Swansea vs. Wigan Athletic: Goals guaranteed

Of all the clubs that voluntarily or otherwise replaced their managers over the summer break, the Swansea revolution has been the most intriguing. Steve Clarke’s positive start at West Brom has been surprising in its results, but not in approach or style. Norwich’s decline had been gloomily predictable, while their old boss Paul Lambert is going to need years and quite possibly a magic wand to steady Villa’s sinking ship. Andre Villas-Boas endured a rocky start but has started to show signs of the fast-paced attacking football that won him a treble with Porto a year and a half ago. All four of them were relatively known quantities or familiar faces.

Enter Michael Laudrup, and Swansea.

When Brendan Rodgers left to pursue a career in corny one-liners on “Being Liverpool,” many wondered if the style of play would go with him. It is often overlooked that it was not Rodgers, but our very own Roberto Martinez, that instilled such a style of play at Swansea long before Mr. Ok came along. That said, Rodgers deserves enormous credit for an excellent season brimming with possession-based, continental-style football. Until that magical final stretch for the Latics, watching Swansea last season had been like watching Wigan 2.0 — a new and improved version of our team with goals and clean sheets added.

In appointing Laudrup, they made a real statement. As successful as Brendan Rodgers was in Wales, he was never a big name. Appointing the Dane, such a stylish and well-travelled player, brings an air of prestige to the Liberty Stadium. And it opens up markets.

New signings Jonathan De Guzman, Michu and Chico admitted the Dane was the main draw in their respective moves to the Liberty Stadium, while Pablo Hernandez said he was his childhood idol. All four are proven performers in the Spanish league and Michu already looks like the signing of the season at 2 million pounds. Ki Sung-Yeung, signed from Celtic, has been described by the Swansea writer on ESPN FC network as “being able to do everything Joe Allen does at a third of the price.” Tidy business indeed.

And the style has changed. And not necessarily for the worse, from an entertainment perspective. They look a more potent threat in attack, committing more men forward, which in turn renders them a bit more susceptible at the back. Their results are extreme to say the least — starting with 5-0 and 3-0 wins before a 2-2 draw, then a three match losing streak, and another 2-2 draw. At home, they’ve won 3-0, lost 3-0, and drawn 2-2 twice. There appears to be a bit less tikki-takka and more direct attacking play. Still skillful and on the ground, but less patient, and more adventurous. The result is possibly an even more entertaining brand of football, but less reliable.

All of which should contribute to a mouthwatering fixture tomorrow. Wigan’s front three of Koné, Di Santo and Maloney showed tremendous movement and understanding against Everton and were unlucky not to win it for their teammates on the day. If Swansea take the initiative as one would expect playing at home, there should be space on the counter. The key will be who scores first. When Everton visited Liberty Park several weeks ago, Swansea were vulnerable on the break and conceded two more. Reading put two past them before a spirited second half fightback that rescued a point.

Wigan should expect to start with the same XI that faced Everton — unless anyone returns from international duties with injury or severe jet-lag. Maynor Figueroa will be buzzing after Honduras thumped Canada 8-1 to advance to the final phase of CONCACAF qualification. Jean Beausejour fared less well, with Chile losing both of their qualifiers. Ali Al-Habsi’s Oman beat Jordan to keep their dream alive, though Australia’s late winner against Iraq pegged them back on goal difference. James McArthur, Gary Caldwell and Shaun Maloney all featured for Scotland, while James McCarthy played two matches for the Republic of Ireland. Comparatively, Swansea lost few of their starters to international travel and may have an advantage there.

A difficult one to predict, but all signs point to goals galore. 2-2, anyone?

Nottingham Forest vs. Wigan Athletic: Match Preview

After witnessing champagne moments in Latics’ victory at Southampton on Saturday, up comes another match. It is the Capital One Cup, the latest name for the Football League Cup. Will it be champagne or mere morsels this time around? One recalls the heroics of the 2005-2006 Latics side, knocking out Arsenal in the semi-final, only to be undone by Manchester United in Cardiff. It was not so much champagne football with that Latics side in their first Premier League season, but it was exuberant and exciting.

I liked the name of the “Milk Cup”, that the tournament had in the 80’s when sponsored by Dairy Crest. The League Cup is still with us, despite the sparse attendances it has suffered since its introduction in 1960. In those days the FA Cup was a big thing, drawing in the crowds. Maybe they thought the League Cup could get on that same bandwagon? The reality has been that most Premier League clubs have repeatedly put out weakened teams in this competition, so “giant killing” has been prevalent, at least on outward appearance.

I really enjoyed the Southampton match. Two well taken goals, but more than that it was an oozing of sheer class by Latics that sticks in my mind. There was a spell in the second half where Latics just wouldn’t let Southampton get the ball. The passing ability of Latics’ defenders defies belief compared the norms of previous eras. Robert Martinez has got his team playing stylish, skillful football whilst maintaining a steely, competitive edge. How ironic that Brendan Rodgers has been lauded for the good football his Swansea team played last season. No disrespect to Rodgers, who did a great job taking Swansea into the Premier League and having a good first season. However, it is the Martinez stamp that reigns indelible on the Swansea style of play.

When I trawled the Latics news on the internet a few minutes ago I found headlines such as “Martinez set to rotate squad” and “ Martinez set to test squad depth”. Hardly a surprise. In the old days it would be said that he is putting out his reserve team. I suppose the difference now is that those fringe first team squad players rarely play for the reserves .

So it is an opportunity for squad players who have not started so far this season. If so a possible line-up could be: Pollitt – Lopez, Golobart, Kiernan – Stam, Watson, Fyvie (or Jones), Beausejour (or Jones) – Crusat, Boselli, Miyaichi (or McManaman). Not to forget Mustoe and Redmond plus players from the development squad. On paper this looks like a strong enough lineup, but in reality it would be a team that has never played together. On the more positive side Latics have a way of playing that these players can fit into. Martinez continues to view these matches as opportunities for players to show their mettle and their willingness to challenge for a place in the starting lineup. In reality we have seen some abject performances in the cup competitions over the last few years.

Nottingham Forest finished 19th in the Championship last year. They have won one and drawn two of their matches  this season. Like Wigan, they also need to look at upcoming fixtures. One cannot predict what type of lineup they will put out. How things have changed over recent years. Forest were twice European champions under Brian Clough  when Latics were still newcomers in the fourth tier of the Football League.

It would be nice to have another great run in the League Cup. However, performance in cup competitions under Roberto Martinez has been mediocre – it has clearly not been a priority. However, one hopes that those players who make the lineup tonight will play with the passion, skill and professionalism that the first choice lineup showed at Southampton at the weekend.

Wigan Athletic vs. Swansea City: Moment of truth

It’s business time at the DW, as Latics kick off the survival run-in with a must-win fixture against Roberto’s old flame, Swansea City.

The reverse fixture in Wales back in August was an interesting 0-0 draw in which Latics were twice denied by the post, either side of a Ben Watson penalty miss. Had any of those gone in, Latics would be sitting above the relegation zone in 17th.

The Welsh team has enjoyed a fine season, claiming a few famous scalps and impressing with their (extremely familiar) passing style of football. Liberty Stadium has been a real fortress for them, achieving a 5W, 6D, 2L record there. Away results, however — 2W, 3D, 8L — are a bit more encouraging.

Logic says we should be able to go one better and beat them on our own ground, but Wigan Athletic’s seasons often defy logic. Our away record is three times 0ur home record, when it comes to winning. The last time it happened at the DW was in August, though we’ve certainly come close — a lot.

Last weekend was one of those occasions, as Villa took a point home with them despite being bombarded by 14 corners, the most I can remember us getting against anyone. One suspects tomorrow’s match will be a lot more open. It’ll be interesting to see how the cut-up pitch affects two teams who like the ball on the ground. Lets hope the weather cooperates.

In team news, just about everyone should be fit although Antolin Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa both had long journeys back after 90 minutes for Paraguay and Honduras respectively. James McArthur and Gary Caldwell played the full 90 for Scotland as well, with the Latics captain sustaining a gash to his ankle requiring stitches. Victor Moses made a 30-minute debut for Nigeria, while Momo Diame played an hour for Senegal. Ali Al-Habsi kept a clean sheet for Oman, who are on course for World Cup qualification — while James McCarthy did not feature for Ireland.

It’s hard to guess whether Martinez will tweak his XI. Many of us would like to see Momo Diame back in the team, but with James McArthur in excellent form and James McCarthy fresh having not played in midweek, it’s hard to see either being dropped. Jordi Gomez would be another candidate, but he was quite effective against Swansea in the previous match and will be itching to play against his former club. Ronnie Stam has been unlucky to lose his place to Emmerson Boyce and could return, although the defensive insurance Boyce provides may be considered a higher priority in the first half. If the lineup were to remain unchanged, second half attacking options such as Rodallega, Diame, Stam and Crusat look very strong. Swansea has a near-full squad to choose from.

Keep an eye out for:

Andre Marriner, who makes his return to the DW for the first time since the ludicrous piece of refereeing (0:47 seconds into the video) that lost Latics two points against Blackburn. One would expect him to treat Latics kindly after essentially gifting Blackburn a goal.

Prediction:

There’s just no other way to see this one, we have to win. But I’m sure it will not be without drama. It’s 2-1 to Wigan Athletic.

Swansea 0 Wigan 0: Unlucky Latics settle for draw

Match Report:  Swansea City 0 Wigan Athletic 0

As we suspected in our match preview, this was an extremely tricky fixture against a side celebrating its return to the top flight for the first time in twenty-odd years. We felt it would be evidence of the progress Wigan has made over the past couple of years if the team was able to grind out a result, and they did that and more. Swansea possessed and pressed, and enjoyed the first half without finding that bit of quality in the box, while the Latics who so often play that role in games, waited patiently, absorbing their opponents energy, breaking with with pace and quality. In the end, Latics should have walked away with three points; Jordi Gomez hit the post with a sublime lob, then won a penalty which Ben Watson had saved, while Victor Moses, again the main threat, hit the crossbar.

Positives:

Tactical discipline. It was not a pretty first half, but Roberto knew Swansea would be fired up and start the match strongly. The team defended patiently, easing into the game rather than trying to match Swansea. Very rarely did the Latics leave themselves exposed in that first half, save one early chance Al-Habsi saved from Danny Graham. As Swansea grew frustrated at the lack of a breakthrough, Roberto gave the team a bit more license in the second period, and it’s frankly a bit baffling how one of those chances didn’t go in to give the Latics three points.

Jordi Gomez. Possibly his best match in a Wigan shirt, he popped up on the right wing, on the left and through the center. Rather than playing a more traditional role on the wing that has never suited him, he was allowed to roam, and he got himself into good positions on more than one occasion. If it was painfully sad that his left-footed lobbed shot didn’t win it for the side, it must have been even worse to watch the Swansea keeper save Ben Watson’s penalty, which he had earned. Lets hope this proves a breakthrough season for the Spaniard.  

The defense. Everyone did their part. Gary Caldwell, who has played with three partners at center-back in two matches, was assured and commanding. Figueroa made some outstanding tackles, Boyce was reliable as always, and even Ronnie Stam, usually an uncomfortable defender, stuck to his task and kept them out. Al-Habsi bounced back from his blunder against Norwich with a couple decent saves and a clean sheet.  

The result. To get a draw against a newly promoted team in their first match on their home patch is tough. Mission accomplished.   

Negatives:

Fitness of the squad. Antolin Alcaraz was substituted about twenty minutes in with a leg problem, possibly his knee, thus explaining his absence against Norwich. Franco Di Santo ran his socks off but appeared to suffer some sort of injury before being replaced by Hugo Rodallega. James McCarthy once again did not look himself, misplacing passes and earning himself a yellow card out of frustration. He was substituted halfway through the second half. And most worryingly of all, Victor Moses was forced to play the final 15 minutes of the match on one leg after straining a muscle (hamstring, probably) on his way to hitting the crossbar. All substitutions had been used up by that point. 

A Neutral Would Say: 

Swansea started stronger and were a bit unlucky with their finishing, but Wigan should have won this one in the second half. 

Player Ratings:

Ali Al-Habsi: 6.5 — Tested two or three times but a clean sheet should help restore his confidence.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Mr. Dependable, he is one of the most likable players around. Started at right back but quickly moved into the heart of defense when Alcaraz limped off. He defended well and it’s great to know he is still comfortable slotting in given the defensive injuries in the squad.

Gary Caldwell: 8 — Solid and commanding,  but also a good passer of the ball, which he rarely gets credit for. Coped with a pacy Swansea attack.     

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Commentators were criticizing him in the second half after a small lapse in concentration but I thought he made some excellent sliding interceptions that could have led to shots on goal. Nathan Dyer was a tough opponent and put some nice crosses in, but Fig had to play the last 15 minutes without help from the injured Moses. In attack he was patient and passed the ball well.  

Antolin Alcaraz: 6 — Went off early in the match, lets hope it’s not a bad injury. 

Ben Watson: 6 — Busy, but a little less incisive than last week. Didn’t find the space to get forward as he did against Norwich. His penalty miss was costly.

James McCarthy: 5 — Something is wrong with him. He misplaced numerous passes and looked frustrated until replaced by McArthur in the second half.

Mo Diame: 6 — Decent workrate and got into shooting positions a couple times, but tends to go for the fancy long range or left-footed volleys when simpler options are available.

Victor Moses: 7.5 — Again Wigan’s most dangerous attacker, he got past his man on multiple occasions, played some nice crosses, but lacked the coolness to finish his chances. Hitting the woodwork was a bit unlucky though. Wigan needs him fit, lets hope his injury is not a long-term one.

Jordi Gomez: 8 — His best half in a Wigan shirt, he popped up left, right and center and deserved to score. Also won the penalty.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Worked very hard, showed some nice touches and passes, but had little service. Almost created something for himself in the first half, spinning around his two markers before the keeper beat him to the loose ball.

Subs:

Ronnie Stam: 7 — Did his job defensively, and played a delicious driven cross that Rodallega might have gotten on the end of. 

James McArthur: 6 — His first Premier League match in quite some time, he got beaten several times and resorted to professional fouls in areas of the pitch that a better team might have capitalized from. He has some talent though, and it was his first-time  through ball that Moses latched onto when hitting the bar. 

Hugo Rodallega: 6 — Quiet by his standards, but most of the time he was on the pitch, Moses was already injured, depriving him of an attacking partner. Still, came close to a couple dangerous crosses and might’ve poached one.