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.