Roberto Martinez: Scripting the great escape
These were the scenes at the DW Stadium last May. A last gasp goal by Hugo Rodallega helped Wigan Athletic stave off relegation by the edge of the knife. They find themselves in a familiar position this season, sitting on the ropes again. Last season they won a miraculous seven games in their last nine games in a winning spree that saw their manager Roberto Martinez effectively using a 3-4-3 formation to everyone’s surprise.
A 3-0 win over Reading followed by a four goal drubbing at the hands of Liverpool last night, the quest for survival has already started the Latics. Like they say, February is the month when their season starts. This year seems no different. After Martinez took over, they have played out of their skins in the last third of the season and they somehow manage to script the great escape. Can they see off the drop again? Two seasons ago, in the 2010-11 season, it was Charles N’Zogbia who was their talisman whereas last season it was Victor Moses who took the responsibility single handedly to make an impression. But with Moses having left for the greener pastures of Stamford Bridge, who will step up for the Latics this time around?
Statistically, they have conceded 55 goals and hit the back of the net 33 times, ending up with a very poor -20 goal difference. With an experienced side at his disposal along with his astute tactics, Martinez surely would have looked at the magic 40 points mark at the beginning of the season. But with only 10 games left they stand on 24 points in 17th place. Here are Wigan’s fixtures for the rest of the season.
From the above table, we see the maximum expected points stands at 17, which would take them to 41, which eventually can be considered safe. However, the predicted points are only six points which would surely see them going down. The potential six pointers are against Norwich and Aston Villa which incidentally is the last game for both the sides. I feel that might be decisive to predict if the Latics can stave off their nightmare once again. They have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, with 8 coming from corners. With an average shot accuracy of only 44%, they have only managed to rake up 265 chances compared to Manchester United’s 325, though with an average accuracy of 86%. So it’s self explanatory why Wigan lie where they are. Possession stats don’t favour Wigan much as they tend to give the ball away everytime in midfield when they try to attack. Hard tackling and swift possession has always been Martinez’s philosophy. But they have hardly won any aerial duels and have committed almost the same number of fouls they have suffered.
Defensively, they have been very poor as well as they haven’t been able to throw their bodies on the line and block shots. Though they have managed to clear the ball away most number of times, it seems as if the 3-4-3 that Martinez deploys leaves too many gaps in midfield and creates spaces for the opposition in the final third. It also leaves the defence chasing shadows as they get eventually outnumbered by the opposition fullbacks. Moreover, the forwards rarely have a touch of the ball in the build up play which is worse. With hardly any through balls and defence splitting passes from a midfield which boasts the likes of Maloney and McCarthy, it’s one of the reasons why Wigan haven’t scored enough.
Let us consider their 4-0 drubbing against Liverpool to point out where they are wrong with their formation. The red arrows show where the Reds countered and they wilted under pressure. The orange arrows show from where they conceded the goals and lost the midfield battle. With too much space for the opposition who played direct football and managed to isolate their forwards and the wingers from the build up, Wigan were outnumbered. Whenever the Latics went on the attack, the long balls were played into the hands of the opposition who quickly countered, leaving the Martinez’s side to chase shadows. The green arrows show where they were incapable to penetrate the opponents and as a result never managed to hit the back of the net.
So what does the performance score of Wigan say this about this season? Looking at the map below we see they have not been high on possession which has been a root cause of their hot and cold form. Defensive fragilities have meant they have conceded when it has seemed most likely. Attacking wise, Di Santo hasn’t delivered which has put the burden of expectations on Arouna Kone. Maloney or McCarthy, along with Caldwell, need to be inspirational when their backs are against the wall. Sadly, Wigan haven’t had any inspiration.
What Martinez could focus on is the shift to the favoured 4-1-3-2 with an anchor man like Beausejour which will enable their creative personnel like Maloney and McCarthy to play freely and create chances for Di Santo and Kone up front.
Remember that very last game of the 2010-11 season against Stoke in which they managed to eke out a 1-0 win? Since Martinez’s arrival as the DW Stadium in the summer of 2009, there has always been one inspiration for the Latics, come the later stages of the season. So who is going to be their saviour this time around?
Goalkeeper: Ali-Al Habsi – He has played a pivotal role whenever the defence has been cut to pieces. His acrobatic saves and brilliant reflexes need to get much sharper when they face the likes of Tottenham, Arsenal and Swansea in the remainder of the season. Stats say he has made 11 defensive blunders this season. That’s too many when you are playing for survival.
Striker: Arouna Kone – Since his arrival he has scored 8 goals, has created 30 goalscoring chances and has had a passing accuracy of 83%. He has also garnered 5 assists and that is a huge number, given the lack of ammunition Wigan have.
Midfielder: Shaun Maloney: If there is anyone, who can help, it’s this creative midfielder who holds the strings in midfield. With a passing accuracy of 90%, he has been the focal point of every attack Wigan have made this season.