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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Rosler gets it right – Derby County 1 Wigan Athletic 2

James McClean’s brace wins the match for Latics. Photo courtesy of the BBC.

Rosler got his tactics and team selection right this time and the result was a shocker. A Latics team that had not won for eight matches went on to beat a Derby outfit that had been unbeaten in twelve. Wigan just would not allow the home team time and space on the ball and fully deserved their victory.

As we have come to expect from him Uwe Rosler made changes in his lineup, causing due consternation among fans. He was to stick with the eleven that completed the last game against Millwall except Emyr Huws and Don Cowie came back from injury to replace James McClean and Shaun Maloney. The 4-4-2 formation saw Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman playing up front, with Cowie in wide right midfield. Leon Barnett was named captain.

The first half hour was scrappy as Latics’ pressing tactic disrupted the home team’s game. Derby just did not look convincing and Wigan looked full of energy and sacrifice. However, the left footed right winger Johnny Russell curled a shot marginally wide but Latics gradually started to threaten the Derby defence. Huws had an effort saved by Jack Butland, then Roger Espinoza put a great pass through for McManaman, whose effort was blocked by Butland’s legs.

Just before half time Latics were awarded a penalty with John Eustace handling the ball as Espinoza threatened. James Tavernier hit the ball to Butland’s left but the home keeper made a fine save. The same Eustace then scored at the other end after Zak Whitbread had headed on a free kick for the experienced central midfielder to bundle home.

Latics went into half time a goal down after having looked in control. Conceding that goal so soon after missing a penalty was a body blow from which they might not recover.

Steve McLaren surprisingly made two changes at half time, Will Hughes and Ibe being replaced by Simon Dawkins and Jeff Hendrick. In the 56th minute Scott Carson could only parry Hendrick’s shot, but Latics managed to clear the ball. Ten minutes later Craig Bryson’s shot deflected off Hendrick to go narrowly wide. However, Latics were still in the game and playing with spirit. With the protection provided by Cowie, Tavernier was able to move forward and attack the Derby defence.

McClean had come on for McManaman after 62 minutes. Seven minutes later he put the ball home from short range after Cowie had put the indefatigable Espinoza through on the right for a cross into the box. Shaun Maloney came on for Huws a couple of minutes later. Latics were on top and McClean had a header go wide from a Maloney free kick and Tavernier’s fine shot from the edge of the penalty area went narrowly wide.

In the 83rd minute Tavernier ‘s corner caused problems for the Derby defence. Adam Forshaw’s shot was parried by Butland, but from the resulting melee the ball fell to McClean who scooped it home.

Espinoza’s shot from outside the box brought a fine save from Butland. William Kvist replaced Kiernan after 87 minutes. In the five minutes time that was added on, Barnett committed a foul just on the edge of the box in a dangerous position. Fortunately for Wigan, Chris Martin’s powerful shot passed wide of the far post.

There was widespread celebration among Wigan fans when the referee signaled the end of the game. Derby had gone 644 minutes without conceding until McClean’s first goal. Latics win was well deserved from a performance full of spirit and passion.

The Good

Rosler’s team selection had raised eyebrows with such as McClean and Maloney left on the bench. However, he surely appeased many fans by the selection of Espinoza in the centre of midfield.

Espinoza’s inclusion proved to be the catalyst that galvanized Latics’ midfield into action. His enthusiasm is infectious. Like Espinoza, Forshaw and Huws were tireless in their efforts to control the centre of the pitch. Despite playing so little competitive football over the past couple of months, Espinoza was a revelation, pressing the opposition and attacking with gusto.

McClean added his usual amount of energy when he came on, but importantly got a couple of opportunist goals. All too often in the past he has got himself into good positions without having the composure to finish. This time he got it right and his goals won the game for Wigan.

The unpopular Cowie played an important role in right midfield, allowing the exciting Tavernier to attack down the right flank. Nevertheless Tavernier worked hard on the defensive side of his game too. Cowie’s play may be unspectacular but he is tireless in his efforts, a consummate team player.

It was the kind of display that we saw in the early days of Rosler’s reign last year. Latics were bristling with energy, closing down the opposition and looking threatening in the second half as they moved forward. Rosler’s dream of high tempo, high pressing football may not be an illusion after all.

The Bad

It had taken Rosler so long to give Espinoza a chance. The reasons are unknown to most of us who are not privy to what is going on at the club. Given the American/Honduran’s impact on the game one wonders why he was not included before.

 

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – did all that was required of him.

James Tavernier: 8 – a display of attacking promise, with a high workrate in defence.

Leon Barnett: 8 – a captain’s performance. The defence has tightened up since his return.

Rob Kiernan: 7 – solid in defence and unruffled and accurate in his distribution.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 – a typical performance from him, full of endeavour.

Adam Forshaw: 8 – unable to show his silky skills, but was a real dynamo in the centre of midfield.

Emyr Huws: 8 – combative and good in his use of the ball. Went off after 70 minutes.

Roger Espinoza: 8.5 – a remarkable performance considering his lack of match fitness.

Don Cowie: 8 – a tireless worker, sacrificing himself for the team.

Callum McManaman: 7 – worked hard against a tight Derby defence. Substituted after 62 minutes.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 7 – a typical hard-working performance.

Substitutes:

James McClean: – the match winner.

Shaun Maloney: – looked lively in those last 25 minutes.

William Kvist: – came on after 87 minutes.

 

 

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A large squad poses problems for Rosler

 

It reads Ali Al-Habsi , Leon Barnett, Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell, Scott Carson, Don Cowie, Andy Delort, Roger Espinoza, Adam Forshaw, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Fraser Fyvie, Juan Carlos Garcia (on loan), Grant Holt (on loan), Emyr Huws, Rob Kiernan,William Kvist, Shaun Maloney, James McClean, Callum McManaman, Lee Nicholls, James Perch, Ivan Ramis, Oriol Riera, Thomas Rogne, Chris McCann, James Tavernier, Andrew Taylor, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair , Martyn Waghorn, Ben Watson.

But let’s not forget to add the name of Maynor Figueroa to the list.

The Honduran got a deserved warm welcome from the DW crowd on his return to action for Wigan Athletic. It was a bolt out of the blue. Who could have expected the stalwart who had made 148 appearances in five years at Wigan to come back?

The addition of Figueroa means there are now 31 names on the above squad list. If we consider Figueroa’s primary position to be that of left back, it means that Latics now have four who play there. Does the squad really need to be so big? Has it just happened or was it planned? How is Uwe Rosler going to keep so many players happy?

Before the transfer deadline the list numbered 27, but included long-term absentees Chris McCann and Ben Watson whose returns to action were looking distant at that time. However, the recent news on the two has been uplifting and fans will be looking forward to seeing the two back in action in the near future.

 

 

With six extra games coming up in the Europa League last season, Owen Coyle saw the need for a large squad. He signed ten new players and brought in two more on loan. At this time last year Coyle had 25 players in his senior squad, but three were long-term absentees through injury.

The return of Figueroa serves to remind us of how the club’s circumstances have changed. The Honduran was one of Roberto Martinez’s key players. He originally played at left back, but when Martinez switched to a 3-4-3 system in the middle of the 2012-13 season, he played with great effect on the left hand side of the back three. Latics were to go on to that winning spree against the finest in the land. Given the current state of affairs at the club many of us are beginning to wonder if we will ever see that quality of football again.

Figueroa gives Rosler options. Reportedly brought in because of an injury to Andrew Taylor we can expect him to be largely employed as a left back. However, given Ivan Ramis’ hamstring problem and a trip to a strong Derby County on Saturday, Rosler might be tempted to revert to 3-5-2 with Figueroa in the back three and James Perch at left wing back.

The critics will say that Rosler’s acquisition of Figueroa on a month’s loan smacks of desperation. Moreover he had cover at left back in Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, who arrived at the club with a fine reputation following a stint at Partick Thistle. It could be argued that the 23 year old is not yet ready for the hurly burly of Championship football. However, Rosler has brought young James Tavernier in at right back for the last couple of games and Taylor-Sinclair could hardly have performed worse than the rest of the players who played against Millwall.

Rosler’s squad has swelled in numbers because he has brought in ten players since his arrival, with not so many leaving. Ironically the players who did leave included quality players such as Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur.

If the squad remains so large Rosler will be hamstrung in efforts to bring in loan players when the transfer window reopens. He will be keen to send more players out on loan as well as bringing funds in by offloading more senior professionals through permanent transfers. He has already signaled the departure of Roger Espinoza back to the United States and that could happen sooner rather than later.

In the meantime Rosler has exacerbated his problems in keeping a large squad happy by bringing in Figueroa. Let’s hope that the arrival of that icon of days gone by will help raise the spirits in a squad that is low in confidence and self-belief.

Only time will tell if Rosler was right or wrong in bringing the likeable Honduran back.

 

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Espinoza return will energize a problematic midfield

espinoza

“Roger has trained very well for the last couple of weeks, he is in good spirits and he will be in the squad.”

Does that statement suggest that Uwe Rosler has welcomed Roger Espinoza back into the fold? The American/Honduran has played only 12 minutes of Championship football this season, coming after 78 minutes at Charlton. That was more than two months ago.

Curiously another statement from Rosler about Espinoza preceded the above in the media. In an interview with the BBC Rosler is quoted as saying that “Roger came twice to me and wanted to leave the club. He wanted to go back to Kansas. I think after he came back after the World Cup he struggled to find an appetite for football. His family is in the States, it was very difficult.

There had been rumours in the press about Espinoza going back to Kansas City, but is this the real reason why he has been given so little playing time, first by Coyle, then by Rosler? Admittedly he did undergo a hernia operation early this year, but he recovered quickly and was soon back in training.

Was Espinoza snubbed for so long because he did not perform well enough in training or was it that he was missing his family? Given the way Espinoza plays could he truly have lost his appetite for football or has he been disillusioned by the lack of opportunity given him by Rosler?

If anything has been Latics’ weak point this season it is the midfield. They have collectively struggled to do their job – to protect their defence and provide service to the forwards. There have been so many occasions this season when the midfield has needed an injection of energy and passion. That is something Espinoza has always had in abundance.

Apart from the return of Espinoza to the squad – and hopefully a place in the starting lineup – the other good news this week is of the returns of Chris McCann and Ben Watson from injury. However, following a broken knee cap and a double fracture of the leg respectively, neither player is likely to be match fit for some time. Sometimes an under pressure manager can bring key players back too soon after injury. Let’s hope that it will not be the case with McCann and Watson. Around the Christmas period would seem to be a realistic time frame for their return to first team action, following games for the development squad.

For the moment, Rosler has injury problems to deal with. It could be for that very reason that he is bringing Espinoza back into the match day squad.

Let’s hope that is not the case and that the German is going to give Espinoza a genuine chance, through a run of games in the team.

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Latics set to turn the tide against Blackpool

 blackpool-004

Both teams are in need of a win in tomorrow’s confrontation at the DW Stadium. Blackpool have won only one of their last 13 matches, that being at the DW Stadium at the end of April. Latics have only won one in their last 10. Moreover Wigan Athletic have not beaten Blackpool since the year 2000.

Given those statistics it looks like anything might happen tomorrow and many fans are nervous about the result. However, Wigan have a far superior squad and come off the back of two narrow losses in difficult away games in the league. Charlton are a team transformed by Belgian manager Bob Peeters. They play good football and they showed that their win against Latics was no fluke by beating Derby County in midweek. The away game at Cardiff was always going to be difficult against a team that has a strong home record.

Uwe Rosler has patiently built up his squad over the summer, whereas Blackpool have been at rock bottom, with barely enough players to field a team some three weeks ago. The pre-season for Rosler did not go to plan, with too many players picking up niggling injuries preventing them from training, together with others still trying to overcome injuries received last season. The end result has been a team that has been unable to stay physically competitive for 90 minutes. Moreover there has been a lack of cohesion, mainly through having two new players into midfield. The mutual understanding between players in the midfield and up front has been noticeably lacking.

In the last two games Latics have had the majority of possession, without creating clear cut chances or making enough shots on goal. Sensibly Rosler has insisted his side, which has been struggling for fitness, maintain possession rather than hoof the ball as has been their wont on past occasions.

With every game Latics are going to get fitter and fitter. Moreover that mutual understanding between players will improve. Hopefully the end result will be a competitive side that can threaten the opposition’s defence.

Latics played their 3-5-2 formation at Cardiff with Marc-Antoine Fortune and Callum McManaman up front. The defence was obviously tighter but once again few chances were created and they recorded only one shot on target. They had played 4-3-3 at Charlton.

As far as creating chances are concerned it is not so much the formation that Latics have been playing, but that the midfield has not been getting forward sufficiently, leaving the central strikers isolated. Having conceded two goals in each of the first two league games Rosler would have been keen to tighten up his defence at Cardiff. The downside of that is wing backs and central midfielders not getting forward sufficiently to support the attack.

As always it is hard to predict the lineup that Rosler will put forward. However, Leon Barnett is overdue an appearance in defence, as is Roger Espinoza in midfield. He might be tempted to bring on James Tavernier at some stage to provide more attacking spark on the right of defence.

When Latics played Blackpool at home in April many of us expected a resounding win over the Tangerines. On the day Latics produced an abject and lifeless performance. Tiredness resulting from a marathon of matches led to a decline in results as the playoffs approached and although Latics played with spirit against QPR it was not enough to get them to the next stage. They still have not psychologically and physically recovered.

Tomorrow is an ideal opportunity for Latics to get back on to a winning track. Blackpool are in disarray and there for the taking. Most Latics fans would be happy with a 1-0 victory, but there are possibilities for more.

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