Time is marching on and the January transfer window is creeping up on us.
Gary Caldwell has worked wonders so far in the transfer market, his dealings having kept Latics balance sheet out of the red. Moreover he has put together a squad strong enough to reach a playoff position by early November, despite their underperformance in the FA and League Cups.
Gaining promotion must be Caldwell’s main priority, despite the debacle at Bury on Saturday. It was interesting to see that three of the four teams above Latics in the League 1 table – Gillingham, Burton Albion and Coventry City also suffered ignominious defeats in the FA Cup this past weekend.
Caldwell will go into the January market with limited funds available for transfers and will be constrained by the club’s salary policy. That will rule out higher profile signings Once again Caldwell will be looking out for bargain buys whose salary demands are realistic.
Latics currently stand in 5th place in League 1, only five points from the top two teams, Gillingham and Burton Albion. If they can continue in this vein they will be in a good position to mount a realistic promotion challenge. Moreover Caldwell has the chance to bring in new blood to cover the squad’s weaker areas through the transfer window.
By January the futures of short-term loanees Francisco Junior, Donald Love, Sean Murray and Yanic Wildschut will have been determined. Despite his talent Murray has yet to shine at Wigan and unless he can really force his way back into the team with some outstanding performances it looks like he will be returning to Watford. However, there are ten league fixtures on hand until Murray’s loan period is due to end in mid-January. Time remains for Murray to make an impression.
Junior remains inconsistent and his fitness a concern. At his best he can influence the course of a game, his positional and passing abilities adding an extra dimension to Latics’ play. But he has failed to establish himself as a regular starter and has been frequently substituted when he has started. Junior continues to adapt to the physicality of life in League 1. He can rush into rash challenges and can be outmuscled by bigger opponents. So many fans will be hoping Junior will stay. At his best he can look a class above League 1, but he has yet to fully convince Caldwell, and if even if he does there is the matter of dealing with Everton over his future.
Love is only 20 years old and is one for the future. He has the attributes to become a good full back, but like many young players at big clubs, his long-term chances at Manchester United are limited. Caldwell paid United around £1m for Reece James. Would he and David Sharpe be willing to fork out another significant transfer fee to land another Old Trafford youngster who has potential, but has little experience outside the youth and development squad levels?
Although his recent performances might have been less convincing Wildschut has made a great impression since arriving at Wigan on a two month loan from Middlesbrough. The Dutchman has had a frustrating career, seeming to promise so much but so often lacking vision in his delivery. However, his pace is electric and he has the physical presence to not easily be knocked off the ball. The other League 1 managers may seek to nullify his influence by assigning multiple markers but this will serve to create space for other Wigan players. The questions to be asked are whether Wildschut’s early form was a flash in the pan and whether Middlesbrough would be willing to release him. Caldwell will be keen to keep the player whose sheer pace and directness can cause panic in opposition defences.
So what are the areas that need strengthening?
Grant Holt’s departure on a short term loan to Wolves leaves Caldwell with just two target men to play up front, Craig Davies and Will Grigg. Should Holt’s time at Wolves not be extended Latics will look towards offloading his salary on another Championship side until his contract terminates in summer. Should Holt not return we can expect Caldwell to look for another front man in the January window.
Much will depend on decisions yet to be taken on the players who have come in on loan. However, there remains the possibility that Latics will continue their efforts in shedding players on Championship level salaries.
Chris McCann continues to command a place in the starting lineup and his ability to play in the back three or midfield allows Caldwell the possibility of changing his team’s shape during a game without making substitutions. The manager clearly likes to play McCann in the back three, where his distribution from the back adds an extra dimension. However, critics will say that the Irishman is not a natural defender and is not assertive enough within his own penalty area. Many would prefer to see Jason Pearce return to that position on the left in the back line trio. However, Pearce is another who signed a contract while Latics were in the Championship. Moreover he has not even featured on the bench recently. Leon Barnett is now back on the bench after regaining his place for a while.
The situation with loan players and those on higher salaries will surely be the subject of much review by Caldwell and his coaching staff over the next couple of months. However, Caldwell might want to consider bringing in a couple of players in the central defence and holding midfield who can add an extra touch of steel.
Given the style of play based on aerial bombardment favoured by so many League 1 teams a big, rugged central defender who is strong in the air would give Caldwell extra options. Someone of the ilk of Harry Maguire would seem to fit the bill. Moreover a combative holding midfielder who can be brought on when the going gets tough would also aid Latics’ cause. Perhaps someone who can perform the same kind of role that Graham Kavanagh fulfilled in Paul Jewell’s Championship promotion team?
January might well be another busy time for incomings and outgoings at Wigan Athletic.