and their high pressing unnerves opposition defenders into giving the ball away. They have a rock solid defence and are not averse to grinding out results. The team has genuine pace up front and that enables them to make deadly counterattacks. They are well disciplined and every player gives one hundred percent effort. They are dangerous from set pieces, with players who have the skill to curve the ball round defensive walls and score or create opportunities. Goal scoring is deemed as a collective responsibility and players in all outfield positions make a significant contribution over the course of the season.

Could this be a description of Uwe Rosler’s promotion-winning Wigan Athletic side, 2014-15?

These are early days still. Rosler’s squad building is not yet complete, with three weeks of the transfer window remaining. However, the squad already looks strong, especially in defence. Rosler will be hoping to offload the hapless Grant Holt, to reduce the wage bill and be able to bring in another central striker. In Adam Forshaw he is seeking another creative midfielder to complement Shaun Maloney. Media reports also suggest he is interested in Aston Villa winger, Alexander Tonev. More loan players are also likely to be brought in, with George Saville of Chelsea a clear target. If Rosler spends money on Forshaw and a central striker he is likely to have to offset the costs by pulling in transfer money by letting at least one of his current squad go.

Last season’s promotion push stumbled at the playoffs. By then Latics had played an awful lot of games in a short space of time. Despite their tiredness they pushed Queens Park Rangers into extra time of the second match, although in reality they had all but lost their best chance of going t through being unable to find a way past Harry Redknapp’s parked bus at the DW Stadium. That match called for a moment of magic from the likes of Shaun Maloney, Callum McManaman or Nick Powell. Powell’s game had gone off the boil after a mid-season injury and he did not get into the squad for the playoff games. McManaman had had a frustrating season, mired by niggling injuries, and Maloney had not got back to his best after a long spell out through injury.

There was little to choose between Latics and QPR last season, but it was the Londoners who went up. Lots of teams came to park their buses at the DW last season and it is likely to be the same scenario this year. However, McManaman is now approaching full fitness and is likely to terrorise Championship team defences in a way that he was infrequently able to do last season. Rosler has carefully nurtured the invaluable Maloney through the pre-season and although he has had no competitive playing time so far he might well appear on the bench against Reading.

Rosler will continue to use his preferred 4-3-3 and 3-5-2 systems, switching seamlessly between the two. Although the former appears to be his preferred system, he has a large reservoir of fine central defenders he can call on to operate with three at the back. With the 3-5-2 system players like McManaman and James McClean are pushed further inside, as second strikers alongside the centre forward. Rosler likens McClean to a ‘wild horse’, although he clearly has faith in the Irishman. It is to be hoped that Rosler can break-in the wild horse, having him lift his head and look up when going on his marauding runs. McClean and McManaman are players who can cause panic when they run at defences, particularly on the counterattack.

Rosler will be confident that his side can mount a strong challenge for promotion this year. He might not have strikers who can score 20 goals a season, but he has a very strong defence, a combative but skilful midfield and exciting forwards.

Providing his flair players stay fit, Rosler might well be a Premier League manager in 2015.

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Latics’ midfield – the key to promotion

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McArthur and Maloney – key players for a promotion push.

“Before the World Cup started there were a few rumours about McArthur and Maloney, but I have spoken to them and they know they are two of the cornerstones of the team. Both players will be massively important in my plans going forward and I made that very clear to both of them.”

It was heartening to hear Uwe Rosler this week dismiss transfer speculation regarding the two.

New signings apart, it is to be hoped that Latics will be able to resist approaches from other clubs for quality players such as Maloney and McArthur. Maloney was sadly missed last season and can play a key role, whether playing in “the hole” or in a wide role. Maybe we expected too much of him at the end of the season after a long layoff through injury.

Rosler will be hoping that Ben Watson and Chris McCann will be back in action following a double leg fracture and a damaged knee cap. Rosler clearly had faith in the midfield trio of McArthur, McCann and Watson. He had already lost Watson, when he lost McCann in the FA Cup win at Manchester City. It was McCann’s injury that proved to be the turning point and from then on results fell significantly.

One continues to ponder the future of Roger Espinoza, one of Honduras’ best performers in an albeit disappointing World Cup campaign. Despite being a fan-favourite Espinoza has failed to establish himself under three managers during his time at Wigan. He was played at left midfield for Honduras and looked effective in that position. Having been in the shop window during the World Cup it is possible that other clubs will bid for him. It will be interesting to see what develops.

Rosler continues to impress as Wigan Athletic manager. He has analysed the weaknesses in his squad and already made four signings, all of whom look like they can fit into the system the German likes to employ. They are already in training at the Latics camp in Germany.

Left back was a problem area last season, with wing back Jean Beausejour often having to play in that position, excellent when going forward, but sometimes unconvincing in defence. Stephen Crainey struggled to cope initially, but thrived when Rosler took some defensive responsibility away from him, allowing him to play at wing back. However, at 32 and on a one year contract it was unlikely the Scot would be staying. In their place Rosler has brought in Andrew Taylor and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair. Taylor is an experienced and very capable left back, who can also play left midfield. Taylor-Sinclair is clearly a bright young talent from Partick Thistle who might well follow in the paths of James McCarthy and James McArthur, who came from a similar type of background at Hamilton.

The signing of James Tavernier from Newcastle gives Rosler more options at right back. James Perch is an excellent defensively and over the course of last season he improved greatly in his attacking. His goals at the Etihad and Loftus Road showed his willingness to thrust himself forward. When Ryan Shotton left in the New Year Latics were short of options at right back, Emmerson Boyce having been drafted into the centre of defence. Perch continued to be the consummate team player, sometimes playing when he was not 100% fit. In Tavernier, Rosler has a more attacking option and the young player certainly has some flair.

Oriel Riera might well prove to be an inspired signing. Although he has spent most of his career in the lower leagues in Spain he proved himself last season in the La Liga first division at Osasuna. There was speculation among supporters that Dave Whelan was going to get out his cheque book and spend big money on a couple of quality strikers. However, Whelan was unlikely to undermine the wage structure that was in place and he is unwilling to pay over-inflated transfer fees for English-born strikers. Riera fits the bill. Another foreign-based striker remains on the cards.

There is a strong likelihood that more of the players remaining from the Premier League days will leave over the coming weeks. Jordi Gomez has already gone and Jean Beausejour will move soon. Ivan Ramis is Latics’ best centre back, but his high salary and questions over his fitness lead us to believe he will be on his way. One of the goalkeepers too is likely to depart. There has been no statement from the club regarding a new contract for Gary Caldwell. The Scot has his detractors, but if fully fit, he could be a force in the Championship.

A lot could happen over the coming weeks, but Rosler clearly has a plan forward. Under his astute management, promotion is a distinct possibility.

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