It’s time for Riera

He was good enough to score 13 goals in 37 matches last year in La Liga. He is hard working, good in the air, a real team player. His club prided itself on playing a more typically English style than is the norm in Spain. He played the lone centre forward role there. Riera  looked the perfect fit for Wigan.

But in the rubble that typified the latter part of Uwe Rosler’s reign, Oriol Riera faded out of view. Put simply, Riera was poorly handled by Rosler. Can Malky Mackay bring out the best in him?

Riera has so far made five starts with five appearances off the bench. He made his debut in the opening game of the season, a 2-2 home draw with Reading. His headed pass set up James McArthur to score a 93rd minute equalizer.

According to McArthur “It’s a nice ball in from Huwsy and Oriol, who has been playing very well, has done brilliantly to flick the ball on for me. Oriol’s a great presence up front, he’s not the biggest striker you’ll see, but he’s so strong and I took a chance that he would win the ball. He won the ball and from there all I needed to do was get it on target and thankfully I did.”

Latics had fallen apart in the second half until McArthur’s late intervention. Sadly it was to become the norm in the matches that followed. The pre-season training programme just had not worked and the lack of fitness exacerbated the difficulties of new players settling in and gelling with their team mates.

Riera started in the second league game at Charlton where Rosler had him rotating with Marc-Antoine Fortune between the centre forward and left wing positions. It just did not work, Riera being taken off at half time. Riera was left out of the starting lineup in the next game at Cardiff, but came on for Fortune after 61 minutes. He made the starting lineup in the next game, when Latics beat a woeful Blackpool team 1-0 thanks to his well taken goal.

The goal would have done Riera’s confidence a world of good. Fans were not over impressed by the win over the Seasiders, but the team’s best performance of the season was to follow. Latics were to take Birmingham apart with a 4-0 win. Riera did not score but it looked like he was starting to adjust to the physicality of the Championship division. He was surely going to get a continued run in the team.

But then came the international break and the transfer window deadline. Andy Delort had been introduced to the home fans in the Birmingham game, but it came as a shock to see the Frenchman preferred to the Spaniard in the depressing 3-1 defeat at Blackburn. It was to signal the end of Riera’s run in the starting lineup, with Delort, Fortune or Martyn Waghorn to compete with for the lone centre forward position.

Up to this point of the season Latics’ centre forwards have scored a paltry two goals. Part of it can be attributed to poor service from midfield and a defence prone to hoofing the ball rather than putting through measured long passes. The wide players have hardly helped. Both Callum McManaman and James McClean are exciting to watch and can unsettle the opposition, but they seldom provide the kind of pinpoint crosses that a central striker feeds upon for his goals.

Looking at the footage of Riera’s goals for Osasuna, so many came from good crosses from the flanks. James Tavernier has the ability to put in such deliveries, but there are question marks about his defensive capabilities as a full back. Were Tavs to be played in a right midfield position he might be able to put in the kind of quality service that a proven goalscorer such as Riera would need.

So many times this season Latics have approached the opponents’ penalty box, but the intelligent runs from the front players have been lacking. At times it has made a mediocre midfield look worse than it really is.

Oriel Riera has more than enough quality to shine in the Championship. He is 6ft tall, good in the air and predatory within the box. At 28 years of age he is at his peak.

It would be sad if Latics could not get the best out of him.

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Will it be 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 for Latics?

Harry Lyon latches on to a Walter Stanley (third from right) cross. Carl Davenport lurks for any rebounds.  Photo courtesy of WiganWorld.

Harry Lyon latches on to a Walter Stanley (third from right) cross. Carl Davenport lurks for any rebounds.
Photo courtesy of WiganWorld.

In the mid 1960’s Allan Brown’s Wigan Athletic team played the kind of football fans liked to watch. There were two excellent wingers, Les Campbell and Walter Stanley, who would put over a stream of tantalizing crosses for the twin strikers to feed on. No wonder that Latics scored 121 goals in the 1964-65 season, when they won the Cheshire County League. Harry Lyon led the scoring with 67 goals in all competitions.

Football was an attacking game in those days, with 4-2-4 prevalent.

Then came England’s World Cup victory in 1966. Alf Ramsey’s team played without wingers, the ‘wingless wonders’ . They packed the midfield with four players, leaving just Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt up front. With the rugged Nobby Stiles playing the role of  ball winner in front of a back four marshaled by the superb Bobby Moore, England were a very difficult team to play against. Ramsey’s success was based on solid defence, but he also had a superb midfield general and match winner in Bobby Charlton to help generate goals. 4-4-2 was to become the norm for years to come.

Fads come and go, especially football formations. Putting labels on formations is always tricky, as would be the case in Paul Jewell’s side that won promotion to the Premier League in 2005. Dave Whelan had forked out what was a lot of money at the time for twin strikers who would both score more than 20 goals that season.The names of Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts are etched into the history of the club.

They were fed from the right wing by Gary Teale, as Campbell and Stanley had supplied Lyon and Davenport some forty years before. However, on the left flank was converted centre forward Lee McCulloch. McCulloch could not in any way be called a winger – his role was to bolster the midfield and ghost in at the far post to poach goals, with the opposition defence being occupied in coping with ‘The Duke’ and ‘JR’. The formation they played was usually referred to as 4-4-2, but it could be argued that 4-3-3 was a better descriptor.

Wingers are back in fashion in modern football, although they are expected to play their part in defensive duties too. But many managers shun the idea of playing with twin strikers, preferring to deploy a lone centre forward with support coming through from midfield. Up against two central defenders the lone centre forward has a difficult job. He is not only expected to hold-up the ball when he is almost always outnumbered, but also to score goals. Inevitably the goalscoring ratio of the modern centre forward, in terms of goals per game, has dropped over the years.

In terms of holding up the ball Marc-Antoine Fortune is the best centre forward that Latics currently have. However, his goalscoring ratio for Latics is low even for a modern day lone centre forward – a meagre 1 per 10 games. Although Fortune’s career average is higher – almost 1 in 5 – it is bettered by those of Andy Delort (1 in 3.4) and Oriel Riera (1 in 4). How much longer will Rosler continue to play Fortune at the expense of the other two?

If one trawls the social media and fan forums there are lots of supporters who advocate the kind of attacking approach that uses two wingers with two central strikers. Many refer to it as playing 4-4-2 although it is probably more akin to the older 4-2-4. Over these pasts weeks several fans have advocated starting lineups that include Callum McManaman and James McClean on the wings and Delort and Riera as twin strikers. It brings back memories of the days of Allan Brown.

But it is something that is unlikely under Uwe Rosler or any manager who might succeed him. Most prefer the security of a packed midfield rather than risk putting too many players far forward. Were Rosler to suddenly have a paradigm shift and choose such an attacking formation the reality on the pitch would be something different, with players having to drop back to help a beleaguered midfield?

Some managers like to stick to a set formation and recruit players who can fit into it. Rosler is not one of those. His players are expected to adapt to whatever formation he decides upon, which in turn can often depend on the opposition his team is to face. Having a set formation has its advantages. Roles are clearly defined and players can slot seamlessly into the system. However, it also makes it easier for the opposition to plan their strategy well in advance.

So far this season we have seen formations that can be broadly labeled as 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. In recent games Rosler has operated a modified 4-4-2. He has deployed three central midfield players, with Roger Espinoza playing further forward than the other two. He has used Don Cowie in right midfield to provide cover for the attacking runs of James Tavernier from the full back position. Fortune has played the target man role with Callum McManaman in a more fluid attacking role.

From time to time Rosler has used a 4-3-3 system with two genuine wingers in McManaman and McClean. The formation offers balance, together with a direct threat to the opposition defence coming from both sides of the pitch. However, both McManaman and McClean need to see a lot of the ball to be effective and this has not always happened. An alternative would be to use Shaun Maloney and Martyn Waghorn in wide positions, with a tendency to move inside. Both have been more consistent goalscorers than McManaman and McClean.

There are those who do not like the 3-5-2 system. They say that it often reverts to 5-3-2 with the wing backs not supporting the forwards. But when properly put into practice it can yield good results. Moreover the squad is well stocked with good quality central defenders and Rosler has lots of options when choosing a back three. He has the aerial power of Leon Barnett and Thomas Rogne to counter those teams who rely on route one football. In Emmerson Boyce and Ivan Ramis he has players who have proved themselves to be as good as any central defender in the division.

Some players thrive more in some tactical formations more than others. James Perch is a solid and dependable right back who has worked hard when pressed into action as a wing back. His attacking play has undergone a significant improvement over the last year. Perch is a fine athlete with good lungs, as evidenced by goals he has scored through getting into positions where he would not have been expected to show up. However, Tavernier has more to offer going forward. His delivery is so often of real quality. But he needs to work hard on the defensive aspects of his game.

One recalls the promise of Ronnie Stam going forward, but he just did not have enough defensively, even as a wing back. At this stage Tavernier looks a good possibility as a wing back or as an attacking option at full back later in a game. Perch remains the best option at right full back.

With three games in less than a week Rosler has already made it known that he will be rotating his squad for the away games at Brighton tomorrow and Bolton on Friday. Delort and Rogne made appearances for the development squad last week and are likely to feature in at least one match. It is to be hoped that Maloney‘s goal against Fulham will help to kick-start his season, which has been disappointing up to this point. Waghorn was a key element of Rosler’s system last season, but has seen little action up to this point. Riera too has seen little playing time over recent weeks and is overdue to return.

Latics have looked at their best this season when they have been able to deliver the high pressing game that the manager espouses. The ability to do that seems to outweigh the tactical formation he chooses to adopt.

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Hope looms on the horizon for Rosler

 

Adam Forshaw and Uwe Rosler appear soon to be reunited.

Adam Forshaw and Uwe Rosler appear soon to be reunited.

How the mighty are fallen. “In Rosler we trust” was the catchphrase just a few weeks ago. Since then criticism and doubt have come raining in.

There is an old saying that goes to the effect that football managers are only as good as their results. But despite a win over Blackpool on Saturday, Rosler’s mode of operation continues to be questioned. Once again Latics went on the defence in the second half, but this time against a team that is likely to stay rooted at the bottom of the league table for the rest of the season. A 1-0 win over a team as poor as Blackpool was seen as a relief, it being Latics ’first win of the season. On the other hand Rosler’s assertion that it was the best first half display by Latics since his arrival has been met with derision on the social media and fans forums.

Fitness still remains an issue, as does the lack of creativity in midfield and the lack of another reliable goal scorer to supplement Oriol Riera.

However, hope looms on the horizon for the German. Brentford sources announced today that they had reached an agreement with Latics over the transfer fee for Adam Forshaw. He is expected to sign for Wigan in the next few days. The League One Player of the Year, Forshaw might well be able to provide the kind of creative spark that has been missing up to this point.

On Saturday Latics played 3-5-2 with Callum McManaman and Oriel Riera up front. McManaman came close to scoring on at least four occasions, the easiest opportunity being after a great run and low cross from Riera. McManaman has returned to form this season and could well prove to be Latics’ trump card in their bid for promotion. He has shown in the past that he can have a cool head for finishing, even if a little poise was lacking on Saturday.

Given ridiculously inflated market prices for strikers within English football circles, it could be that Latics already have the players who can deliver the goods. Playing as a striker in a 3-5-2 formation, McManaman is likely to see more of the ball, making him more of a danger to the opposition defence than when he plays out wide in the 4-3-3 formation. Similar possibilities exist for James McClean, when he returns from injury. Although not renowned for his finishing, the Irishman actually has a better career record for scoring goals than McManaman.

Rumour also tells us that there is a possibility of a return on loan for Nick Powell. The 20 year old had an exciting start to his Latics career, scoring spectacular goals and oozing self-confidence. However, he was unable to reproduce that same form after an injury in mid-season. Rosler clearly rates him highly, having recognized his exceptional talent.

Suddenly there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel for Rosler and Latics.

However, there remains a fear among fans that is largely beyond Rosler’s control. That is of a further exodus of quality players from the club. Will the arrival of Forshaw herald the departure of James McArthur?

Will Dave Whelan provide the financial backing that will allow Latics to compete in the transfer market without having to sell their prized assets?

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Where will Latics’ goals come from?

goalcartoon

The transfer market is destroyed this year, in terms of the money that has been paid for certain positions. We have a strong team but where we lack is up front so we need to strengthen in that area. It’s not easy, especially when you’re driving a football club in a responsible way like we do.”

Uwe Rosler was making a valid point. Fulham recently paid £11m for Ross McCormack , a 28 year old forward who has never played in the Premier League. Then Nottingham Forest paid £5.5m for League 1 striker Britt Assombalonga.

As Rosler said, Wigan Athletic are certainly being driven in a responsible way. Fulham have clearly decided to splash a significant portion of their parachute payments on McCormack in an effort to get back to the Premier League as soon as possible.

In Wigan’s case the parachute payments have been used to payroll a large squad. Despite not being involved in the Europa League this year, Latics maintain a squad size comparable with that of last year. With so many players having been out of action over the past couple of years, maintaining a large squad can be seen as a safeguard in case the abnormal injury load continues.

A lack of funding continues to stymie Rosler in his efforts to provide balance to his squad. He is overburdened in the areas of goalkeepers and central defenders, but short on creative midfield players and strikers.

It appears that Latics have now given up their quest of signing creative midfielder Adam Forshaw from Brentford, with the London club continuing to ask £6m for a player who is unproven outside League 1. Wigan already have Shaun Maloney, who is as good as any creative player in the Championship division. However, to rest the main responsibility for the creation of goals on the shoulders of someone with Maloney’s injury record would be folly.

Wigan Athletic are not the only club who need a goal scoring centre forward and those who are available from English clubs are either prohibitively expensive or no better than what Latics already have.

Should Rosler not be able to get the new striker he seeks he will have to persevere with those already at the club. What kind of conversion rates (goals per appearance) do they have?

Looking at a player’s conversion rate through the course of his career and comparing it with that at Wigan provides food for thought.

Up until the start of the current season, Grant Holt had scored 180 goals in 467 appearances throughout his career, a conversion rate of 39%. Last season he scored 2 goals in 16 appearances for Latics, a conversion rate of 13%. Holt has played in all four divisions, but his conversion rate stayed around the same level in each. In two seasons of Premier League football with Norwich he scored 25 goals in 76 appearances, a conversion rate of 33%.

Holt tops the chart of career conversion rates for the current Wigan squad. But like Marc-Antoine  Fortune and James McClean his figures at Wigan compare unfavourably:

Goalchart3

Stats from Wikipedia. McManaman’s career stats include his loan spell at Blackpool.

It was rumoured that Latics were interested in Cameron Jerome from Stoke City, but the player has now signed for Norwich for a fee of around £2m. He has a career conversion rate of 22%.

Grant Holt is now 33 years old and although he is probably past his best he is a proven goalscorer. But not only has he become the object of abuse among fans on the social media, but he has been ostracized by his manager. Despite being among the highest wage earners at the club he has been sent to train with the under 21 squad and has no assigned team shirt number according to the club’s official website.

With his financial constraints Rosler may be unable to secure the services of a new player who has a proven goal scoring record. He may also be unable to offload Holt to another club before the transfer window ends at the end of the month.

If this becomes the case will Rosler consider waving an olive branch in Holt’s direction?

The big Cumbrian might not fit into the mould that Rosler requires, but a few goals over the coming months might well make him a target for other clubs in the January transfer window. Holt has made efforts to lose weight and surely would not want to be left out in the cold indefinitely.

Could Holt have a part to play over the coming months, even if only as an impact substitute?

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