Keeping your key asset

Emyr Huws

Emyr Huws

With less than a week to go to the first training session of the new season the summer sell off at Wigan Athletic is starting to gather momentum. Scott Carson has already gone to Derby and it looks like James McClean is off to West Bromwich and Rob Kiernan to Rangers. The latest rumour is that James Perch will be joining McClean and Callum McManaman at West Bromwich.

The demand for ex-Premier League players like Carson, McClean and Perch was always going to be there. They were to be the three most likely to attract transfer income  for the club, as meanwhile it will ease its wage bill by some £20,000 per week or more for each of them. Keeping the three of them would have entailed using up around £3 m of an anticipated wage bill of £8- £10 m.

Behind them in the domestic transfer pecking order come Leon Barnett (29 years old), Don Cowie (32), Chris McCann (27) and Andrew Taylor (28) who have played in the Premier League, but are also experienced Championship division campaigners. Although their potential transfer values may not be high, the club will try to move on most of them, given their Championship-level salaries. Transfer fees will be waived as necessary.

The pairing of Andy Delort and Oriol Riera cost a total of around £5m in transfer fees last year. Sadly Delort was not able to regain his old goalscoring form after rejoining Tours on loan in January. He hit the back of the net only twice in fourteen starts. Reports from the French press suggest that there are Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs interested in him, but it is doubtful whether they would be willing to pay the kind of transfer fee that Latics paid last September. Reports from Spain suggest that Deportivo La Coruna would like to keep Riera, but are unwilling to match the kind of transfer figure that Latics would like.

Latics face a dilemma with the two players. Sell them off for maybe a combined transfer input of  £1m, signifying a £4m loss, or bring them back and have to use up 20% or more of the total wage bill for a squad of around 24 players, on their salaries alone. The option remains of a further loan period for each, relieving wage bill costs, but leaving the door open for the future.

However, media reports suggest that Latics are actively seeking strikers from other English clubs. It therefore looks like they will take the first option and sell the two players off at a significant loss.

All of the players mentioned so far are those for whom salaries are an issue for a club facing a change from a £30m wage bill to one of around a third of that within a year. However, there are also the cases of the younger players such as James Tavernier (23), Martyn Waghorn (25), Aaron Taylor-Sinclair (23), whose salaries will also have to be taken into account, together with the Malky Mackay signings Billy Mckay (26) and Jason Pearce (27), whom one assumes will be staying.

David Sharpe talked some time ago about needing up to fifteen new players. The implication is that the majority of the players signed prior to 2015 will be encouraged to move on.

However, if players are to move on they need a club not only interested in their services, but willing to get close to matching the salaries they have been receiving. In Grant Holt’s case the options seem slim. Ostracised by Uwe Rosler, Holt faded out of the Latics’ scene.  He was sent off on loan to Aston Villa and Huddersfield, where he received an anterior cruciate knee injury that kept him out of action for the second half of last season. Holt is 34 years old and with that ACL injury he is unlikely to attract the interest of clubs who can afford to pay a salary probably well in excess of £20,000 per week.

Critics will say that Owen Coyle should not have been allowed to offer a three year contract with a lucrative salary to a 32 year old. At the time it appeared to be not such a bad bet, getting a player with proven goalscoring pedigree for a relatively low transfer fee. Little did we know that just two years later the club would be in League 1 and the player’s salary would be like a millstone around their necks.

Injuries certainly affect the marketability of a footballer. Holt’s injury while playing on loan at Huddersfield will most likely prove to be the factor that will mean him staying at the club. At 34 and past his best, recovering from injury, but playing in a lower division can he be a key player? Can he win back the fan support that he lost before he was dispatched to Villa Park?  The likely scenario is that Gary Caldwell will have to find ways of motivating a player who has had a difficult time at the club, into being part of a successful set-up.

The injury to Holt did Latics no favours, but the ankle problem that prevented Emyr Huws playing in the second half of last season might well prove to be a blessing in disguise.  The 21 year old Huws was initially signed on loan from Manchester City, but Rosler signed him for a fee in excess of £2m last September. Not long after Huws injured his ankle while playing for Wales and suffered a series of niggles with it that prevented him reaching top form.

However, it was an incident in training in early February that caused Malky Mackay to report that “Emyr’s rolled his ankle badly, we’ve had it looked at and he’s going to need operating on. He’s going to be out for three or four months, and that’s a real disappointment. He came back in for a couple of games, he grabbed his chance and did really well, and it’s a real blow for us and him.”

Mackay clearly rated Huws and the young Welshman was one who avoided the huge January sell-off. Midfield was to prove a problematic area under Mackay and one can only speculate what might have happened had Huws been fit.

Because of his injury Huws might well avoid the cull that will happen in the coming weeks. Big clubs will bide their time and see if he can overcome his injury and realise his full potential. Moreover Caldwell might consider him a key player, well worth paying a salary above the League 1 norm.

Huws showed what a quality player he can be when on loan at Birmingham in 2013-14. He has shown flashes of his quality at Wigan, but niggling injury has held him back. However, he has all the attributes needed to become a top midfield player. He is combative in the tackle, has a cultured left foot, good dribbling skills and the technique to score spectacular goals from distance.

In League 1 Huws is capable of being the kind of imposing midfield player that Latics have lacked since the departures of the Jimmy Macs, McCarthy and McArthur. Moreover in shedding players who have played at higher levels there is a danger of a lack of class in the team. Huws can provide that.

Who knows how many of the players from Coyle and Rosler’s days will be at Wigan come August? So many will be shed because of economic necessity.

But Emyr Huws could prove to be the asset most worth keeping from that 2014 squad.

Only time will tell if Gary Caldwell thinks the same.

Three points thrown away – Brighton 1 Wigan Athletic 0

BrightonPier

Latics missed a golden opportunity to pick up three much needed points against a Brighton side that was there for the taking.

We have come to expect some unusual team selections from Uwe Rosler and last night’s was no exception. It left one with a sense of foreboding, even before the game started.

Marc-Antoine Fortune was rested and Rosler brought in Martyn Waghorn at centre forward, leaving Oriel Riera on the bench and Andy Delort out altogether. An even bigger shocker was the absence of Ivan Ramis at centre back, Rosler bringing in James Perch to play there in place of the suspended Leon Barnett. Despite his indifferent recent form, Rob Kiernan kept his place at centre back. Rosler continued with his modified 4-4-2 system, with Don Cowie on the wide right of a central midfield trio of Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw and Shaun Maloney. James McClean played wide on the left.

Wigan were playing with a new pairing in the centre of defence and it showed in the first minute when Gary Gardner was gifted a goal. The home team had built up a nice move resulting in a cross from Elliot Bennett which Latics’ defence failed to clear.

Latics gradually started to assert themselves but Brighton remained dangerous in breakaways. Liverpool loanee Joao Teixeira had the freedom of the park in a Wigan midfield lacking steel. That same player was unlucky not to score in the 14th minute when Kazema LuaLua squared the ball across to him in the penalty box. Luckily for Wigan Teixeira’s shot hit the underside of the crossbar and Latics survived.

As Wigan came more into the game Brighton went into their shell, hoping to protect their lead for three points they desperately needed. However, despite having the possession Latics could not seriously test Albion’s 18 year old goalkeeper, Christian Walton.

The second half saw Latics continue to dominate possession, with Brighton massing their defence and making little effort to go forward. However, they could not translate their domination into goals. Walton made saves from a couple of Waghorn efforts and a rasping drive from Forshaw from outside the box. Otherwise there were decent efforts from outside the box from Maloney and Espinoza that went wide.

Despite the substitutions of McManaman for McClean and Riera for Cowie Latics just did not have the finishing to beat a team that had not won for 12 matches. But it was pleasing to see Chris McCann come on near the end for Espinoza following his long absence.

The Good

The return of Chris McCann was the highlight of the evening for the Latics. Maybe Ben Watson will make a similar cameo appearance at Bolton?

Waghorn tried hard in the lone centre forward role and had shots on target. Forshaw played with tenacity in a holding midfield role.

The Bad

The Latics back four were not tested that much by a Brighton side desperately low on confidence. However, even then the home side could quite easily have been two up in the first quarter. Tavernier continues to look vulnerable in defence and a central defensive pairing of Perch and Kiernan hardly inspires confidence. Are Rogne and Caldwell frozen out completely?

Playing Cowie in wide right midfield is a ploy that appears sound. However, Tavernier still continues to look exposed despite Cowie being there to cover him. Tavs just does not look like a Championship quality full back. Better to play him in right midfield and send Cowie back to a midfield holding role or leave him on the bench.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 6 – largely unemployed.

James Tavernier: 5.5 – strong going forward, out of touch in defence.

James Perch: 5 – a bad start, got better but had little to do.

Rob Kiernan: 5 – continues to receive the backing of the manager despite indifferent performances.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – solid.

Adam Forshaw: 7 – industrious and committed.

Shaun Maloney: 6 – looked useful in the second half.

Roger Espinoza: 6 – worked hard.

Don Cowie: 5 – poor.

Martyn Waghorn: 7 – worked hard as the target man. Maybe more effective as the second striker?

James McClean: 5 – poor. Withdrawn after 67 minutes.

Substitutes

Callum McManaman: – could not make the difference in that last half hour.

Oriel Riera: – brought on after 75 minutes, but made little impact.

Chris McCann: – a welcome return, coming on after 84 minutes.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

QPR 2 Wigan Athletic 1 – a spirited end of an era

 

Hoilett goes down under Caldwell's challenge for a penalty.

Hoilett goes down under Caldwell’s challenge for a penalty.

Charlie Austin’s extra time goal heralded not only the end of the season, but the end of an era for Wigan Athletic.

The failure to beat the Londoners over two legs means another year in the Championship for Latics and a likely exodus of many of their most skilful players. This was a brave performance, full of spirit, against a strong QPR side.

Uwe Rosler kept the same lineup that played in the first leg except bringing in James McClean for Marc-Antoine Fortune. He was to use a tactic that had worked before in producing some of Latics’ best results of the season away from home – high pressing to disrupt the opponents’ play, followed by dogged defence. But defending a 9th minute goal for the remaining 81 minutes was always going to be a mountain to climb, let alone a team was playing its 62nd game of the season having to play extra time.

James Perch typifies the Rosler approach. He has been one of the mainstays of Wigan’s revival under the German, with his willingness to run himself into the ground for the cause. Just as he did at the Etihad, Perch got himself into the six yard box to convert an excellent 9th minute cross from the lively James McClean. QPR had been bamboozled by Rosler’s tactic of using McClean and Callum McManaman to high press their centre of defence. The result was the QPR defenders hoofing long balls, gobbled up by the Wigan defence.

McClean could have added a second as he ran on to O’Neil’s backpass, but instead of trying to round goalkeeper Rob Green he chose to make a theatrical dive. A good chance went begging and the Irishman got a yellow card from Mark Clattenberg for his actions. Not long after Shaun Maloney had a shot blocked by Green, but then QPR gradually got themselves back into the game. The high pressing had gradually disappeared from Wigan’s game and Harry Redknapp moved Kevin Doyle from right midfield to support Charlie Austin up front. Moreover James McArthur, who had been excellent in the midfield pressing, had to go off with an injury after 36 minutes, Roger Espinoza replacing him. It was a different contest now.

A shell-shocked QPR were gradually getting back into the game. Carson made a fine save from a fierce drive from Niko Kranjcar and McClean cleared Austin’s header off the line. But Latics went into the dressing room at half time with their lead intact.

McClean had another fine chance after the break, going through one on one with Green, but he did not have the control to convert it. Green blocked his first effort and McClean’s effort from the rebound hit the post and went wide. Although the home team’s attacks lacked coherence, Wigan became besieged. They could not hold on to the ball, the defenders hoofing it over the midfield to forwards who had little chance of retrieving it. Wigan’s three central defenders – Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell and Rob Kiernan – had been superb in defence, repelling Rangers’ attacks.

Redknapp had brought on Korean left back Suk Yun-Young after 50 minutes for the combative Clint Hill, who had been lucky to survive the first leg after his deliberate elbowing of Kiernan. The pattern of play continued, with Latics unable to hold the ball and QPR applying pressure, but not convincingly. However, Redknapp’s substitution of big target man Bobby Zamora after 65 minutes for Doyle was to change the course of the game. Zamora’s striking rate is comparable with that of Fortune, but his physical presence and experience was to make the difference.

McManaman was replaced by Martyn Waghorn in the 71st minute. A couple of minutes later Zamora interchanged passes with Junior Hoilett who was brought down by a reckless challenge by Caldwell just inside the penalty box. Austin converted the penalty with ease. Moreover Caldwell had been injured in the challenge and had to be substituted by Leon Barnett. Zamora continued to cause problems and almost sealed it for QPR near the end of normal time, but his lob passed over Carson’s crossbar.

The game went into extra time with Latics playing with spirit, but the hoofing continued. The decisive goal came in the 96th minute when Zamora helped the ball through to Austin who got to it much quicker than Barnett to beat Carson. The final minutes of extra time saw Barnett pushed forward as Latics pumped in high balls. In the final minute a deflected shot from Kiernan passed narrowly wide of Green’s goal. It was not to be Wigan’s day.

The Good

The energy and passion shown by a Latics team playing its 62nd game of the season was truly exceptional. It was cruel that the game went into extra time, but those tired legs kept running to the bitter end.

The backline of Boyce, Caldwell and Kiernan had been immense in repelling the waves of QPR attacks until the penalty. It looked like Rosler’s gamble of starting Caldwell, who had played less than a handful of games in a year, was going to pay off until that fateful moment in the 73rd minute.

Rosler’s tactic of blitzing QPR from the start worked well. High pressing and a high level of physical fitness are key elements of the German’s approach to football and the players responded well, at least for the first quarter of the game. Starting without a centre forward was a brave ploy that almost came off.

It was sad to see Caldwell so visibly distraught on the sidelines after giving away the penalty and having to be substituted. It looks like his Wigan Athletic playing career is over. Up until that 73rd minute he had looked like the great defender and leader that he was in the closing part of the 2011-12 season when Latics ensured Premier League survival through beating the elite. He has also had some calamitous moments for Latics over the years, making rash tackles such as the one that turned this game. For some fans he has been a hero, for others a scapegoat.

Uwe Rosler deserves immense credit for the way he has lifted the club since the dark days of Owen Coyle. Reaching the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Championship playoffs has been a great achievement.

The Bad

Roberto Martinez would have scratched his eyes out if he had seen his team throw away possession as Latics have done, not only in this match, but in many others over these past months. Rosler has cut out the excessive sideways and backwards passing that could be so frustrating during the Martinez era. He has also tightened up the centre of defence. But he has not cut out the hoofing that started to rear its ugly head under Owen Coyle.

When a team “parks its bus”, as Latics did after scoring, it is important to hold on to the ball as much as possible. QPR did it fairly effectively at the DW last week.

In this match the Wigan defenders were once again prone to the big hoof, none more so than the goalkeeper. Carson is a fine ‘keeper, with a very powerful kick. But during Coyle’s reign he was making those long, speculative clearances and under Rosler he continues to do so.

The hoof is a part of Wigan’s play that needs to be cut out if Rosler is to maintain the continued support of Latics fans who have an expectation of good football.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 8 – a terrific defensive display. He made some fine saves and inspired confidence in his defence. Distribution poor.

James Perch: 8 – an excellent display. Took his goal well.

Emmerson Boyce: 9 –superb in his reading of the game. The best player on the pitch.

Gary Caldwell: 8 – excellent until the rush of blood for the penalty.

Rob Kiernan: 8 – excellent in defence.

Jean Beausejour: 6 – has not been at his best in recent weeks. Has a long summer ahead with the World Cup.

James McArthur: – led the high pressing with expertise. Badly missed when he went off after 36 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 7 – not at his best, but got through a lot of work.

Shaun Maloney: 6 – still not at his sharpest.

Callum McManaman: 7 – worked hard closing the opposition down, but never received the service to make him more of a threat. When he was taken off after 71 minutes it dulled the Latics attack.

James McClean: 7.5 – an enigma once again. Worked so hard closing down the opposition and his powerful running was a constant threat to the QPR defence. His fine cross led to Latics’ goal. With better finishing he could have won the game for Wigan. What a pity.

Substitutes

Roger Espinoza: 7 – came on after 36 minutes. He was his usual energetic self, always involved, playing at high tempo.

Leon Barnett: – came on after 73 minutes. Has not been able to regain his previously good form since his injury at Ipswich.

Martyn Waghorn: – came after 71 minutes. Retrieving high balls is not his forte.

 

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

 

After 59 games, Latics’ season is now starting

Rosler4

“It’s a strange scenario that, after 59 games, our season really starts now.”

So said Uwe Rosler in the Alan Brazil Breakfast Show yesterday.

Dave Whelan might well agree. Getting back to the Premier League is clearly his number one priority. Preferably this season, rather than next.

A month or two back ago Rosler was quoted as saying that he wanted to be the first German manager in the Premier League. We saw it as a statement of ambition – to get Latics back to the top flight of English football, as well as a personal goal for someone who had started his football career in communist East Germany. However, the personal goal was to dissolve when Felix Magath took over at Fulham.

When Rosler was appointed in December few could have hoped for more than the German steadying a rocking boat and preparing Wigan Athletic for promotion the following season. Latics had drifted under Owen Coyle and there seemed to be little sense of direction. Rosler was seen as someone with a more clearly defined philosophy, who could put the club back on the rails.

Rosler has done so much more than that. His first match in charge saw Latics’ European dream sadly ended, largely due to a dubious refereeing decision that saw Chris McCann sent off in Slovenia. But rather than have a long run in the Europa League, it was to be in the FA Cup, reaching semi-final and being unlucky to lose on penalties. Moreover Rosler has secured a playoff place that looked practically out of reach when he was appointed.

Rosler manipulated the transfer window shrewdly, offloading high wage earner and under-performer Grant Holt to Aston Villa, whilst bringing in a swath of loan signings to strengthen his squad. When he signed Martyn Waghorn on loan from Leicester, the cynics questioned his move. Since then the Geordie has become a key component of his set-up, not only excellent in the high pressing that Rosler demands from his forwards, but scoring 5 goals and providing 6 assists to date. Waghorn has a good technique, a good temperament and is a team player. He epitomises the profile of the kind of player Rosler wants at Wigan. Rosler has rewarded him with a long term contract.

Latics’ rise into the playoffs has come at a physical cost to key players. Emmerson Boyce has played 54 games so far, James McArthur 50, Leon Barnett 49, and James Perch 48. Not surprisingly they have not been at their best in recent games. The question is whether they can get a second wind for the playoffs.

Playing such a large number of games in a short amount of time over these past months is one thing, but the high pressing puts heavy physical demands on the players too. At their best, Latics defend from the front in a manner that even the master of that technique, Pep Guardiola, would approve. At the worst, the pressing is uneven and Latics are pushed back into their own half as the opposition retains possession.

Wigan Athletic’s chances of getting back to the Premier League are going to depend largely on their ability to high press their opponents and disrupt their style of play. That high energy approach was easier to implement a couple of months ago when the players had not accumulated so many games.

The final league game at Blackburn tomorrow is the 60th this season. Perhaps Rosler was slightly off the mark by saying that the season was starting after 59 games. Unless he views tomorrow’s confrontation as more important than most of us think. Is he keen to get a result at Blackburn so Latics can face QPR next week, rather than the more in-form Derby, who have won their last five matches?

However, previous form can mean nothing in the pressurised climate of the playoffs. Last year’s winners Crystal Palace only had one win in their final ten league games but got the results when it really counted, defeating both 4th placed Brighton and 3rd placed Watford.

Rosler faces the challenge of rousing a tired group of players for a final push. However, he does have Gary Caldwell, Roger Espinoza and Shaun Maloney back from long term injuries.

They might well have a crucial role to play.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

 

Millwall Preview – a cameo role for Maloney in preparation for the FA Cup semi-final?

 

facup-maloney

A cameo role for Shaun Maloney tonight?

Given the sheer volume of fixtures Wigan Athletic have had to play over the past months it is no wonder that their form has been intermittent. There have been matches where they have looked full of energy, playing enterprising football, followed another a few days later where they would appear jaded and placing an over-reliance on the long ball.

The 1-0 win over Leeds on Saturday was typical of the latter. One could say it was because Uwe Rosler made only two changes from his lineup in the previous game, but then again the introduction of three substitutes in the second half did not catalyse any sort of spark. In the event Leeds did not have the quality to seriously challenge a solid Wigan defence and Latics ground out an important win.

If events continue to follow this recent pattern we can expect a more dynamic performance against a Millwall team struggling against relegation. However, there is the by no means small matter of an FA Cup Semi-Final coming up on Saturday. So what is going to happen tonight?

On Saturday Rosler took a risk by using all three substitutes by the 68th minute. Providing Latics are ahead midway through the second half he might do something similar tonight.

One of those coming on later tonight could well be Shaun Maloney, in preparation for including him on the bench at Wembley where he scored a goal in last year’s semi-final, coincidentally against Millwall. The Scot has been on the bench for the last two games, but Rosler felt the intensity of the Leicester match was too high for a player returning from long-term injury, then understandably did not bring him on against an over-physical Leeds.

It is an indication of the rotation policy that Rosler has operated that in the last five league matches twenty players have been employed on the pitch. Three players – Ali Al-Habsi, James McArthur and James Perch have started in all five. Five more – Emmerson Boyce, Jordi Gomez, Rob Kiernan, Ivan Ramis and Martyn Waghorn have started in four of those games. Josh McEachran, Callum McManaman and Nicky Maynard have been underemployed during the five matches, each starting in only one.

Rosler will certainly have to shuffle his pack following the limp display on Saturday. However, Latics have some tricky league fixtures coming up and the Millwall game appears the easiest to win, at least on paper. However, Millwall are locked in a relegation struggle and desperately need points. They can be expected to come out with guns a blazing. Rosler will therefore need to tread with caution, keeping a backbone of his regulars in the lineup, rather than make wholesale changes.

He has already announced that Ali Al-Habsi will be rested, with Scott Carson coming in. James Perch is overdue a rest, having played 43 games this season. Moreover Perch is sitting on nine yellow cards and one more would put him out of the FA Cup semi-final. James McArthur too needs resting, also having played 43 games.

Jean Beausejour is back from suspension. Rob Kiernan, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Martyn Waghorn are ineligible for the Arsenal game so have a good chance of playing, together with McEachran, McManaman and Maynard.

It is not going to be an easy match. Millwall had a crucial 2-1 win at promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest at the weekend. They sit in 23rd place but still retain hopes of lifting themselves out of the relegation zone. Under the management of Ian Holloway they will not go down without a fight.

Moreover the Lions will recall their 2-1 win over Wigan at the New Den, Latics’ sixth successive defeat at the time. Martyn Waghorn was on loan at Millwall at that time and was one of their top performers in a match watched by Rosler, prior to his taking the reins at Wigan. The Lions wanted to keep Waghorn, but their financial situation would not allow. Will Waghorn be the star player tonight?

It is never easy to predict Rosler’s starting lineups, but given the proximity of the Arsenal Semi-Final, it is all the more difficult this time around.

Which Wigan Athletic will we see tonight – the energetic or the lethargic? It could well be a mixture of the two.

 

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.