Wigan Athletic recorded a historic Europa League victory against the most successful Slovenian club of all time, NK Maribor, winning 3-1. Various club records were created: first ever European win, first European goal(s), most goals scored in Europe, most goals conceded in Europe etc. You get the jist.
I analysed Wigan as a team, deconstructing their play into the 4 moments of the game: offensive organisation, transition from attack to defence (A-D), defensive organisation and transition from defence to attack (D-A). Refer to the glossary for each moments’ definition.
Wigan: Carson (gk), Boyce (c), Shotton, Barnett, Perch, McManaman, Watson, McArthur, Beausejour, Gomez, Powell
Subs: Nicholls (gk), Rogne, Garcia, McCann, Espinoza, McClean, Dicko
Maribor: Handanovic (gk), Milec, Rajcevic, Arghus, Shevchuk, Mejac, Mertelj, Filipovic, Bohar, Cvijanovic, Tavares, Mendy (c)
Subs: Pridigar (gk), Dodlek, Viler, Mezga, Potokar, Fajic, Dervisevic
Referee: Aleksander Stavrev
Offensive organisation (4-2-3-1)
Wigan, especially in the first half, found themselves in the offensive organisation phase numerous times due to Maribor’s lack of pressing. This was due to either deliberate instruction or not having a clear idea when to press, and when they did press it often lacked numbers.
This gave Wigan plenty of time and space on the ball, allowing them to build from the back with relative success, which was evident as Wigan had 62% possession at half time and 57% possession at full time. Latics fans have found themselves frustrated in recent weeks when watching the side’s build up play as a predominant theme has been to play ineffective long passes to the striker when the opposition are balanced and organised, rather than focusing on ball retention, off-the-ball movement and opposition pressing, which would help to create space and passing options.
There are a few reasons which could explain the change in build up. The main reason, in my opinion, was that, with Wigan lacking a number 9 due to the injuries of Fortune and Holt and the hesitancy to make a loan signing, Powell playing as a striker meant that Wigan needed to play passes into his feet or for him to run onto for their build up to be truly effective. The second reason was that, as stated above, Maribor’s reluctancy to press gave Wigan licence to recycle possession at the back. Even when they did press, they lacked numbers and work rate.
Three factors underpinned Wigan’s good build up play – Maribor’s horrendous defensive organisation: a) They were not compact enough, which allowed too much space between the lines, b) They played with a medium block, which was counter-effective due to their lack of pressing as it conceded space in behind, and c) They were nowhere near narrow enough, conceding space between players and in key areas. The reason for Maribor’s lack of narrowness was McManaman’s and Beausejour’s width; Wigan boss Owen Coyle had clearly instructed them to stay wide at all times and not to drift inside, which differs from the modern 4-2-3-1 set up where the full backs are expected provide the main source of width and the wingers are usually responsible for penetrating space in the channels between the centre back and full back.
Wigan’s full backs rarely made forward runs. Had they underlapped more often, they could have helped Wigan in their offensive organisation, but would have given them problems in their transitions from attack to defence because of Maribor’s quickness in their transitions from defence to attack.
A concern for Wigan, though, was the difference in the levels of performance from Beausejour and McManaman. The Chilean assisted 2 goals, whereas McManaman was wasteful both on and off the ball. As you can see (left), Beausejour had a higher average position than
McManaman, largely due to his penetrating runs (which often go unnoticed). Beausejour’s crossing has been fantastic for Wigan since joining in 2012, and both of his assists came from crosses although the first took a slight deflection before the ‘keeper bizarrely mis-punched the ball onto Nick Powell’s head for him to score, much to the delight of the Wigan fans. McManaman (left), however, stayed wide at all times and made no penetrating runs of note. He appeared static and, not for the first time this season, had a poor game. He completed only 2 of his 5 attempted take ons and had a lacklustre 73% pass completion, as well as missing a good chance to score just before half time. It is no wonder that he was hooked for McClean on 66 minutes.
Transition from attack to defence (A-D)
Wigan were poor for Maribor’s goal, which came on the counter, due to a lack of collective movement from the team. With Watson or McArthur nowhere to be seen due to a lack of positional discipline, as one of the midfielders in a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 must stay back when attacking to provide defensive stability, it was up to Wigan’s back four to stop Maribor’s counter.
Arghus had won the ball and played a quick, direct diagonal pass to Mertelj, who then played the ball to Tavares. Barnett decided to press the advancing Tavares and, with the other 3 defenders not reacting to this, conceded space behind him. Had the other 3 defenders applied the defensive principles of cover and balance, the space behind Barnett would have been closed, forcing play wide. Had Barnett delayed the attack by not pressing, Maribor would have been, again, forced wide. However, neither of these solutions occurred and Tavares held the ball up before passing to Mendy, who had made a clever supporting run. Mendy dribbled with the ball and drew in Ryan Shotton before cutting the ball back for Tavares, who was one of 3 passing options, for the goal.
Although it only happened once, the poor positional play by one of Wigan’s double pivot proved costly. Wigan, overall, had transitioned from attack to defence quite well throughout the game. However, the image (above) shows the importance of quick, direct passes to start off a counter-attack. Maribor’s speed of transition and collective movement for their goal was really impressive and was by far the best moment of the game, in terms of quality, for them.
One aspect of Wigan’s transitions from attack to defence was that, when certain triggers arose, Powell and the 2 nearest players to him would engage in an initial press, whilst the rest of the players would be getting into the defensive shape of 4-4-1-1. This is not quite counterpressing as, although there is a press when the ball is lost, the other players are transitioning into the defensive shape. Counterpressing, which in my opinion is more effective, would require collective movement by all of the team to ‘make the pitch smaller’, not just 3 players.
Defensive organisation (4-4-1-1)
Wigan’s two banks of four were quite compact throughout the match, allowing little space between the lines. Most noticeably, though, was that Wigan’s pressing and defensive block went hand in hand for most of the game. When Wigan pressed high with Nick Powell leading the press, the defensive line moved up in unison. When the pressers dropped off, so did the defensive line. Powell’s pressing, a key factor as to why he played so well, resulted in him winning the ball high up on quite a few occasions. In fact, Powell had one opportunity to score after pressing high and winning the ball but narrowly missed.
Powell also provided Wigan’s depth for counter-attacks when they won the ball. If the ball bypassed him into midfield, he stayed high and did not press, which would allow for a good passing option providing Wigan won the ball.
Transition from defence to attack
Wigan generally looked to play quickly towards Maribor’s goal when the opposition were unbalanced. This, combined with effective pressing, gave Wigan a couple of scoring opportunities over the course of the game. An interesting benefit that Wigan had by playing Powell, a natural midfielder, up front was that his late runs had the ability to disorganise Maribor’s back line.
Said benefit led to Wigan’s 3rd goal: Carson claimed a corner and, after seeing that Maribor were unbalanced, threw the ball out to Ryan Shotton, who then played a long, direct ball to James McClean. Rajcevic made a poor clearance that landed at the feet of the onrushing Nick Powell, who subsequently beat his first two men by cutting inside, followed by beating Rajcevic by doing the same, and finished well with the goal at his peril.
Wigan, overall, were excellent apart from one blip, and never looked like losing their lead. They created plenty of chances thanks to some fast counter-attacks, high pressing and patient build up. The football on display was a welcome change, differing from the usual long ball reliance. Should Coyle’s men play like this on Sunday against Blackburn, who will present a completely different challenge, the Latics can give themselves a good chance of taking all 3 points in an all-North West clash.
Wigan’s performance cannot go without saying it must have been influenced by how poor Maribor were. Had Maribor pressed higher and more willingly, Wigan’s build up, and overall play, would have suffered. The visitors did not challenge The Latics in such a way to cause them problems, but challenged Wigan to express themselves substantially more than in domestic league games this season (excluding the Barnsley mauling). They responded well, and this could be the catalyst for a change in style and improvement in quality of performances.
What will be interesting to see is, when Holt and/or Fortune return from injury, if Wigan change their build up back to the style we have seen in previous weeks. Although Powell played well and bagged a brace, Wigan desperately need a natural striker to be brought in on loan at least until January. It cannot be helped to think that it could have been 4 or 5 had Wigan been playing with a natural number 9.