Evolution over revolution as Wigan welcomes Uwe Rosler

2013-rosler

Despite an awful run of form resulting in the club’s lowest league position in the better part of a decade, the formal unveiling of new boss Uwe Rosler at the DW Stadium earlier today appears to have injected a welcome breath of positivity at Wigan Athletic.

Flanked by chief executive Jonathan Jackson and club chairman Dave Whelan, the German hit all the right notes during an insightful half hour press conference. His approach serious and considered, Rosler did much to suggest he will embrace the groundwork set in place at the club by Roberto Martinez, while tweaking the finer details in playing style to suit his own brand of football.

He referenced a high-tempo passing and pressing game employing a 4-3-3 formation, similar in some ways to the Spaniard’s preferred system, but different in others — hinting that there would be an emphasis on pace and energy, and a commitment to pushing bodies forward in attack. Although we will have to wait and see exactly how these changes manifest themselves, the comparison between the Martinez and Rosler blueprints does not sound far off the transition Swansea underwent from Brendan Rodgers tikki-takka to Michael Laudrup’s skill-based but more direct approach.

Whelan once again commented on the hiring process, reiterating the goal of a Premier League return as soon as possible, and backing his new man to be a huge success at Wigan. When asked about specifically about Callum McManaman and James McLean, Rosler described them each as exciting, fast and direct players that would fit his system, while reserving a diplomatic word about room for improvement in McLean’s final pass. He also opined that the change in management and style, plus the fixture congestion with the club taking part in the Europa League group stages, posed huge challenges to the club earlier this season.

There was a quiet resolve and confidence about Rosler’s delivery that is already generating optimism amongst supporters on social media outlets. The hope is that he will be able to swiftly convey it to his new players and that such desire will manifest itself on the pitch in coming weeks. His description of the opportunity as a “dream” to join “such a big club” will likely please many but also felt genuine, while his long-term views and discussion of player development suggest he is in it for the long haul.

More immediately, he made it clear that next weekend’s Championship fixture against Bolton will be the priority, but that the midweek trip to Maribor was a winnable contest. It should also provide him a good chance to get to know some of the personalities in the squad as the Latics embark on their final Europa League group stage adventure as a squad.

Interestingly, the new manager spoke about having developed a relationship with Martinez since Rob Kiernan joined Brentford on loan in 2012, but confirmed that he had not consulted the Spaniard before taking the position over the weekend. In a curious twist of fate, Martinez himself was today in Wigan being honoured at Wigan’s “walk of stars” for his achievement in winning the FA Cup last season. Chairman Whelan, also being honoured at the event, was several minutes late to the press conference as a result.

All of which may have been pure coincidence, but you do get the sense that this was an appointment made with Martinez in mind. Whelan was displeased by Coyle’s rejection of the style his predecessor had spent three years implementing from the youth teams all the way up through the first team. With this appointment, the chairman has made clear his hope for a period of evolution rather than revolution at Wigan Athletic.

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Leicester City 2 Wigan Athletic 0 – Shapeless Latics go down

A woeful performance from shapeless Wigan. They handed Leicester a gift after 15 minutes when big central defender Liam Moore headed in a corner with ease, nobody having marked him. The goal gave the home team the impetus and they never looked back. The result was sealed with a soft penalty in the last 10 minutes.

Owen Coyle had used the same starting lineup that he used in the previous match against Nottingham Forest, except that James Perch came in for the departed James McCarthy. It was like replacing a thorough-bred with a pit pony.

Wigan struggled to get to grips with the game in the first half. Their packed midfield looked sluggish and ceded control to Leicester . When Latics tried to attack they had no width, except for when Jean Beausejour moved up from his full back position. There was nothing happening on the right hand side. There was a distinct lack of purpose in their play.

The overworked central defenders – Thomas Rogne and Leon Barnett – struggled to cope with the movement of Leicester strikers Jamie Vardy and David Nugent.  Marc-Antoine Fortune was a truly lone centre forward, although when for once he got away he went down in the penalty box following a push, only for the referee to wave play on.

Wigan’s best chance came just before half time from a fine effort from Barnett, whose rocket shot could have gone anywhere, but went to keeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The second half started in the same pattern and one was expecting Coyle to make wholesale substitutions at any minute. Jordi Gomez  and  Roger Espinoza were replaced by Callum McManaman and debutant Nick Powell after 55 minutes, but it made no noticeable difference.  It was followed by another change after 61 minutes with James McClean coming on for Shaun Maloney.

Despite now having two wide players there continued to be no pattern to Wigan’s play. It was no surprise when Leicester added a well-deserved  second goal, albeit through a generous refereeing decision. Latics fans could argue that Vardy ‘s fall after colliding with Beausejour was less of a penalty than in the first half when Fortune hit the ground after being pushed. Scott Carson almost saved Nugent’s penalty, but the power of the shot beat him.

However, the referee cannot be blamed for Wigan’s defeat. Leicester are a well organized team with a solid defence. They more than merited their victory.

The Good

Once again Scott Carson looked reliable in goal and the centre backs had to work hard due to  the lack of shielding from midfield. Thomas Rogne and Leon  Barnett need to continue to play together and develop that mutual understanding that centre back pairs need. One hopes that Coyle will resist the opportunity to tamper once again.

The Bad

Coyle was quoted as saying that if he could have made seven substitutions he would have done so.  He also criticised refereeing decisons. However, the manager needs to take more responsibility for a poor team performance.

Roberto Martinez’s tactical approach at Wigan could be rigid and Latics were criticized for passing the ball across the field rather than being direct. However, Martinez managed to instill a system in which each player knew his role.

That is not the case with Coyle’s teams. There has been no consistent tactical pattern up to this point and changes have been reactive, rather than proactive.  The end result is the whole adding up to less than the sum of its parts. Players don’t seem to be able to read each others’ games. Part of this is down to having so many new faces, but much is also due to the lack of structure in the tactical approach.

With a host of quality midfield players available Coyle chose to put the limited James Perch in front of the back four. With two specialist left backs in the squad he chose to play Beausejour – a wing back maybe –  but never a full back,  in that position.

Wigan tried to keep the ball on the ground in the first half but every time the goalkeeper got the ball his long kicks went straight back into opposition hands. It was a revelation around halfway through the second half when Carson threw a great pass to the half way line to start a Wigan move. This is not to criticize Carson himself, who is probably playing under orders. The big goalkeeper has been Latics best player so far this season.

One mistake that Martinez habitually made was to play Jordi Gomez in a forward role. Coyle is falling in to the same trap. Supposedly Gomez was playing some way forward on the right. The Spaniard never has been and never will be a wide player. He looked lost most of the time and it was no surprise when he was substituted. Gomez’s natural role is as a creator in the centre of midfield, but last season he really improved in the midfield holding role. A forward he is not.

Player Ratings

Scott Carson: 7 – alert and solid. Unlucky not to save the penalty.

Emmerson Boyce: 5 – poor. His lack of pace was exposed by winger Lloyd Dyer.

Thomas Rogne: 6 – a disciplined performance;  he never gave up trying  despite being under constant pressure.

Leon Barnett: 6 – with a little more poise and composure he could be a top central defender. Lucky not to concede an own goal in the second half when he headed back to Carson who was not where he thought.

Jean Beausejour: 5 – covered acres of ground in the first half trying to get Latics’ attack going. Made some errors but played with commitment. Unlucky to have another dubious penalty against him.

James Perch: 4 – poor.

Ben Watson: 5 – unable to stamp his class on the game.

Roger Espinoza: 5 – not as involved as usual. Probably jaded from World Cup qualifying matches with Honduras.

Shaun Maloney: 5 – ineffective. Maybe also jaded from matches for his country.

Jordi Gomez: 4 – lost.

Marc-Antoine Fortune: 6 – sacrificed to the robust Leicester central defenders who constantly surrounded him. Worked hard without support.

Substitutes

Callum McManaman: – unable to prise open a tight Leicester defence.

Nick Powell: – not able to make much impact.

James McClean: – ineffective.

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What happened to Wigan? 10 thoughts

2012-survive

1. The current defensive injury crisis is extreme, but nothing new

This is the third year running that Antolin Alcaraz has missed substantial match time to injury in the first half of the season. In previous years, he had participated in a full World Cup and Copa America respectively, with little recovery time. On both occasions, he eventually returned to fitness around this time of the year to play a key role. His understanding with Caldwell and aerial ability is crucial to the solidity Latics’ positive results have been built on.

Meanwhile, Gary Caldwell has missed less match time but is prone to rushing back before fully fit — probably in part due to his role as skipper. He was clearly not at the races in the Newcastle fixture several matches back, and prolonged his absence by tweaking the injury before it had fully healed.

Then there are Ramis and Lopez, neither with a history of injuries in their Wigan careers, but owners of hamstrings with a bad sense of timing.

2. We’ve missed Moses more than we care to admit

Many Wiganers are quick to point to Moses’ often-frustrating final pass or finish, but he gave the team a lot more than that. One of his most important contributions was to relieve pressure by holding the ball up, dribbling and drawing people into fouls while his teammates regained their shape. The penalties and free-kicks have dried up in his absence. Aside from Jordi, who unfortunately lacks pace to be a consistent attacking threat, there are few players in the starting XI capable or willing to take on their man and unlock a defence.

3. Espinoza can’t arrive soon enough

If our Sporting Kansas City friends are to be believed, our new Honduran signing is nothing if not committed. More important than skill, he should inject an element of urgency and fight into the squad. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw his first appearances in the right wing-back position, though he is destined to fill one of the defensive midfield slots. Injuries may force his inclusion sooner than anticipated.

4. Ali Al-Habsi desperately needs a clean sheet

The Omani international has been the club’s most consistent performer over the past two seasons. But a couple mistakes have seen a huge dip in confidence. The fact that there is a different set of defenders in front of him each week can’t be helping, but it’s clear he needs a clean sheet, a penalty save or similar, to get his head back where it was.

5. Arouna Koné’s participation in the African Cup of Nations could be disastrous, or a blessing in disguise.

The Ivorian is clearly a quality player but hasn’t quite got fully going. Scored a couple, missed a couple, he is now suffering from a dip in form along with his teammates. While his absence will be problematic, a good tournament could see the return of a confident in-form international striker. If Martinez can plug the hole with a January window signing, or by giving Mauro Boselli an extended run in the team, it may be a blessing in disguise. There are other options, albeit with some adjustment to the team’s attacking shape — Jordi and Maloney both have goals in them but do best when the other one isn’t on the pitch. Ryo Miyaichi still has a big role to play this season. Callum McManaman is waiting for his chance. Is a Nouha Dicko return from Blackpool a possibility?

6. Would it be worth a loan-move for Wilson Palacios in January?

If everyone’s fit, it would be hard to argue against the Jimmy Mac axis in centre midfield. But with the glut of injuries at present, surely it would be worth a gamble. Stuck out in the wilderness at Stoke, he would likely jump at the chance to be re-united with a set of supporters that loved him, two fellow Hondurans, and a system that would would very much play to his strengths. One could easily see a McArthur-Palacios defensive midfield, allowing James McCarthy a bit more license to push forward, with Maloney in behind Di Santo.

7. Mauro Boselli’s success depends on the form of the wingbacks

Finally given an opportunity to start against Norwich, Boselli was let down by poor performances by both Jean Beausejour and Ronnie Stam. He is a very different type of striker to either Franco Di Santo or Arouna Kone — a poacher who needs service into the box. The only decent delivery against Norwich came from Maloney. Give Boselli three of those a match and he’ll score goals.

8. Boycey looks a bit tired

In the wingback role, he was failing to get forward as he did to such great effect last season. As a centre-back, he has done admirably but is starting to look a little jaded. The defensive injury crisis has meant a lot of football. A young right wingback must surely be a priority on Roberto’s shopping list.

9. Will Di Santo sign a new contract?

The Argentine started the season in scintillating form, suffered a couple minor injuries, and has been used sparingly in recent matches. It would not be surprising to see his head turned after a first international appearance alongside Messi, Aguero and Higuain. But the hope in the Wigan camp is that Martinez has been restricting his appearances to keep him fresh for the period of time Arouna Kone is away — rather than using him sparingly with the knowledge he plans to leave in the summer as did Rodallega and Diame.

10. It’s an interesting league table this year

QPR are starting to get results under Harry, as one would expect. With the talent in their squad, and half a season to run, they should be able to escape. Reading look doomed. Southampton don’t have much to work with, especially with the recent injury to the excellent Adam Lallana. But the third relegation birth is very difficult to call. Sunderland have been very poor but it’s hard to imagine a Martin O’Neill team being relegated. Newcastle have far too much quality in their squad, surely. Villa have started to look impressive, if reliant on striker Christian Benteke. It’s hard to see many teams above them slipping too far. Wigan needs to improve.

Tottenham 0 Wigan Athletic 1: Return of the giant-killers

Wigan Athletic made up for their slow start to the season with an away performance reminiscent of the famous victories at Anfield and the Emirates of last term, climbing to 12th in the league table in doing so.

Tottenham’s starting XI — and indeed the thousands supporting them at White Hart Lane — appeared to approach the fixture as a foregone conclusion ahead of a series of tricky fixtures. Much will be criticized about their performance, but it won’t tell the whole story. While Villas Boas shifted and tweaked throughout and his players huffed and puffed in the second half, Roberto Martinez’s men knew exactly what their gameplan was and executed it to perfection.

In fact, so dominant were the Latics before Ben Watson’s breakthrough, they should have gone at least two or three up. While Gareth Bale was clearly the best player on the pitch, you got the sense that Spurs are at present just a team of expensively assembled individuals, while Wigan look an organized and well-oiled machine.

The Good: 

Roberto Martinez. The second youngest manager in the league put on a tactical masterclass for the youngest. This is the second 1-0 win in three away fixtures at White Hart Lane, against Spurs teams that have hardly struggled for goals. If you go back a fourth fixture, you get to the horrific 9-1 loss in Roberto’s first season. Where most chairmen would have panicked, Dave Whelan kept faith, and Martinez has repaid it. The team showed today it is already — this early in the season despite losing Victor Moses and having to bed in new signings — capable of the form shown that kept us up last year. Which bodes very well indeed.

The defence. Gary Caldwell was immense, as he was in the final stretch of last season. Ivan Ramis, next to him, had a brilliant match save one foul on the edge of the box that might have proven costly on another day. He looks comfortable in the league and tactical system, a quality signing. Figueroa had to cope with Lennon and Bale and got the job done, albeit with the occasional mistimed challenge. Emmerson Boyce, whose attacking play was non-existent, must receive huge praise for his defensive work as well.

Attacking link-up play. There are some excellent partnerships developing between the attacking trio. First, Maloney set up Kone. Then Kone returned the favour. Di Santo was quiet today but has been on the same wave length in recent fixtures. Latics created the five clearest chances of the match.

The Bad: 

Finishing. Both Kone and Maloney, when through with just the keeper to beat, shot straight at him. It comes down to confidence and composure. Both played very well otherwise, but you get the sense they each need a goal to get things going again. Ben Watson, who had an odd match — at times rusty, others very effective and ultimately scoring the winner — missed another sitter by blasting over.

Player Ratings: 

Ali Al-Habsi: 8.5 — Excellent. Held onto a couple stinging shots that other keepers would have spilled. Dominant in the air.

Ivan Ramis: 8.5 — Cracking performance from the Spaniard. Strong and excellent with his distribution. The way the back three knocks the ball around these days is a joy to watch. Very rarely is a ball hacked away in panic.

Gary Caldwell: 9 — Man of the match. Didn’t put a foot wrong, he was dominant. His passing out of the back, under pressure, was fantastic.

Maynor Figueroa: 7 — Had a tough time with Bale and Lennon at times, but got a very difficult job done. Lucky not to be given a yellow card in the first half, which was fortunate as he received one in the second.

Emmerson Boyce: 7.5 — Passing was at times poor and didn’t get forward, but his primary function was defensive. He had Bale to watch for most of the match, and defended well on set pieces.

Jean Beausejour: 8 — In good form. Got forward on several occasions in the first half with some quality deliveries. Neat in footwork as always, and put a real defensive shift in.

James McCarthy: 7.5 — Usual energetic, neat performance.

Ben Watson: 8 — Got the match winner. Going from Bradford to Spurs within the space of a few days must have been an adjustment, and his passing was a little wayward at times. But he was very frequently in the right place at the right time to make defensive interceptions, and stuck the ball in the back of the net — which no one else managed.

Shaun Maloney: 8 — Top class in the first half, buzzing about and creating. Should have scored his one-on-one opportunity. Faded as the team retreated in the second half.

Franco Di Santo: 7 — Couldn’t get going in this one, though he held the ball up well when required. Substituted with 20 minutes to go.

Arouna Kone: 7 — Another promising performance full of dangerous movement and skill but no goal. They’ll come.

Subs: 

Jordi Gomez: Played a couple delicious flicks that Kone and Maloney might have been quicker to pounce on. Drew a couple fouls that eased the pressure. Overall, did the job he was sent on to do quite well.

Gomez and Maloney: wingers or playmakers?

How did Wigan Athletic stay up last season? Was that incredible late run due to a tactical transformation? Or was it due to new players coming in and changing things? The acquisition of a specialist left wing back – Jean Beausejour in January – certainly helped the system flow more effectively. However, if you were to ask a room full of Latics supporters which player made the biggest difference the answer would surely be Shaun Maloney.

Maloney’s season had not really started until he came on as a substitute against Norwich in March 2012. He put through a fantastic pass to Victor Moses to get the goal that earned an invaluable point at Carrow Road. Following that match, his ex-Celtic colleague , Gary Caldwell, dubbed Maloney as “Our Secret Weapon” quoting that “He picks up the ball in the final third and he can either beat his man and he can pick out that killer ball – like you saw with the goal.” Caldwell was proved to be right.

Maloney was later to score the Latics’ goal of the season to defeat Manchester United. His ice cool penalty in the victory over Liverpool at Anfield sticks in the memory, as does his cutting in from the left and putting a brilliant narrow angled finish in the 4-0 drubbing of Newcastle. But more than the goals he scored it was that role as a “playmaker”, linking between defence and attack that helped transform the quality of football Latics were able to play.

Maloney had come to Wigan following  a difficult final period at Celtic. His career had been blighted with injury. Moreover he had been struck by homesickness during his previous spell in the Premier League — at Aston Villa in 2007-2008. These factors made it unlikely that a Premier League team would come for him, until Roberto Martinez knocked on his door. During his two spells at Parkhead he had won five SPL Championships, Scottish Cups and three Scottish League Cups. His acquisition by Wigan Athletic is summer of 2011 was therefore a calculated gamble. For the first half of the season, he made four appearances as a substitute and played in two awful team performances in the FA and League Cups. Fitness remained the issue. It was through sheer hard work and dedication that Maloney got back to a level of fitness that would help him be able to showpiece his skills in the Premier League.

Wigan Athletic’s starting lineup last Saturday included both Jordi Gomez and Shaun Maloney. Normally, only one of them makes the starting lineup, with the other coming on as a substitute. Both are playmakers, who need to receive a lot of the ball to be effective. However, each has learned during his time at the club that defensive duties are also required. Neither is a natural tackler but they both do their share in trying to win the ball back. Both cover huge amounts of ground during a match. Both are cool penalty takers. Both score goals which are not from the penalty spot.

Jordi Gomez is a player who divides Latics fans. He is derided by those “Darksiders” who prefer more the more traditional English approach of “up and at ‘em” . The fans who appreciate him will say he is a skilful player who can bring order to a game through his cultured technique, keeping the ball while under pressure and drawing fouls. I have heard it said that we will never see how good Gomez can be until Latics are playing the level of skilful football that Roberto Martinez seeks. We have seen some really magic moments from Gomez during his time at Wigan. At Arsenal in April he put through the pass that sent Di Santo through to score then got an opportunist goal himself. He has been unlucky so many times with fine efforts that have hit the woodwork – last Saturday against Fulham was another example.

How do the playmakers – Gomez and Maloney – fit into the current tactical system? Are they wingers or central midfielders? Can they play together?

Maloney still finds it difficult to complete 90 minutes. Gomez is the natural replacement. Their styles differ greatly. Maloney will dribble with the ball more than Gomez who will seek the wall pass more frequently. Gomez does not have the pace or dribbling capacity to be a winger. When played wide on the right he inevitably turns towards the middle where he is going to be more comfortable and effective. However, he is not afraid to shoot – he has a good technique and can hit the target. Maloney was used mainly as a left winger by Aston Villa. Although right-footed he can cross the ball with his left foot. He can dribble past defenders and cause danger. However, it is when they move into the “hole” in midfield – behind the central striker- that both Gomez and Maloney are most effective.

Playing Gomez and Maloney together is unlikely to be effective because their basic function is too similar. They are players who make themselves available to receive the ball, providing the link between defence and attack. Both are good players. Let’s not forget that David Jones can also play in that position and is a capable and creative player. He added the incision in the Capital One victory at West Ham last night.

Let’s play the playmakers in their natural position in central midfield, ahead of the holding midfielders, but behind the forwards. Martinez has done well to adjust the tactical system following the loss of Victor Moses. The presence of two big central and pacy strikers is a real plus. There remains the possibility of playing without the central playmaker and having two wide players supporting the central striker. Well done, Roberto, in being open-minded towards further tactical innovation. But please – let’s not see Gomez and Maloney playing wide, flanking a single centre forward.