Rosler getting ready for QPR in the playoffs

QPR Manager Harry Redknapp will be expecting a difficult encounter

QPR manager Harry Redknapp can expect a difficult encounter with Wigan Athletic in the playoffs.

Barring major surprises, Wigan Athletic will host Queens Park Rangers on Friday, May 9th in the Championship playoffs. The return match at Loftus Road will take place the following Monday, May 12th. Both games will start at 7:45 pm.

Latics need only one win from their final three leagues matches to make certain of their playoff place. QPR are six points ahead of Wigan and are likely to finish in fourth place. Reading are three points behind, but Latics have a game in hand over the Royals and a superior goal difference. Derby are five points ahead of QPR with a far superior goal difference. They will surely pick up one point from their last two games to guarantee a third place position where they will be up against the sixth placed team, which could be one of a handful of clubs.

The past months have been a rollercoaster ride for Wigan Athletic. Since Uwe Rosler’s first game in charge away to Maribor on December 12th until the last one at Burnley, Latics played 31 matches in 129 days. During that time they lost a Europa League game and won four and drew two in the FA Cup, losing to a penalty shoot-out. In the league their record has been W13 D6 L5, giving them 45 points from 24 played, very close to Rosler’s often stated target of an average of two points per game.

Latics had suffered five consecutive defeats before Rosler’s arrival and his team has played more games since then than any other team in the four divisions. To get so close to another FA Cup Final and to be sitting in a healthy position in the playoff zone of the Championship is a testament to the remarkable effect Rosler has had on the club.

With so many matches coming up Rosler acted shrewdly in the January transfer window, offloading the misfiring Grant Holt to Aston Villa and Nouha Dicko to Wolves. In their place he brought in a handful of loan players plus another on a short term contract. He tried to transfer out the highly salaried Ivan Ramis, but neither Cardiff nor Crystal Palace were satisfied with his medical condition. Ramis has since been excellent in the centre of defence and a key player in Latics’ push for promotion. He has had further injury problems – currently out through a hamstring strain – but no recurrence of the knee injury that prevented his transfer.

The loanees have clearly played a major role since their arrival, some more than others. At this stage it looks like only one will be staying – Martyn Waghorn who has since signed a long term contract. However, the loanees will continue to have a part to play as the regular season moves into the playoffs.

Rosler will be keen to secure that playoff place on Saturday with a victory over a Blackpool side struggling against relegation. He would then be in a position to rest his key players before the playoffs start. The key triumvirate of Emmerson Boyce, James McArthur and James Perch looked jaded on Monday and Rosler needs them to be at their sharpest in the playoffs.

Wigan’s recent form has been inconsistent over recent weeks, with the highs of beating such as Manchester City contrasting with the lows of losing at home to relegation candidates like Millwall. However, it is in the playoffs that they need to peak. Were Wigan to beat Blackpool this weekend and lose their remaining two league matches it would be of little consequence. Indeed we would probably see more than a little “rotation” for those games.

Rosler will be keen to have all his key players firing on all cylinders during the playoffs.

Nick Powell has been disappointing since his return from injury, but Rosler will surely continue to keep the Manchester United player in his plans. One moment of individual brilliance from him could be sufficient to win a vital playoff game. Media hype about the young man’s future cannot be helping, let alone the uncertainty of who will be in charge at Old Trafford next season. Powell remains young and his game lacks maturity, but he could play a key role in the playoffs.

The promising return of Shaun Maloney from long-term injury and the improved form of Callum McManaman give Latics much room for optimism. Moreover Jordi Gomez has been playing the best football in his five years at the club. Latics might lack a regular goalscorer but they are strong in terms of having players with creative and attacking flair.

James McClean has had a disappointing time over recent weeks, but could still make an impact in the playoffs. When he scored two opportunist goals at Ipswich he looked sharp and confident, but since then his finishing has so often disappointed. The Irishman is clearly a confidence player who needs a run of games before the end of the regular season. His pace can threaten any defence and he can never be faulted for effort. He is a rough diamond who Rosler needs to continue to work with. It could well be that playing on the wing is not ultimately his best position. With his pace, energy and tackling ability he could well develop into a holding midfield player or full back.

The return of Roger Espinoza from a hernia operation is good news for Rosler. The German will have to ease the Honduran back in gradually, but he is the obvious partner for the admirable James McArthur in central midfield. Josh McEachran is a fine player, but has lacked fitness since his arrival and has not even been on the bench in the last two games. Rosler needs him fit for the playoffs.

Rosler will be hoping that Ramis will be back to fitness for the playoffs. He has played particularly well alongside Boyce in the centre of defence. With the two together there is not only defensive solidity, but cultured passing from the back. The German might well go for a back line of three central defenders with Leon Barnett joining them. He also has Rob Kiernan available, who has done a good job so far, but lacks the experience of playing in the high pressure atmosphere the playoffs will generate.

James Perch has become an automatic choice in Rosler’s lineups and deservedly so. Too often in his career he has had to play in a variety of positions, but under Rosler he has established himself as a right back or right wing back. Perch’s defensive work is excellent and his attacking has improved considerably over these months.

Jean Beausejour is best employed as a wing back, but has also been employed as a full back and a winger under Rosler. He remains the best alternative on the left of defence.

Rosler is blessed in the goalkeeping department with Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson competing for a place. Exciting young prospect Lee Nicholls will have to bide his time for the moment with those two capable and experienced ‘keepers ahead of him.

The first step towards potential success in the playoffs is to beat Blackpool on Saturday. Rosler will surely field his strongest lineup. With the playoff place secured he can then rest his key players and focus on what promise to be two tricky games against a strong QPR side.

Rosler has done so well up to this point. He has the players capable of taking Latics back to the Premier League and he has shown himself to be tactically astute.

QPR will not relish the prospect of facing Wigan Athletic in a little over two weeks’ time.

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Burnley Preview – Can Latics do it again?

“After the Lord Mayor’s show comes the dust cart” is a saying that can so often hold true in football. Wigan Athletic fans will be hoping that will not be the case when their team visits Burnley tomorrow.

Over the course of a season a team can reach its highs, but they are so often spread apart. Highs rarely come in consecutive games, but for Latics’ over the past week it has been the case. A superb performance in the FA Cup semi-final draw with Arsenal was followed by the best home display of the season, with a resounding 3-0 win over fellow play-off contenders, Reading. Both results were obtained by Latics playing high quality football.

But can they reach their third high in the space of nine days by getting a good result at Turf Moor? Or will it be an anticlimax?

The trip to Burnley was never going to be easy. Moreover it is a particularly big one for the hosts since they can win automatic promotion by beating Wigan.

Burnley have had a wonderful season, consistently punching above their weight. Somehow they have managed to stay clear of the large-scale injury problems that have dogged promotion rivals, although striker Sam Vokes will miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury. However, the 25 goal Danny Ings will play up front with Ashley Barnes, signed from Brighton in the January transfer window.

Uwe Rosler will rotate his squad as always. He has stated that some players who were not even on the bench on Good Friday will make the team tomorrow. That appears to point at the likes of Gary Caldwell and Josh McEachran.

Nicky Maynard and James McClean are due to reappear in attack and Rob Kiernan and Stephen Crainey in defence. Rosler might well revert to a 3-5-2 formation, with Caldwell and Kiernan in the backline. The in-form Callum McManaman is likely to be rested, although he might make the bench. Shaun Maloney might well come on at some time in the proceedings, although he is unlikely to start his second game in three days following his recuperation from long-term injury.

The last two performances have shown the kind of quality football that Rosler’s Latics can produce. However, they are also capable of grinding out results away from home against promotion rivals, as to which Brighton and Derby can attest.

A good result at Burnley will consolidate Latics’ playoff position. It might not be pretty to watch, but Wigan have enough strength in depth to more than match their East Lancashire opponents.

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Does Rosler want promotion this season?

Uwe Rösler. Thanks to Beesotted Brentford for photo.

Another defeat to a mediocre team, say the cynics. They say that Latics don’t really want promotion this year – they are not ready. Give it another year and Rosler will have his own players playing in the style he seeks. Better to build up a nucleus of players who can serve us for years to come.

The 1-0 defeat at Huddersfield has opened up old wounds. Uwe Rosler’s honeymoon period at the club is nearing its end. Around 1,500 supporters made the trip across the Pennines yesterday in foul weather, but many must have come back disgruntled. The German’s team selection was puzzling.  Most people had expected him to play the wing duo of Callum McManaman and James McClean, but it was to be Martyn Waghorn and Jean Beausejour. Moreover with the wind behind them in the first half Latics did not utilize it to the same degree that Huddersfield were to in the second half.

But this was only Latics’ second league defeat in ten games since Rosler arrived, during which they have amassed 18 points. If they continue at that rate until the end of the season they will equal the 72 attained by Crystal Palace last year to reach sixth place and to go on to win the play-offs. In the two years prior to that the sixth place gathered 75 points. Wigan currently have 40 points from 28 matches. Rosler has mentioned the need to average 2 points per game. Were Latics to be able to do that until the end of the season it would leave them with 76 points.

There are fans who do not want Wigan Athletic to go up this season or next. They have seen Latics struggle to survive in the ‘Greed League’, year after year, against the odds. Seeing your team lose 9-1 and 8-0 can be depressing, as can having to sell your best players to keep financially afloat. The more senior of those fans might even remember the non-league days and the excitement of getting into the Football League in 1978. They have seen the club come so far but no longer yearn for higher things. Some talk of Latics having a slot in the lower divisions, playing against more humble opposition, but at least on an even keel.

But then again Wigan Athletic have a firm fan base of younger people who had known nothing but Premier League football until relegation last May. They want to see teams like Arsenal and Manchester United come to Wigan with their superstar players.  The sooner Latics get back into the Premier League the better for most young fans.

When a new manager comes in he tends to bring in his own players. Rosler brought in four loan signings and another on a short term contract over the January transfer window. It looks like Tyias Browning, signed on a one month loan, is going back to Everton.  Rosler will be hoping to get ex-Rochdale player Craig Dawson from West Bromwich Albion, as another loan signing over the coming week, which would be much to the chagrin of Bolton fans.  Dawson clearly made a very positive impression when playing at the Reebok last season. Rosler has not been afraid to give new loanees Nicky Maynard, Josh McEachran and Martyn Waghorn playing time. He could not include new signing Markus Holgersson in the squad for yesterday’s match because of illness.

There are fans who are less than impressed with Rosler’s signings and foresee the departure of more Martinez men in summer. They are not convinced that Rosler is making a serious push for promotion, not having brought in a high profile central striker during the transfer window. Latics just cannot convert enough chances into goals. Maynard is still trying to get back to fitness after a serious knee injury. Waghorn is being released by rivals Leicester when his contract expires in summer. Neither seems to fit the bill. These fans foresee losing technically gifted players from the Martinez era and them being replaced by players of inferior technique, with little or no Premier League experience.  Many of the players brought in by Owen Coyle are not good enough for the Premier League, but will be staying.

Rosler fans say he is looking for players with the right attitude who will fit into his style of play. Too many of the Martinez men did not have the right attitude and the struggles they went through in the Premier League left them with a losers mentality. Rosler is initially signing players on loan, but with a view towards signing them permanently if they fit the part. Too many times over the years the club paid big money for players who were not to succeed. The high tempo style that Rosler has in mind is very appealing. Seeing Brentford currently topping League 1 is a testament to the firm foundation the German left behind there.

Rosler is clearly hedging his bets. When he arrived at Wigan the club was in the lower part of the league table with a record of W6 D4 L8. They are now sitting in mid-table, having won more matches than they have lost. Like Coyle he has had to deal with fixture congestion and has regularly rotated his squad. He is not afraid to try different tactical formations and require the players to adjust accordingly. More than anything else he has eschewed the long-ball tactics of his predecessor and brought the concept of good football back to Wigan.

Rosler will be hoping that Latics can gradually ease their way into a play-off spot, knowing that time is tight and it is going to be difficult for his new players to settle in to the club and his style of play in a short period. If he does succeed in winning promotion this season he will be in a position to persuade players whose contracts are at an end, to stay on at the club with Premier League salaries. Moreover he can consider offering permanent contracts to loanees who have impressed.

If promotion does not happen this season Rosler will have nevertheless instilled a style of play upon those who remain after a considerable summer exodus. Prized assets will be sold off, but with Dave Whelan’s support, the funds will be reinvested into bargain buys.

Rosler is certainly looking at a return to the Premier League for Wigan Athletic. The question is whether it will be this season or the next.

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Latics aim for Premier League return

2013-rosler

There is no doubt that Uwe Rosler has the Premier League in his sights. Neither he nor Dave Whelan want to stay in the second tier. The question is how to get back there.

For all the flak that Owen Coyle took when he left Wigan he left Latics a formidable squad. His personal charisma and the offer of good salaries by Championship standards enticed more than a dozen players to Wigan.

Coyle’s critics will say that his big failing in the transfer market was bringing in two 32 year old strikers who were past their sell-by date. However, good strikers are in short supply and their transfer fees up in the clouds. Coyle did what he could and he could not have guessed how ineffective Grant Holt, in particular, would be.

There is a strong lobby that wants Whelan dig into his pocket and use the money from the summer sales to sign a top class striker. Somewhere between £13-£15 m is the figure being touted as the funds available.

Signing for Latics as a striker has been a kiss of death in recent years. So many have been signed, but never been able to deliver enough goals. Typically they have been left to fend for themselves as lone centre forwards, up against two central defenders.

Arouna Kone was an exception and did that well last year, scoring goals in the process. One wonders how he would have fared in this season’s team, if he had not been enticed to Everton.

Mauro Boselli was a big money signing by Latics’ standards, but the lone role did not suit him and he was like a fish out of water. Boselli had a torrid time at Wigan – unfairly ridiculed by one fan site – but he has revived his career through a move to Mexico. Since joining Leon he scored 18 goals in 22 appearances in the regular season and helped them beat Club America  5-1 to win the Apertura Championship playoffs with goals like this.

Like Boselli, Grant Holt has come in for a lot of criticism at Wigan. Critics would say that a good central striker makes things happen. Realists would say it depends on the service. During Boselli’s early days at Wigan he had Charles N’Zogbia to his right and Hugo Rodallega to his left, both of whom were expected to strike on goal themselves. Holt has not been given any favours either as the service from the wide players this season has been poor.

Whelan is unlikely to allow Rosler to splash big money on a striker this month. It is a gamble the club cannot afford to take at this stage. Rosler will look at players with goal scoring records in the lower division and those available on loan.

The proceeds from the summer sales will largely go towards providing the new facility at Charnock Richard. Whelan is clearly looking at Latics being back in the Premier League and having an academy that can produce home-grown players. His appointment of Gregor Rioch to spearhead that programme is a real step forward for the club.

Whelan is looking at the long term future of Wigan Athletic, as a Premier League Club. He will be aware of the risks of Latics’ finest young players being poached by the elite clubs, through the EPPP, if they are not in the top tier.

Latics can not only get back into the Premier League, but will be able to see a future there if the academy system takes off. Whelan has already shown himself to be far-sighted in his planning for the club. He will face pressure in terms of investing for the present and for the future. But he will not waiver.

Uwe Rosler has already made a great impression. His challenge is to get the right balance in the team. He does not need to spend a huge amount of money to do that. The squad that Coyle left behind is good enough to challenge for promotion, given a couple of key additions.

Latics are entering a new era. Financial Fair Play will restrict Whelan’s capacity to pump in funds. The club has to stand on its own two feet. Whelan is right to require the club to be run in a business-like manner, making ends meet.

There continues to be long-term planning and the task of getting Latics back into the Premier League is in the hands of one of the brightest and best young managers.

Wigan Athletic continue to look forward to to continue to punch above their weight.

The future continues to look bright.

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Perchinho arrival heralds in a new style

perch2

Yesterday, a player known in some circles as Perchinho became the latest of  Wigan Athletic’s new signings. He could well become a key piece in the jigsaw puzzle that Owen Coyle is putting together to get Latics back into the Premier League.

Despite the nickname, Perchinho is not a flamboyant Brazilian who will help Latics maintain the style of champagne football that Roberto Martinez’s teams could produce on big occasions. Quite the opposite. He is James Perch, a fairly ordinary-looking footballer, given the nickname affectionately, though ultimately ironically, by Newcastle fans. His critics would say he cannot accurately pass the ball more than 10 yards.  So how  can such a player  play a key role  in a promotion-challenging team?

Born in Mansfield, Perch came up through the youth ranks at Nottingham Forest, making his league debut against Wigan in 2004 and amassing 190 appearances in six years before earning a move to Newcastle United. During this time, he had been used as a utility player, appearing in the right, left and centre of defence and as  a ball winner in midfield, and was eventually trusted with the captain’s armband.perchinho

Perch was to create an unenviable Premier League record on joining Newcastle after receiving consecutive yellow cards in his first five games at that level. Despite the rocky start, the ex-Forest captain went on to make 65 appearances for the north east club over the past three years, including promotion from the Championship and a Europa League campaign.

The signing of a player like Perch is something that Roberto Martinez would have been unlikely to contemplate. He just would not have fitted into the style of flowing football the Spaniard sought. But then again, this is a new era. Owen Coyle has a more pragmatic approach and we are not going to be seeing that mixture of champagne football, interspersed between periods of innefectiveness and defensive mediocrity, that we witnessed  in the Martinez era. So what kind of football will we see during Coyle’s tenure at the club? perch1

James Perch may not be the most skillful player around, but he is a great tackler and a consummate team player and professional. A recent posting on Squawka News offers an interesting insight into Perch’s capabilities, describing him as a “Toon cult hero”, with stats to back up their argument. Another interesting article on Newcastle fan site  Blog on the Tyne lauds Perch’s professionalism.

Wiganers have always appreciated players who are willing to battle for the club and Perch looks destined to become a fan favourite, as he was at Forest and Newcastle. Perch’s career has probably been held back by his ability to slot into different positions. Coyle might get the best out of the player by using him in one specific role.

With so many new players coming into the squad it is important that Latics begin the season with a backbone of last year’s players in the starting lineup. The mutual  understanding between players who have played together for a period of time should not be undervalued. The newcomers can be gradually weaned into the team. However, I would not be surprised to see James Perch’s name on the teamsheet for the season opener at Barnsley.

Owen Coyle’s team will not provide the silky approach we have got used to, but we can expect them to be attacking and entertaining. Professionals  like James Perch can be a really positive force in the club, as well as on the pitch. It will be the hard work of players like him that will enable team mates to get the ball and challenge the opposition.

The Martinez era is over , but Coyle’s squad is quickly taking shape and we can continue to look forward to watching good football, albeit in a different style.

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