When Roberto Martinez left Wigan for Everton after a rollercoaster of highs and lows, many Latics fans, including myself, did not realise how much the Spaniard would be missed. A turbulent final season for Martinez which saw Wigan relegated from the Premier League but crowned champions of the FA Cup was one to be remembered forever. Martinez’s possession-based approach at Wigan was far from ordinary, fielding a 3-4-3 hybrid of which a great analysis is carried out here by Martin Lewis. Managers who have managed outside the Premier League like Ian Holloway and various others say they prefer to have possession, but none interlink the 4 elements of football together like Martinez. His tactical nous, unprecedented positivity and belief in his system and his players saw Wigan turn into a team that were great to watch.
Wigan were transformed into a tactically excellent side, some of the time anyway. Martinez did extremely well to produce such a tactically proficient team, and club, despite having to continually sell key players such as Charles N’Zogbia, Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia and Victor Moses. It always seemed like Wigan were in a transition period – big turnovers of players were inevitable each summer. I firmly believe that had it not been for injuries to key players throughout the final Premier League season, Wigan would have stayed up comfortably.
Martinez did not only enhance the players at the club but, with limited money and resources, he brought in players like James McCarthy, Victor Moses, Antolin Alcaraz, Jean Beausejour, Jordi Gomez and James McArthur and turned them into significantly better players. 3 of the players mentioned now ply their trade in the Premier League, with Alcaraz and McCarthy following Martinez to Everton understandably. However, Martinez’s project also saw the development of training facilities at the club and saw Wigan’s youth teams nurtured by great coaches such as Tim Lees and Jay Cochrane, whilst also maintaining a bit of the club’s history, appointing Matt Jackson as Operations Manager. The club had a great vibe about it; ‘positivity’ and ‘belief’ were key buzzwords. I looked forward to Wigan playing out from the back without the need to ‘hoof it for the striker to chase’ every week.
“I will always take responsibility for players giving the ball away. The way we play is the way we want to, and it is something that is going to give us a lot of goals at the other end.” – Roberto Martinez
2013-14: A new era – Owen Coyle
The appointment of Owen Coyle wasn’t taken well by Latics fans at all, with the Scot having been in charge of local rivals Bolton Wanderers, relegating them and struggling to find any sort of good form in the following season in the Championship. However, he had won promotion to the Premier League with Burnley previously, so he must have some clue, right? Chairman Dave Whelan thought so and the summer of 2013 saw Wigan bring in Grant Holt, Marc-Antoine Fortune, James Perch and Leon Barnett, all players with Premier League experience. Excitement about playing in the Championship and cheap ticket prices, as well as being part of the Europa League group stage, filled Wigan fans’ minds, and the 4-0 demolition of Barnsley away on the opening league game of the season only enhanced this enthusiasm.
It wasn’t long until the groans started to creep into the Wigan faithful, though. The following 10 games in all competitions saw Wigan register just 2 wins, losing 5 and drawing 3. Games at home against Middlesbrough and Doncaster finished [Desmond] 2-2, but only thanks to late equalisers. The following 12 games saw a slight improvement but it was way below Latics’ lofty expecations for the season; 4 wins, 5 losses and 3 draws saw abysmal football played out on the pitch. The reliance on set pieces was all too much, players like McManaman had ‘lost their spark’ and Owen Coyle’s reign finally came to an end after the 3-1 home defeat against Steve McLaren’s Derby.
Wigan played with a 4-2-3-1 for the most part of Coyle’s tenure, with a rather unclear playing style. Few matches saw build up from the back, whilst most others saw complete dependency on set pieces for goals. Despite this, Wigan did average 51% possession in the league, probably due to the reactive approach of nearly all teams in the Championship, but only managed just 47% in the Europa League. Coyle’s Wigan created 191 chances in 16 league games, which is nearly 6 chances per 45 minutes. A noticeable feature, though, is where chances were created from.
There appears to be a reliance on final third wide play with 32.5% of chances coming from such areas, with some of them undoubtedly coming from corners too. 15.2% of chances were created in the penalty area which suggests a lot of chances were created from 2nd balls in the box from set pieces and crosses.
This is evident as 4 of the 19 league goals scored were headed goals, which also highlights Wigan’s inefficiency in front of goal which was due to a lack of quality chances. Just 27.7% of chances came from the key zone, which is incredibly poor considering Wigan played with a #10 in the 4-2-3-1 set up. The set piece reliance theory of mine is supported visually, below.
The red ring highlights where goals were scored from; 12 goals were inside 12 yards suggesting that many goals came from set pieces. My set piece theory is epitomised in one stat: 10 of Wigan’s 19 league goals under Coyle came from set pieces. As impressive as it is in the set pieces world, it just won’t do when considering goals from open play are needed to establish consistent form.
At first, Wigan appeared defensively sound under Coyle depsite being rather toothless in possession. Coyle’s men conceded an average of 1 goal per game in the league – 16 from 16.
Pressing was very unorganised under Coyle – Players did not show an understanding of pressing triggers and pressing seemed more rhythmic than under set conditions. This, teamed with a medium block, resulted in Wigan’s defence being quite poor, most notably in transition. 73.3% of the defensive actions under Coyle were clearances and just 22% were interceptions, showing a lack of efficient pressing and some deep defending. It wasn’t all bad under Coyle, though, as Wigan were good at defending from crosses, but this should be a prerequisite for all teams with domineering defenders like Leon Barnett.
Rosler’s reign looks promising
Wigan fans were encouraged by Whelan’s decision to appoint then Brentford boss Uwe Rosler as Wigan manager after Coyle’s departure. The passionate German is remembered by most for his goal-scoring days as a striker at Manchester City. The belief and heart of this man is inspiring – Rosler overcame lung cancer after being forced to retire at Lillestrom.
“My mobile phone began to ring as I came out of a listless sleep. With wires in my arm, I was in my hospital bed recovering from the latest dose of chemotherapy and I barely had the strength to lift the handset. I picked it up and saw the name of an old friend from Manchester, Mark Buckley, displayed on the screen. He said, ‘Uwe, can you hear it? Listen to this…’
He held his phone at arm’s length and I realised my friend was calling from the City of Manchester Stadium. The City fans were singing my name, and I could hear it echoing around the ground. They were willing me to beat the cancer and they had not given up on me. I ended the call and smiled for the first time in a long while. It was exactly what I needed. I had my wife, sons, family and close friends helping me. Now I had 46,000 Mancunians willing me back to health. With that kind of backing, how could I possibly fail? It was incredibly uplifting. I can’t express how much that meant.” – Uwe Rosler
Rosler appears to have won the belief of the players unlike Coyle, with a modern playing style and passion that encapsulates those around him. He has revitalised Callum McManaman, Jordi Gomez and Jean Beausejour, 3 players who will be key to Wigan’s promotion push. Wigan are unbeaten in the 6 league games Rosler has taken charge of so far, winning 4. The draws were goalless, showing Wigan can be stern even if they cannot create.
The formation has changed between a 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 under Rosler, showing versatility and bravery to change things around to see what suits his players best. It is certainly a possession-based approach with an emphasis on creating overloads and switching play to enable 1v1 specialists like Callum McManaman to flourish, similar to Martnez’s system. Wigan, since appointing Rosler, have averaged 52% of possession, which isn’t a significant change but I do feel that there is a transitional period underway where the players, especially the players Coyle brought in, will have to adapt. There is an attacking mentality under Rosler, which is a definite change from Coyle’s fairly defensive approach.
The changes he has made in matches, though, have impressed me the most. The most imposing change he has made so far, in my opinion, was when he changed from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 hybrid in his first match in charge against Bolton. Wigan’s defence was being stretched laterally due to Bolton comitting men forward, 4 vertical runners against 4 defenders. Changing to a back 3 meant that, in the defensive phase, Wigan actually had a back 5, thus countering Bolton’s threat. The Latics went on to win the game 3-2, winning the hearts of the few fans at the DW.
The over-reliance of wide play has disappeared and thus Wigan are creating better quality chances. Despite playing without #10, Wigan are creating 38.8% of chances from the key chance creation zone, which suggests that Wigan’s central midfielders have been supporting attacks more frequently. 67 chances have been created in 6 league games, which is 5.83 chances per 45 minutes.
The emphasis on set pieces, too, appears to have been removed, with no headed goals being scored in the league since Rosler took over.
Goals from further out suggests that Wigan have been more patient in building attacks and are willing to construct play as opposed to playing long balls forward as the preferred means of creation. Wigan have scored 3 goals from set pieces under Rosler, but 1 of these was a penalty. Wigan’s movement ahead of and around the ball has improved since the German took charge but more improvements are to be made. Rosler hasn’t had sufficient time to get his positive ideas across as of yet, but the changes that have taken place so far look to be good ones.
Wigan have conceded 3 goals in 6 league games, which is 0.5 per game. The approach to pressing has been the biggest change, though, as it is done higher up the pitch due to Wigan fielding a high block. They look to play an initial offside trap until the ball gets in deeper areas in the Wigan half and so far, this high pressing approach has worked.
Wigan now seem to understand when and when not to press. Triggers have been implemented and it is clear upon watching Wigan that there is a new-found enthusiasm. A compact high block is utilised until a trigger occurs, with Powell and Fortune having been keen to press so far. Glimpses of counterpressing have been seen too, with energetic midfielders like Roger Espinoza and James McArthur being allowed to thrive in high tempo situations. Only 59.6% of defensive actions have been clearances with 31% interceptions, showing how Wigan’s pressing has been more proactive and successful than under Coyle.
Wigan take on Doncaster this afternoon and will be looking to ensure that they keep up this good vein of form to contend for the play-offs. Rosler looks to have reignited the much-needed ‘spark’ in the Wigan team and if this is a sign of things to come, The Latics will make a very good case for being promoted back into the promised land. Rosler has adaptability and tactical nous, two key skills of a modern, progressive manager.