Striking problems for Caldwell ahead of Shrewsbury match

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Will Gary Caldwell lose sleep over choosing his attacking players for the Shrewsbury game tomorrow?

Question – which club in cash-strapped League 1 can afford to leave a £1 million striker on the bench?

The response is that Wigan Athletic can. Moreover they did it last Saturday when Will Grigg was not only on the bench, but was not called on to the field of play as the game at Rochdale progressed.

Wigan Athletic’s affluence is clearly the envy of so many clubs in their division. According to Rochdale manager Keith Hill, Latics are the Manchester United of League 1. Indeed the squad that Gary Caldwell has put together is formidable compared those of their rivals. There is a minimum of two players fighting for each position, a healthy state of affairs as far as the manager is concerned.

Of course, Latics are in a lower division now, but it could be argued that Caldwell’s squad is superior to that of Malky Mackay in the Championship. The biggest weakness in Mackay’s squad was in the area of strikers. The hapless Scot not only persisted with a centre forward who went on to score one league goal in 34 appearances, but also played  winger James McClean as a central striker, where he looked like a fish out of water.

In contrast Caldwell has a wealth of striking options available to him. At Rochdale he employed a 4-2-3-1 system, meaning that he had four specialist attackers in his starting lineup. Typically this season he has lined up with three attackers in a 3-4-3 formation, but with wing backs pushed far forward. But even though he played with four attackers he was still able to leave Grigg on the bench, with Jordy Hiwula, Sanmi Odelusi and Haris Vuckic not even making the match day squad.

Caldwell has been talking to the media recently about his sleepless nights, as he mulls around in his head the different permutations and combinations available to him. One wonders if his sleep will be any better tonight given the Shrewsbury match coming up tomorrow. It is not only the personnel he chooses for the match to be considered, but also the “shape”. According to Caldwell he had decided on a new formation early in the week because of the way Rochdale attack. Then his headache was to choose the players to lineup in that different “shape”.

In previous eras there have been managers who have had a set way of playing, with the players having to fit into the system. There have been other managers who have adapted the style and shape of the team in order to get the best out of the players at their disposal. This was certainly the case for Wigan Athletic in the 2011-12 season. Latics were bottom of the Premier League in November 201l. Following yet another defeat, this time by Wolves, Roberto Martinez switched from a flat back four to having three central defenders and two wing backs. The change in shape was to catalyse a revival in performances, enabling Latics to finish in 15th place, 7 points clear of relegation. The 3-4-3 system had become the norm under Martinez as he used it to get the best out of the players at his disposal.

Having played in Martinez’s 3-4-3 and seeing its results Gary Caldwell is clearly a fan. Like Martinez, Caldwell too looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the upcoming opposition. Martinez would sometimes change his team’s shape during a game if things were not working out, although he would typically stand by his 3-4-3 set up. In contrast, already in his brief reign, Caldwell has adopted a variety of tactical formations and is not afraid to radically change his team’s shape within the ninety minutes.

What kind of tactical formation will Caldwell employ tomorrow against Shrewsbury? Will he persist with his four attackers in the 4-2-3-1 formation or will he revert to 3-4-3? Will Caldwell consider the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition before figuring out his formation?

Part of the reason for Grigg’s benching at Rochdale will surely be down to his late arrival, following his early release from the Northern Ireland squad. Another factor must be the presence of Craig Davies. The 29 year old is a superb centre forward at League 1 level. Were it not for a succession of injuries the big man would surely have played at higher levels throughout his career. Following a hamstring problem he was absent for more than five weeks. He came back on October 20th at Peterborough as a 76th minute substitute. He made a similar late entrance in the next two matches before starting in the FA Cup match at Bury. Davies started in the next two matches against Blackpool and Rochdale, being substituted around the two thirds mark in each. Caldwell is using Davies wisely in the hope that he can have a sustained run in the team without injury. Davies’ ability to turn a defender makes him a nightmare for opposition defences, but he also has pace and no mean levels of skill and tactical awareness.

Caldwell will be seeking the right blend among his attackers. Yanic Wildschut’s emergence has provided a whole new dynamic to the forward line and his is one of the first names to go on Caldwell’s team sheet. Michael Jacobs has been one of Caldwell’s leading players this season and will surely challenge for a place tomorrow. But what of the players who did not make the squad last week?

After scoring two goals against Blackpool, Hiwula could count himself unlucky not to have been included last week. In fact in terms of goals per start and goals per appearance in his career he is statistically Latics’ best goal threat:

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Hiwula is not a “target man” type of striker, but he clearly has an eye for goal and will remain in Caldwell’s thinking.

Caldwell might not sleep well tonight, as he decides on tomorrow’s lineup. Moreover he will surely also be thinking ahead of the visit of high flying Burton Albion on Tuesday. Will he stick with that same four-pronged attack that did so well at Rochdale or will he bring back Grigg to partner Davies up front?

However, many managers in League 1 will not feel even one ounce of sorrow for Caldwell, who currently has an abundance of options at his disposal. His team selection headaches are those which so many other managers in the division would love to have.

Much depends on Grigg

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I guarantee we will have a 20 goal a season striker this season

So said David Sharpe in June. Was the young chairman suggesting Latics would have a striker who would score 20 goals in the season ahead? Or was he saying that they would be signing a player who had already scored 20 goals in a season?

Less than two weeks after Sharpe had made his statement free agent Craig Davies was signed from Bolton on a two year contract. A week after that Latics paid Brentford around £1m for Will Grigg, who penned a three year deal.

Both had been 20 goal strikers. The 29 year old Davies scored 23 goals for Chesterfield in their promotion season from League 2 in 2010-11. Despite still only being 24 years old Grigg had done it twice. In the 2012-13 season he scored 20 for Walsall, then last season he scored 23 for the MK Dons in their promotion from League 1 to the Championship.

Davies remains a formidable force and has already impressed Latics fans with his all-action performances. Sadly the hamstring problems that haunted him at Bolton have returned, this time in his left leg. The big striker is now back in training, but even the most optimistic of fans will need to cross their fingers that he can stay away from further such problems. Given the likelihood of him receiving further injuries few would bet on Davies being a 20 goal striker this season. Up to this point he has made five starts, with one appearance as a substitute, scoring two goals.

In Davies and Grigg, Latics had signed players with proven goalscoring records in the lower divisions of the Football League. However, they already had another on their books. Grant Holt is now 34 years old and has recently recovered from a serious injury, but will nevertheless be feared by League 1 defences because of his superb goalscoring record in the lower divisions. Holt has reached the 20 goal mark on four occasions, once for Rochdale, once for Shrewsbury and twice for Norwich. Holt is being gradually eased back into playing a full 90 minutes and Latics will surely not rush him. The big man from Carlisle could have a big part to play in the remainder of the season, providing he can stay fit.

However, if Latics were to have a 20 goal striker this season, the odds would surely be on Grigg. On signing him Gary Caldwell said “Will is the one we were after. He’s a goalscorer, that’s what he does and why we’ve signed him. There were other clubs in the chase, including from the Championship, but he’s chosen to come to us and we are very happy about it.

But with the season at its first quarter Grigg has struggled to reach the goalscoring form that Caldwell would have hoped for. He has scored three goals up to this point, two of which were penalties. After starting in the first six games he missed the Chesterfield match through being on international duty for Northern Ireland. He came back as a 66th minute substitute at Port Vale, but was to pick up an elbow injury which kept him out of the next two games. He made his return as a 77th minute substitute, scoring the equalizer during added-on time against Millwall. Grigg returned to the starting lineup for the next game against Walsall, but was substituted after 70 minutes. However, international call up knocked on the door again and Grigg has missed the last two matches at Crewe and Bury.

Grigg’s season at Wigan has therefore been stop-start up to this point. Caldwell has experienced the frustration of the player being unavailable for three matches without getting on the field of play for Northern Ireland on top of his elbow injury.

At this point last season at MK Dons, Grigg was playing as a lone centre forward in Karl Robinson’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system, alternating with Benik Afobe in that position. He had made six starts, with four appearances as a substitute, scoring six goals including two in the Don’s League Cup victory over Manchester United.

Up to this point Grigg has played in the lone striker role and as a twin striker at Wigan. Caldwell has talked with enthusiasm about the Grigg-Davies partnership. They have started together three times, the most memorable being in the 3-0 destruction of Scunthorpe. The physical presence of Davies creates more space for Grigg and they are Caldwell’s optimal striking duo. The manager also has Holt at hand to play a similar kind of role to Davies and it will be interesting to see if he links the two together at some point in tomorrow’s game against Colchester.

Caldwell also has the option of linklng Grigg together with the physically less imposing, but pacy, Jordy Hiwula. The enigmatic Sanmi Odelusi remains another possibility in a partnership with Grigg.

Up to this point Latics have scored 17 goals in 13 games. Grigg ties with Hiwula and Michael Jacobs in being leading goalscorer with three goals. Recent loan signing Yanic Wildschut has really caught the fans’ attention with two exciting performances, including a blockbuster that will be a contender for goal of the season at Crewe. Hopes are high that the Dutch winger can terrify League 1 defences and score goals. However, the player’s career record reads 16 goals in 132 appearances, a goalscoring ratio similar to that of Jacobs who has also played a s winger during most of his career.

If any Wigan Athletic player is to reach the 20 goal mark this season, it will most likely to be Grigg. He has done it before on two occasions at League 1 level. But Grigg is much more than a goalscorer, his intelligent play and passing enabling him to create chances for others.

Caldwell will surely be counting on Will Grigg as being a cornerstone of his bid for promotion back to the Championship.

 

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A Coventry fan’s view of Sanmi Odelusi

Odelusi

According the Sun newspaper Latics are about to sign 22 year old  Sanmi Odelusi  from Bolton Wanderers for £50,000 on a three year contract. Odelusi is a 5 ft 11 12 in tall winger.

Oluwasanmi Babafemi Oluwaseu Odelusi was born in Nigeria but brought up in Dagenham. After being part of the youth setups at Reading and QPR he joined Bolton in 2009. Odelusi was to make nine appearances for Bolton, scoring two goals. In February 2014 he joined MK Dons on loan, where he started in six matches and made four appearances off the bench in a three month stay. For the second half of last season he played on loan at Coventry, making four starts and ten appearances as a substitute, scoring three goals.

If the newspaper reports are correct then Latics will be taking a gamble in signing a player on a long term contract who has had such little first team experience. But Odelusi clearly has talent. The question is whether he can establish himself and add consisitency to his game.

In order to learn more about Odelusi’s time at Coventry we got in touch with the Covsupport News Service at at http://www.coventrycity-mad.co.uk/

Here’s over to them:

Sanmi Odelusi, was very much in and out during his loan at Coventry City.   He could not have asked for a better debut after joining the Sky Blues on loan in January from Bolton, showing some class to finish smartly in the 38th minute of a 2-2 draw with Rochdale.    

But from then on, he was soon out injured with a hamstring injury and struggled to command a regular place in the side.  

Odelusi showed that he has good ball control and a neat touch along with a good finish especially in the win at Chesterfield and the defeat to Port Vale but could not convince Tony Mowbray, who took over from Steven Pressley as Coventry City manager that he was worth anything more than a place on the bench.  

A decent lad, if he can keep his fitness then he could thrive at Wigan.

Click here to read another Coventry fan view on Odelusi, written for a Bolton fan site last month.