Five talking points from an important win over QPR

Wigan Athletic 2 Queens Park Rangers 1

Wigan Athletic gained an important three points with a tight victory over QPR. Latics had been two goals up with a quarter of an hour to go but a deflected goal for the visitors changed the complexion of the game, Latics hanging on in grim defence until the final whistle. This time Wigan took their chances better than the opposition, having 7 shots on goal compared with 21 for the visitors.

Following the match Paul Cook commented: “I’m delighted with the lads, it’s been a tough week for the club with Will Grigg leaving but with the type of money that was offered there was nothing we could do, it was the correct thing to do. The new lads have come in and done great today, I’m delighted for the owners and for the chairman, for everyone. It was a big win for us today, a much-needed win and I’m delighted for the players. You need a bit of luck and fortune as well as the good players and we’ve done it so we will enjoy tonight, it’s a good night for us after a tough week for everyone but when you win football matches, football clubs are always happy places.”

 Let’s take look at some points arising:

A surprise in the team selection?

The inclusion in the starting lineup of new acquisitions Leon Clarke and Danny Fox came as no surprise. But playing the latter at centre back, leaving Chey Dunkley on the bench, was somewhat unexpected.

One of the frustrations of fans over the transfer window was the failure to sign a specialist left back. Although Fox played in that position so many times in his earlier career his more recent experience has been at centre back. So, Cook decided to continue with Kal Naismith at left back, not a universally popular decision with supporters. In the event, Naismith was one of the better performers on the day. Antonee Robinson is now back in training and will be challenging for a place over the coming weeks. Will Naismith and Robinson be the contenders for the left back position for the remainder of the season? Or will Cook opt for more experience by bringing in Jonas Olsson at centre back and pushing Fox across to full back?

Dunkley has so often been the stalwart of Latics’ defence, so it was a surprise to see him left out. However, his distribution in recent games had left much to be desired. It is the part of his game that he needs to work on, if he is to prove himself as a quality player at Championship level. Dunkley made his entrance after 77 minutes for Fox.

The other surprise was to see Reece James replacing the suspended Sam Morsy in midfield, rather than Darron Gibson or newcomer Beni Baningime. But James had been pushed forward late in previous encounters and had looked comfortable there. After an uncertain start James grew into this match, showing his great range of skills.

The result of those selections was some degree of improvement in the passing of the ball from the back and added creativity and drive in midfield.

Clarke to be Cook’s first choice striker?

The departure of Will Grigg caused a lot of ripples among the Latics faithful. Grigg’s goals twice propelled Wigan out of League 1 and were a major feature in last season’s FA Cup run. But more than that it was his combination with players like Michael Jacobs, Gavin Massey and Nick Powell that led to Latics playing their best football in recent years.

The signing of Leon Clarke for the second time and the departure of Grigg did not go down well with many fans. Clarke had been unimpressive in his previous spell under Malky Mackay in 2015, scoring just one goal in ten games. Earlier in the transfer window rumours had linked Latics with big target men such as Gary Madine and Tom Eaves. It was therefore no surprise that the 6 ft 2 in Clarke was signed. Neither was it a surprise that Grigg was sold, having been consistently snubbed by Cook in his team selections.

Clarke was arguably Wigan’s best performer against QPR, scoring a goal and providing an assist. Moreover, his hold-up play was excellent. Although we did see intermittent spells of good football from Latics in this game the approach was largely direct. It would not have suited Grigg.

With the departures of Grigg to Sunderland and James Vaughan to Portsmouth we can expect Clarke and Joe Garner to be the main choices for the central striker position, although Cook still has the option of using Nick Powell in that position when he is fit. For the moment it looks like Clarke will be the first-choice. His linking up with Josh Windass was a feature of this game and holds promise for the future.

Experience has been brought in

While the January 2019 transfer window will be immediately memorable for the departure of a Latics icon it might well prove to be successful in terms of bringing in experience. Leon Clarke (33), Danny Fox (32), Jonas Olsson (35) and Anthony Pilkington (30) are seasoned professionals at Premier League and Championship levels. Cook has talked about needing leaders in the dressing room. His choice of Fox as captain in his first game for the club underlines that.

Alex Bruce (34) departed for Kilmarnock, but despite that there is now a better balance in the squad in terms of youth and experience.

A nervy finish

Osayi-Samuels’ deflected 74th minute goal gave QPR new impetus. Cook’s reaction was to bring on Gibson and Garner for Pilkington and Clarke, then Dunkley for Fox three minutes later. The substitutions were most likely due to fitness issues. The outcome was Latics being very much under siege, frequently hoofing the ball away only for it to return very quickly.

In the end Latics did survive although the visitors hit the crossbar and had a strong penalty appeal turned down. The substitutions hardly improved things, Gibson in particular having a torrid time. But Latics’ confidence is still brittle, and they did not have the confidence to patiently build up moves from the back and manage the game more effectively. Nevertheless, aimless long balls to nobody in particular hardly help such game management.

Discipline on the field

Latics picked up three yellow cards to QPR’s one. It takes their yellow card tally to 66 for the league season so far, with 3 reds.

Only Nottingham Forest have a worse disciplinary record with 75 yellows and 5 reds. Neighbours Bolton closely follow Wigan with 61 yellows and 2 reds.

On the positive side it could be said that the stats indicate a team putting in lots of effort in a fight to avoid relegation. On the other hand, how many of those cards could have been avoided by a more controlled aggression?

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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A volatile transfer window closure – a look at reactions on social media

It was always on the cards, but neverthless the sale of Will Grigg to Sunderland has sent shock waves across the Wigan Athletic faithful.

Let’s take a look at how fans have reacted to recent events through the message boards and social media.

Our thanks go to the Cockney Latic Forum, the Vital Wigan – Latics Speyk Forum, The Boulevard of Broken Dreams on Facebook and Twitter for providing the media for the posts below to happen. Thanks go to all whose contributions are identified below.

Chris Stafford on The Boulevard of Broken Dreams commented:

Well the board have revealed themselves to have absolutely no ambition at all on staying up . Sold Vaughan and Grigg and replace him with Leon Clarke . And don’t tell me all about how Clarke was top scorer last season . Grant Holt was top scorer at Norwich.

Up the tics on the Latics Speyk Forum commented:

Looking at our recent signings and lack of ambition can’t help feeling we are doomed for another relegation. So sad to see what is becoming of our club. First post out of sheer anger we buy a 33 year old striker who has scored 3 goals in 24 appearances let Vaughn go sort of understand that but Grigg with one leg is better than Clarke……how can we score another goal ….with Windass, Garner & Clarke with our new front line sounds like from bad to worse…..not to mention Callum sitting on the bench every week because he’s not one of PC boys…..pathetic.

 

Cup Winners on the Cockney Latic Forum added:

I’ll still go to the DW simply because I’ve seen this all before. No one can deny it’s a damn good price and no one would have blinked an eye if this had of happened in the summer.

The problem is, timing and unloading 2 out your 3 strikers and looking at our league position it just beggars belief. As for the Clarke signing and those who sing his praises? I hope he does. 21 club moves says it all for me. 1 swallow doesn’t make a summer.

Cook suits the IEC and the Royles.

And finally, the subject of Grigg can’t play no Massey Powell, he needs wide players ? We have them, They’re either out on loan or bench warmers. Some people are more bothered about teams below us in the hope that sh……r than us. That’s an excellent way to follow your side.

 

 

 

 

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Selling off prized assets would be a hammer blow to good football at Wigan

Nick Powell and Will Grigg to be gone within the coming week? Photo courtesy of Goodbrand Stats@StatsChristian

The writing was on the wall. No contract nailed down for Nick Powell and Will Grigg out of favour with the manager. Given the situation has been festering for weeks it is no surprise to hear the media telling us that Powell will soon be off for Glasgow and Grigg to Sunderland.

Over the summer we were nervous about Wigan Athletic selling off their prized assets. In terms of market transfer value, the trio of Dan Burn, Will Grigg and Nick Powell were head and shoulders above the rest.

It was a relief when the summer transfer window closed and only one of those assets was sold. The sale of Burn to Brighton for around £3m helped underpin the signings of Cedric Kipre (around £1m), Leonardo Da Silva Lopes (around £800,000), Joe Garner (around £1.2m) and Josh Windass (around £2m).

The Powell and Grigg transfers would bring in around £3.5m. Should they leave – and we expect they will – what effect would it have on the team’s ability to stay in the Championship division?

Latics started the season utilising players who were the backbone of the League 1 title winning team. The loss of Dan Burn and Nathan Byrne through injury meant that the 21-year-old Cedric Kipre and the 18-year-old Reece James were drafted into the defence.

Nevertheless, the starting lineup in the first game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday still contained seven of last season’s regulars: Christian Walton, Chey Dunkley, Sam Morsy, Gavin Massey, Michael Jacobs, Nick Powell and Will Grigg. The early season form was promising, built around the mutual understanding between those players whose confidence was high following their previous successes in League 1.

However, as time went injuries took five of those seven out of the equation for periods of months. The front four of Massey, Powell, Jacobs and Grigg had combined so well the previous season and looked like they were going to continue to show that positive chemistry in a higher division. But the last time that quartet was to play together was at Stoke in late August.

Since those early days of the season when Wigan were so enjoyable to watch the quality of football has plummeted. The team has lacked creativity and a cutting edge. The smooth attacking football has only returned on occasions, the norm being a so-called “direct” approach. Nevertheless, even then chances have been created but the finishing touch has not been there. Some would say that had not Cook not left his best goalscorer, Will Grigg, so often on the bench, more points would have been picked up.

Grigg has made only 10 starts in the 28 league games this season. When asked why the player with the best career goalscoring record has been so consistently omitted Cook retorted that it was because his supply line of Jacobs, Massey and Powell had been injured. The bizarre response of the manager is of concern to those of us who prefer an emphasis on a creative approach. Largely through the assistance of that supply line Grigg scored 26 goals in 53 appearances last season, but is that to suggest that he cannot score goals without them? His career record shows that he can.

The debate continues among fans whether Will Grigg is a Championship-level striker. The last time he was there in 2016-17 he scored 7 goals in 38 appearances. In both that season and this he has had niggling injuries that have impeded his progress. Some critics will say that the pressure of playing against higher quality defenders has led to those injuries.

Grigg is an intelligent footballer. He knows how to run into space, timing his runs adeptly to stay onside. He showed his quality against Premier League opposition in the FA Cup last season. His strike against Manchester City will be etched in the memories of Latics fans for year to come. But Grigg also scored at Bournemouth and got two against West Ham.

When Wigan resort to a long-ball approach he has tended to be less effective. But so have the other strikers who have competed with Grigg for his place. In fact, so many of the long balls launched from defence have been of low quality, leaving an unsupported central striker a hopeless task of evading two big central defenders.

Nick Powell’s last appearance was on November 28 against Blackburn Rovers. It could be the last he played for Latics. We have waited since summer to hear news of an extension of his contract, but nothing has resulted. Have the player’s wage demands been beyond what the club is willing to pay? Or are they unwilling to commit to a long-term contract on a salary well above Wigan norms for someone who has had major injury problems over recent years?

If he leaves Powell will be sorely missed. He has been the orchestrator behind the best football the team has played in the past eighteen months, a virtually irreplaceable asset. However, his contract runs out in summer when he can leave as a free agent. Media reports suggests that both Celtic and Rangers are keen to sign him before the transfer window closes in a week’s time.

Latics will press for realistic prices if they are to let both Grigg and Powell leave. Rumour has it that they will push for £1m for Grigg and £2.7m for Powell.

Should the transfers go ahead what proportion of any incoming funds would be invested in new players? Moreover, will the club’s recruitment be more effective than it was in summer?

Up to this point Latics have signed only one player in the January window, free agent Anthony Pilkington. With the departures of Dan Burn and Alex Bruce Latics certainly need cover in the centre of defence. They also need someone who can play left back with Antonee Robinson still injured.

Reports tell us that they have offered Reading £450,000 for Tyler Blackett and Nottingham Forest £200,000 for Danny Fox. Both can play at left back or in central defence. They are also interested in free agent Alex Milosevic, a Swedish international central defender.

Defensive reinforcements will be brought in, but the big question is what is going to happen to the quality of football if Grigg and Powell are released?

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Five talking points following a depressing performance at Hillsborough

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Wigan Athletic 0

 

Following the uplifting display against Aston Villa we witnessed another depressing performance at Hillsborough. Two poor teams offered little by the way of entertainment, although the conditions did not make things easy for either side. The game was decided by an excellent strike by Wednesday centre forward Steven Fletcher, aided by a lack of challenge from the Wigan midfield. But the home side were deserved winners, having eight shots on target compared with one from a toothless Latics outfit.

Paul Cook had named an unchanged side. Latics started positively but they were reluctant to push men forward to support the lone striker, Joe Garner. The high tempo, high pressing game that we saw against Villa was not evident. It was the home side who posed the greater goal threat and Jamie Jones was much the busier keeper. Wednesday could well have scored had it not been for superb last-ditch tackles from Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre and good goalkeeping by Jones.

But Latics managed to keep it at 0-0 when the teams marched off to the half time interval. The second half revealed that depressing type of play that has been so often the norm in recent months. The “hoof” was very much prevalent, and Wigan struggled to do anything constructive with the ball. After Fletcher’s goal in the 62nd minute one hoped for a riposte from Wigan, but nothing resulted. If another goal was to come in the game, it would most likely be the home team that scored it.

Following the match Paul Cook commented: “At half-time I was thinking there was something there for us but in the second-half Sheffield Wednesday totally dominated the game and fully deserved the victory. We got ourselves into a position to possibly get something from the game but, unfortunately, we fell away in the second-half and Sheffield Wednesday were full value for the win. We never got a foothold in the game or got into positions to hurt them and that is great credit to them.”

Jones once again impresses

But for an excellent display by Jamie Jones the scoreline would have been quite different. Although it is the keeper’s first season in the Championship at the age of 29, he looks far from overawed. In fact, he seems to be relishing it. Again, he was assertive in his box, making some fine saves. Moreover, as soon as he catches a ball, he is quick to step forward, looking for a quick throw to a player in space. Sadly, yesterday there were too few of his teammates moving to make themselves available to receive the ball. Far too often the keeper had to kick long, typically resulting in lost possession.

A product of the Everton youth system Jones joined Leyton Orient as a 19-year-old, spending 6 seasons there, making 161 league appearances. After letting his contract run down at the O’s he joined Preston as a free agent in July 2014. During his two years at Preston he made 14 league appearances, with another 34 on loan at Colchester, Coventry and Rochdale. Jones joined Stevenage in January 2016 and went on to make 53 appearances for them in League 2 before joining Latics as a free agent in August 2017.

An unbalanced midfield

Rather than play side by side in central midfield Lee Evans and Sam Morsy were given different roles. Evans was put in front of the back four with Morsy pushed further forward. Then midway through the first half Gary Roberts was moved from the left wing to play an inside left position. Josh Windass was moved to the wing.

The net result was Evans being swamped by the heavily populated home midfield, with Morsy and Roberts able to create few openings going forward. Windass had played one of his better games against Villa in a mobile number 10 role, but the switch saw him consigned to the wing where he rarely plays his best.

The lack of midfield cover was plain to see in Fletcher’s goal.

What on earth was Cook trying to achieve? Wednesday playmaker Barry Bannan had the freedom of the park.

What happens at half time?

Despite not playing particularly well in the first period Latics went in to the interval on level terms. For many teams playing away such a situation could be seen as a springboard to getting a positive result. But in Latics’ case this season it has rarely happened.

Based on goals scored in the first half of league games this season Latics would be placed in 16th position with 35 points. However, based on goals scored in the second half they would be 22nd with 26 points. Moreover, in away games Latics’ second half goals place them in 23rd position. Tables provided by Soccerstats.com can be viewed here.

Latics were 2-0 up at Swansea after dominating the game in the first half through high tempo, high pressing football. In the second half the intensity just was not there, and the home team came back to level the scores. Like yesterday in the second half Wigan had started employing the hoof.

Are the reasons for the disappointing second half performances due to physical reasons? Or are they psychological? Or the result of tactics discussions during the interval? After a fine performance against Aston Villa, where the intensity did not diminish in the second half, we were hoping for something similar yesterday.

Injuries hit hard again

After making an excellent debut last week Anthony Pilkington had to leave the field of play at half time after turning his ankle over. Cedric Kipre continued to play despite an ankle niggle. But it was Will Grigg’s injury that looked the more serious.

Cook is having no luck on the injury front and he remarked after the game that: “That’s what the league is, you get injuries, we were in a bit of fog but getting towards clear light and now it looks like we are heading back into that fog – that’s the way it is, though.”

Grigg to Sunderland off

The constant media barrage of “Grigg to Sunderland” has been wearing thin with Wigan Athletic supporters. But if Grigg’s injury is as serious as it appeared, he surely will not be leaving this month.

Will Grigg remains a favourite of so many Latics fans, though there are those who do not consider him to be a Championship level striker. His season has been riddled with injury, but even when fit he has often been left out of the starting lineup.

In the meantime, Devante Cole has returned from his loan spell at Burton Albion after making 6 starts and 7 substitute appearances, scoring 2 goals. If Grigg is out long-term will Cook look for a replacement in the transfer window or will he give Cole the genuine opportunity he was denied in the second half of last season?

 

Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

 

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Five talking points following a draw at Bolton

Bolton Wanderers 1 Wigan Athletic 1

The result was not what many Latics fans had hoped for against a Bolton side mired in the relegation zone, low on confidence. But a week ago Latics broke a run of four consecutive defeats with a home draw against Reading. The win against Blackburn in midweek raised our spirits. The draw at Bolton put a halt to a run of seven consecutive defeats away from home.

Paul Cook made two changes in his starting line-up, bringing in Josh Windass and Will Grigg for Nick Powell and James Vaughan. He stuck with the 4-4-1-1 formation.

The referee, Simon Hooper, set the tone in a potentially explosive derby game by handing out two yellow cards in the first three minutes. Bolton were playing the type of football that one has come to expect of them, with an emphasis on long balls and crosses. Lee Evans spooned a good shooting chance wide of the goal in the opening minutes following an accurate cut back from Windass. But Bolton were ahead soon after when, in the 7th minute, a long cross to the far post reached Will Buckley who evaded Reece James and squeezed the ball into the gap that Christian Walton left between himself and the near post. Wigan’s goal came in the 25th minute with a controversial Grigg penalty after had been felled in the area.

Bolton came out in the second half making more of an attempt to play passing football, but their main danger came from crosses. Wigan had opportunities in attack, but their final touch let them down. Bolton had a strong penalty claim turned down in the closing minutes as the ball hit Sam Morsy’s arm.  But in the end a draw was a fair result.

Bolton manager, Phil Parkinson, was far from happy with the referee: “I think everyone in the ground knew that Hobbsy’s challenge wasn’t a penalty, apart from two people. That’s very disappointing. The second one, I thought the rule was that if your arms are in an un-natural position it was a penalty and that’s what happened. You’d just like to think that after the referee knows he’s given a very contentious decision in the first half, that one, which is 60-40, we would have got it. I am disappointed with the referee’s performance again, and I don’t think the supporters will think ‘oh he’s moaning about the refs again’. They all watched the same game and knew he was very poor.”

Paul Cook commented: “I haven’t seen it (Hobbs on Grigg) but their bench wasn’t happy about it. Hindsight in football is a wonderful thing. The first challenge of the game the referee could easily have given a red. They are the debatable points in football. Both teams were committed trying to win the game so I think the referee did a decent enough job.”

On the claim against Morsy he added: “You could have seen why he might have given it. You are thinking I need to see that again.  But I really didn’t see it because I was staring at the floor praying at the time.”

Let’s take as look at some talking points arising:

The keyboard warriors are back

A couple of months ago Paul Cook was the toast of the town, as Latics were heading towards the playoff zone of the Championship. But now some of those fans are already talking about him being sacked. “Football managers are judged on results” is an old adage, but the keyboard warriors are already rearing their heads through the social media and message boards, despite an upturn in results leaving Latics unbeaten over three games for the first time in the Championship since 2014.

The Reading game was disappointing, but to follow it with two local derbies in the space of three days was always going to be a tough test. To come away with four points from those two games was something that one might not have predicted a week ago.

Latics are currently in 15th place after 20 games played. In both 2014-15 and 2016-17 they were second from bottom at the same stage, eventually finishing in the same position at the end of each season.

In both of those relegation seasons Latics had sacked their previously successful managers, Uwe Rosler and Gary Caldwell, after a run of poor results, replacing them with the inept Malky Mackay and Warren Joyce.

It is to be hoped that the new IEG ownership will use better judgement than the Whelan family did in those instances. Cook is building a young team to provide a backbone for the future. At times many of us have been disappointed with overuse of the long ball, but the positives outweigh the negatives and it is the time to support the manager rather than make blanket attacks on him in the social media.

Quality of crossing lets Wigan down

 Latics found it hard to play fluent football, given the physicality of the opposition. But on too many occasions when they managed to get in wide behind the Bolton defence the final cross was way off target. Nathan Byrne was particularly guilty in this respect.

Against Blackburn we saw some high-quality crossing, two gems from Kal Naismith particularly coming to mind. Naismith might not be the epitome of a flying winger, but his crossing from the left is reminiscent of that of Jean Beausejour. But Bolton had certainly done their homework, giving neither Naismith, nor his partner on the left, Gary Roberts, little space in which to deliver crosses.

The stats on the match from the Wigan Athletic site reveal that Bolton put in 26 crosses and Latics 25. But the crossing accuracy stats show 20% for Bolton and a meagre 4% for Latics.

Wildschut or McManaman?

Over the summer the rumours were flying around that Latics were going to sign one of their old favourite wingers. Fans debated the merits of Callum McManaman and Yanic Wildschut.

The eventual loan move of Wildschut to Bolton was a surprise, given the kind of salary he was receiving at Norwich and Bolton’s precarious financial situation. He scored an 89th minute winner for the Trotters at West Bromwich on the opening day of the season, then the winning goal in a 1-0 defeat of Reading a couple of weeks later. But Wildschut has only started in four league games, with 11 appearances off the bench. He came on after 77 minutes yesterday, but apart from one good cross, made little impression.

McManaman also came on as a substitute yesterday after 68 minutes but had little impact. He has made one league start this season, with 12 appearances off the bench, scoring one goal.

The season is nearing its half way point. Will Wildschut and McManaman be able to claim regular places in the starting line-ups before the season ends?

Do controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out over the course of the season?

Cook’s comment that Joe Williams could have had a red card in the second minute brings to mind the Blackburn encounter when James Vaughan’s tackle on Jack Rodwell early in the game left the player in distress. Vaughan went on to have his best game for Latics. If he had received a red card for his dubious challenge, would Latics have won the game? In the same vein, would a struggling Bolton team have survived if Williams had been given his marching orders?

Such incidents would seem to fall in line with the theory that controversial refereeing decisions even themselves out in the course of the season. However, those of us who watched Latics in their Premier League years might dispute that. The number of “dodgy” decisions that went against Wigan, especially against the elite clubs, surely outweighed those that went the other way. Indeed, it became a common phrase among fans that

Latics were going to play the 12 men when visiting Old Trafford.

The Championship is a different kettle of fish. A loss for the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool makes the headlines in the Premier League, but in the Championship, it is rarely a surprise for a team near the bottom to beat a team at the top. Moreover, with 46 games to play, compared with 38 in the first tier, the Championship is physically more demanding over the course of a season.

So many games in the Championship are finely poised and it can take just one adverse refereeing decision to tip the balance. But the division itself is by no means homogeneous, with the larger clubs, with bigger fan bases, tending to occupy the higher positions. Aston Villa and Leeds average over 30,000, Brentford and Rotherham less than 10,000. The effect of a large, partisan crowd on refereeing decisions cannot be discounted.

Apart from yesterday’s game, the “margins” have not been favourable for Latics away from home. Those little bits of “luck” have rarely gone their way. But with two penalties in their favour in the last two games is the tide turning?

More changes coming in January?

Alan Nixon has once again been busy with Latics news on Twitter. Given the impending departure of Dan Burn in January and the lack of cover for Antonee Robinson at left back, much of what Nixon is saying makes sense. But is Cook really looking for another striker when he already has Will Grigg, Joe Garner, James Vaughan and Josh Windass? Is one or more of them likely to be leaving?

Given the lack of information from the club about extending players’ contracts today’s tweet about Sam Morsy makes interesting reading:

But on the other side of the coin:


Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com

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