Sheffield Wednesday Preview – a potential banana skin

The dream continued to come true on Sunday as Latics grafted out a win that took them into the FA Cup semi-finals. Apart from a few glimpses in the first half we did not see the kind of flowing football that won them the FA Cup in May. But we did witness once again the “character” that this Latics team now displays under Uwe Rosler. It might not have been as pleasing on the eye as what we saw in May, but in many ways this win was even more impressive. Only one English team- Chelsea- had beaten Manchester City this season at the Etihad Stadium prior to Wigan’s victory. City had hit six against Arsenal and Tottenham and seven against Norwich.

It is a reflection upon the changes that have occurred since the historic May victory that only four players from that Wembley final made the starting lineup on Sunday. There may be even less in the team that meets Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow.

If any match this season presents a potential banana skin it is this one. It would be all too easy for Latics to slip up against the Yorkshire club after the elation of the quarter final win. Latics are clear favourites to win this match after six successive victories and a 3-0 win at Hillsborough a month ago. However, the performance at City will have taken its physical toll and this match is the second of three in a period of six days.

Rosler will certainly have to rotate his squad for this match. Chris McCann went off injured at half time on Sunday, so will be doubtful. Rosler has already stated that Ivan Ramis is not yet fit enough for two games a week. Leon Barnett, who has played more games than anyone this season, was rested from the starting lineup on Saturday but had to come on for McCann after half time. Rosler will also be tempted to rest Emmerson Boyce, who was superb on Sunday.

Nicky Maynard and Martyn Waghorn will almost certainly return to the starting lineup. Callum McManaman and James McClean shared game time on Sunday and may well do so again, the latter being the more likely starter. If Rosler goes for a flat back four then Ryan Tunnicliffe might well start in holding midfield. The big Swede Marcus Holgersson might well make his debut, teaming up with Barnett in the centre of defence. However, he can also play right back if Rosler decides to rest James Perch. Jean Beausejour will return at left back, providing he is fit. Rosler is fortunate to be able to choose from probably the two best goalkeepers in the division, in Ali Al-Habsi and Scott Carson.

Dave Whelan was quoted this week as saying “I’ve loved that FA Cup and the whole town has but this year you’ve got a feeling the league is more important. You get people asking ‘what do you want to do?’ Well there’s only one thing – promotion back to the Premier League.”

Rosler will be therefore be keen to bring his players back down to the ground following the elation of their amazing performance at the Etihad. They will have to knuckle down and fight for the fifty-fifty balls against a Wednesday team currently sitting in 16th place.

Latics fans will be hoping they don’t slip up on that banana skin tomorrow.

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Sheffield Wednesday Preview

In mid-December a Wigan Athletic team in transition traveled to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday. Uwe Rosler had just won his opening Championship match, with a tight 3-2 win over Bolton, following an unfortunate dismissal from the Europa League at Maribor.

I noted in my match preview of the time that  “..not only will it be Latics’ third match in a week, but they are also adjusting to a new style of play. The high pressing that Rösler expects is physically demanding for players who have not managed to keep up such a pace up till now. The question is whether the lineup Rosler puts out will be able to do what he wants most of the time.”

In the event Wigan’s high pressing game proved a powerful weapon against a Wednesday team that was struggling near the bottom of the table. Wednesday were relieved that the rain caused the match to be abandoned early in the second half with Latics a goal up. Since that day their fortunes turned. Wednesday have now lost only one of their ten matches since then. Their victories include a 2-0 win at promotion candidates Reading on Saturday and a 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United on January 11th.

Wigan Athletic too have had a better run of results since then, losing only two of the nine league games in that period. However, although fitness levels may be improving many players are still finding it hard to keep up the pace needed for Rosler’s high pressing game.  The ability of a player to perform the high pressing role clearly comes into Rosler’s thinking prior to choosing his starting lineup, as Callum McManaman found on Saturday, losing his place to Martyn Waghorn, despite looking sharp in the previous game against Charlton.

It will be interesting to see Rosler’s tactical approach to the rematch tomorrow. Wednesday will be ready for the high press and full of confidence following recent results.

The German tends to go more cautiously into away games and he might well opt for his solid midfield trio of James McArthur, Chris McCann and Ben Watson in front of a flat back four. He is unlikely to be able to call upon Ivan Ramis, Thomas Rogne and Markus Holgerrson in the centre of defence, the first two only recently having returned to training and the Swede not having played since the end of his MLS season in November.  That means Emmerson Boyce continuing to partner Leon Barnett at centre back, with James Perch on the right and either Stephen Crainey or Jean Beausejour on the left.

Rosler will have to decide whether to start with his two pacy wingers, McManaman and McClean, or to play with just one. Given Waghorn’s promising performance at Huddersfield it would not be surprising to see him start, possibly in his more natural role as a central striker.

There have been concerns among fans about the lack of flair in Latics’ play over recent games. Latics certainly have flair players but the chemistry has been lacking. It is unlikely that Rosler will risk Nick Powell tomorrow and Josh McEachran is still not one hundred percent fit, although he could come off the bench. However, the mouth-watering prospect of Powell moving on to McEachran’s incisive passes is something we hope to savour fairly soon.

When Rosler has all his players match fit he will have a very strong squad and be able to operate with a flat back four or three central defenders. Other teams might be geared up to deal with his high pressing tactic, but he will be able to alter the shape of the team at his whim. He will continue to rotate his squad, but will still have a very strong bench whichever starting lineup he chooses.

It promises to be a fascinating contest tomorrow – playing Wednesday on Tuesday at Hillsborough.

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