A large squad poses problems for Rosler

 

It reads Ali Al-Habsi , Leon Barnett, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Scott Carson, Don Cowie, Andy Delort, Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Fraser Fyvie, Juan Carlos Garcia (on loan), Grant Holt (on loan), Emyr Huws, Rob Kiernan,William Kvist, Shaun Maloney, James McClean, Callum McManaman, Lee Nicholls, James Perch, Ivan Ramis, Oriol Riera, Thomas Rogne, Chris McCann, James Tavernier, Andrew Taylor, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair , Martyn Waghorn, Ben Watson.

But let’s not forget to add the name of Maynor Figueroa to the list.

The Honduran got a deserved warm welcome from the DW crowd on his return to action for Wigan Athletic. It was a bolt out of the blue. Who could have expected the stalwart who had made 148 appearances in five years at Wigan to come back?

The addition of Figueroa means there are now 31 names on the above squad list. If we consider Figueroa’s primary position to be that of left back, it means that Latics now have four who play there. Does the squad really need to be so big? Has it just happened or was it planned? How is Uwe Rosler going to keep so many players happy?

Before the transfer deadline the list numbered 27, but included long-term absentees Chris McCann and Ben Watson whose returns to action were looking distant at that time. However, the recent news on the two has been uplifting and fans will be looking forward to seeing the two back in action in the near future.

 

 

With six extra games coming up in the Europa League last season, Owen Coyle saw the need for a large squad. He signed ten new players and brought in two more on loan. At this time last year Coyle had 25 players in his senior squad, but three were long-term absentees through injury.

The return of Figueroa serves to remind us of how the club’s circumstances have changed. The Honduran was one of Roberto Martinez’s key players. He originally played at left back, but when Martinez switched to a 3-4-3 system in the middle of the 2012-13 season, he played with great effect on the left hand side of the back three. Latics were to go on to that winning spree against the finest in the land. Given the current state of affairs at the club many of us are beginning to wonder if we will ever see that quality of football again.

Figueroa gives Rosler options. Reportedly brought in because of an injury to Andrew Taylor we can expect him to be largely employed as a left back. However, given Ivan Ramis’ hamstring problem and a trip to a strong Derby County on Saturday, Rosler might be tempted to revert to 3-5-2 with Figueroa in the back three and James Perch at left wing back.

The critics will say that Rosler’s acquisition of Figueroa on a month’s loan smacks of desperation. Moreover he had cover at left back in Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, who arrived at the club with a fine reputation following a stint at Partick Thistle. It could be argued that the 23 year old is not yet ready for the hurly burly of Championship football. However, Rosler has brought young James Tavernier in at right back for the last couple of games and Taylor-Sinclair could hardly have performed worse than the rest of the players who played against Millwall.

Rosler’s squad has swelled in numbers because he has brought in ten players since his arrival, with not so many leaving. Ironically the players who did leave included quality players such as Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur.

If the squad remains so large Rosler will be hamstrung in efforts to bring in loan players when the transfer window reopens. He will be keen to send more players out on loan as well as bringing funds in by offloading more senior professionals through permanent transfers. He has already signaled the departure of Roger Espinoza back to the United States and that could happen sooner rather than later.

In the meantime Rosler has exacerbated his problems in keeping a large squad happy by bringing in Figueroa. Let’s hope that the arrival of that icon of days gone by will help raise the spirits in a squad that is low in confidence and self-belief.

Only time will tell if Rosler was right or wrong in bringing the likeable Honduran back.

 

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Garcia ready to step in for Latics

Juan Carlos Garcia (left) ready to step in for Latics.

When Juan Carlos Garcia was signed last summer it looked like he was going to be the natural successor for Maynor Figueroa.

Like ‘Figgy’ he was an experienced Honduran international, in his mid-twenties, who had come from Honduras’ top club – Olimpia of Tegucigalpa – with the ambition of being successful in England. He was to be another in the line of Honduran footballers at Wigan following in the steps of Wilson Palacios, Hendry Thomas, Figueroa and Roger Espinoza. Garcia got himself known on a world stage in February 2013 through a spectacular goal for his country in a World Cup qualifier against the USA, assisted by Figueroa.

Like Figueroa, Garcia is a left back who can also play in the centre of defence. The left back position has been problematic for Latics this season. Stephen Crainey played there at the beginning of the season, to be replaced by James Perch. That gave Latics more defensive solidity, but Perch was limited in attacking skills, playing on his ‘wrong side’. At times Owen Coyle would draft in Jean Beausejour at left back. The arrival of Uwe Rosler saw the Chilean being used more in that position, with Crainey rotated in as a wing back when Latics played with a line of three central defenders.

After six years at Blackpool, Crainey struggled to adapt to his new playing environment in the first half of the season. Being played at wing back relieved some of the defensive pressure on him and he started to grow in confidence.

Beausejour’s preferred position is wing back. Ironically when Latics have played with three central defenders it has been, more often than not, Crainey who has been played at left wing back. Apart from the occasional game on the left wing Beausejour has been played largely at left back, not his best position.

In the last two games the left hand side of Latics defence has looked vulnerable. At Burnley it was Crainey partnering Leon Barnett on the left, then it was Beausejour against Blackpool.

Rosler might well choose to revert to a 3-5-2 formation for the remaining two league games, bringing in Rob Kiernan as an extra centre back. However, if he opts to go for a flat back four he could do worse than put in Garcia at left back.

Figueroa made 148 appearances over five seasons for Latics and has been badly missed this season at left back. However, when he first arrived in January 2008 he had to wait months before making his debut as a substitute three months later. His first start was in the last match of the 2007-08 season facing Cristiano Ronaldo.

Garcia did not have to wait quite so long, making his debut in Latics’ 5-0 League Cup debacle at Manchester City in late September. Coyle played him in a wide position in left midfield. Since then he has had some injury problems, but has overcome them, making regular appearances for the development squad.

Will Garcia get his second chance before the season ends?

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Wigan Athletic v Swansea City Preview

swans-preview

Following a nail-biting win at West Bromwich, Wigan Athletic entertain Swansea City at the DW Stadium on Tuesday evening. Since the Welsh team’s return to the top flight, Latics have been unable to beat them. The Swans won their last match at the DW with two beautifully taken goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson in March 2012.

Wigan desperately need to win this game, but can expect to meet resistance from a stubborn Swansea outfit. Michael Laudrup has kept up the good work of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez at the Welsh club. They continue to play that silky kind of football the Latics boss put in place there, but under Laudrup they can also play with a more pragmatic and direct approach.

The Swans have had some difficult recent fixtures against top teams and have not won for the last seven league matches. However, they still remain in 9th place and will be hungry to get a good result.

Both Latics and Swansea go into this game without key players due to hamstring injuries. Jean Beausejour is a major loss for Wigan, an unsung player  who covers huge distances each game, covering his defence and stretching the opposition defences by receiving the ball wide. He has provided an amazing 7 assists this year, putting him on a par with attacking midfield players like David Silva and Santi Cazorla.

Miguel Perez, better known as Michu, is unavailable for the visitors, probably for the remainder of the season.  Previously a midfield player, Swansea have converted him into a striker to such effect that he has scored 17 league goals in his first season in England.

Latics fans will be hoping that Antolin Alcaraz will be able to make his return  following the hamstring injury he picked up at West Ham. He has been badly missed in the Latics rearguard over the past couple of weeks.

Roberto Martinez’ dilemma will be who to play on the left of his defence. With both Maynor Figueroa and Jean Beausejour unavailable, he does not have a natural replacement.  Roger Espinoza substituted for Beausejour in that position on Saturday. Espinoza is always brimming with enthusiasm and he has no mean level of skill, but the left of defence is not his forte.

One wonders if David Jones might be available to take over now that his loan spell with Blackburn has been completed? Jones has played in the position before and his height can be useful when defending set pieces.

Given  the absence of an orthodox left back, Martinez will probably opt for a back three and wing backs.  If Alcaraz is back he will join Paul Scharner, plus one other in central defence. Young Roman Golobart came on in the second half at West Bromwich, although he looked nervous in that pressure cooker atmosphere.   Emmerson  Boyce could play in the centre of defence, allowing Ronnie Stam to return as right wing back. Stam continues to promise as an attacker, but his defensive work can leave much to be desired.

Gary Caldwell should not be forgotten. Although said to be continuing to struggle with his hip injury, the captain made a return at West Ham, only to be consigned to the bench for the past couple of games. He might well be back before the end of the season, but one wonders if he will be risked against a pacey Swansea side.

Given the congested fixture list coming up, Martinez might use more of his squad players. Ben Watson made a return on Saturday, following the broken leg he suffered in November. Martinez used him in a hybrid role, part holding midfield and part central defender. Watson did not do badly, but his lack of pace was exposed when the midlanders broke away for their first goal.

If Martinez does opt to play someone in that position he might go with the more speedy James McCarthy. Moreover he might not want to risk Watson for a second game in three days, following his long lay-off.

Martinez will be wary of burnout for young Callum McManaman and it can be expected that Franco Di Santo will either start or come on at a key stage in the match.

Robert Martinez is hopeful of winning his 150th Premier League game at Wigan on Tuesday. His challenge will be in finding the right lineup and in getting the best out of his players with Wembley coming up on Saturday.

This is not an easy match and the nerves will be jangling. The support and patience of the home crowd will be crucial. It could go down to the wire.

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West Bromwich Albion-Wigan Athletic Preview

“I don’t think they’ll get an easy game here. Not too many teams come to the Hawthorns and get an easy game, and I don’t think that will be the case this weekend.”

The words of West Bromwich manager, Steve Clarke, when discussing Saturday’s  visit of Wigan Athletic.

Clarke had also previously stated his preference for Aston Villa to maintain their Premier League status. Somehow he seems to think having the old enemy in the same division would help his players. Strange logic indeed.

In December of last season Wigan picked up a 2-1 win at the Hawthorns with Victor Moses scoring his first league goal for a year and Jordi Gomez netting  a penalty.  That result was to lift Latics out of the bottom three, albeit temporarily.  A  win for Wigan on Saturday would not have the same immediate effect, but would give them a real chance of getting out of that drop-zone by the end of the season.

The loss of Maynor Figueroa for the rest of the season is a huge blow for Latics. His ability to be able to play in the centre of defence or on the left flank has given his team tactical flexibility.

Roberto Martinez has been able to switch from a formation with three centre halves and two wing backs to a flat back four. Moving Figueroa to the left back position has given Wigan a more attacking option, releasing Jean Beausejour to play as an orthodox winger.

Figueroa will be sadly missed, and if rumours are true, he could be off to West Ham at the end of the season. So how will Martinez manage for the rest of the season without the services of his only experienced, specialist left back and two quality central defenders in Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis?

When Figueroa left the field against Tottenham, Ronnie Stam came in on the right of defence with Emmerson Boyce moved to centre back.  The prospect of Stam and Beausejour seemingly pushed into orthodox full back positions would have sent shivers up the spines of home fans. Although each player can be effective as a wing back, neither has enough defensive quality  to play as a full back.

However, Martinez’ experiment of playing James McCarthy in a hybrid role between the centre of defence and holding midfield was to  prove successful. When Spurs attacked McCarthy was able to drop back, effectively as the third central defender, in turn relieving the pressure on Stam and Beausejour.

Martinez might well choose to play that same formation at the Hawthorns. The Baggies have quality forwards at their disposal in Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku, not to mention Peter Odemwingie and Marc-Antoine Fortune in reserve. A firm defence is therefore essential. Another option for Martinez is to bring back Gary Caldwell to join  Boyce and Scharner in a back three.

Wigan continue to be cruelly hit by injuries and sheer bad luck. They face a confident West Bromwich team that has reached 48 points, the most they have achieved in any Premier League season. Steve Clarke has done a good job since taking over in summer, his team currently standing in 8th place. His comments indicate his desire for his team to inflict defeat on Latics.

However, in recent encounters with top teams – like Manchester City and Tottenham – Wigan have shown that they can perform at a high level. If they can reach those same levels on Saturday then three points is a definite possibility. All that would be required is that little bit of luck that has deserted them during most of this difficult, injury-plagued season.

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Wigan Athletic v Liverpool Preview

A year ago, in this same  month of March, a win against Liverpool proved to be a major turning point for Wigan Athletic’s fortunes. The 2-1 surprise result at Anfield was the catalyst that helped kick-start Wigan’s season and to ultimately retain their Premier League status. Can Latics once again raise their game and beat Liverpool in today’s encounter at the DW Stadium?

There was a time when the visit of Liverpool would bring trepidation to the hearts of Wigan Athletic supporters. In fact, during their first four years in the Premier League Wigan lost all of  their home games against the Reds.  However, since then the tide has turned and Wigan have had an unbeaten home run against them in the past four years, albeit with a single 1-0 victory in 2009-2010 through Hugo Rodallega’s volley.

Wigan come into this fixture on the back of an inspiring 3-0 at relegation rivals, Reading. However, their home record this season has been poor, winning only two league games at the DW Stadium up to this point. If they are to stay afloat in the Premier League for another season it is vital that the home record improve. There is some doubt about Maynor Figueroa’s fitness, following the nasty challenge on his ankle  by Pavel Podrgebnyak last week. Antolin Alcaraz is ready to step into the centre of defence if the Honduran does not make it. Otherwise the lineup is likely to be the one that faced Reading last Saturday.

Times have changed since the teams met at Anfield in November. Brendan Rodgers had brought in younger players to revitalize his team and to galvanise  his senior professionals into action. His strategy has largely worked – exit from the Europa League apart – and the ‘old guard’ has responded . Liverpool have steadily climbed up the table and now sit in 8th place. They  have drawn  6 out of 13 away games, as much as any team. Despite their ups and downs over recent years they still have the kind of quality players that are staffed by a wage bill around three times that of Wigan. Steven Gerrard has proved  a thorn in the side so often for Wigan and the home team’s defence will have to find  a way to cope with the spectacular Luis Suarez.

The statistics suggest a draw as a possible  outcome, although the bookmakers’  odds  favour Liverpool. However, Liverpool must have learned from past experience that there is no way that Wigan can be written off. Providing they play at their highest level, a win for the home side remains a distinct possibility.

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