Posts Tagged ‘Wigan Athletic’
“LONDON — Manchester City withstood a valiant fightback from Chelsea to win a gripping FA Cup semi-final 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday and knock the holders out of the competition.”
“LONDON — Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race by sweeping to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the first day of 2013 to maintain their seven-point lead.”
My AFP report on the Premier League’s New Year’s Day fixtures can be read here.
Defensively adept wide forwards such as Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt and Manchester United’s Park Ji-Sung have evolved out of the need for attacking players to prevent opposition sides playing the ball out from the back when their teams’ own attacking moves have broken down. The pressing exerted by Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s 2008-09 quintuple success was seen as one of the key factors behind the team’s ability to keep their opponents penned inside their own half, while a robust and hard-working wide forward is a particularly useful weapon against marauding full-backs of the Maicon or Dani Alves variety.
Players like Kuyt are occasionally maligned for keeping more skillful, supposedly more talented players out of the side, but the Dutchman’s effectiveness has gradually received recognition and there now appears to be a begrudging consensus that players of his ilk do make teams more solid defensively.
However, while Kuyt has been harrying full-backs on the Liverpool right for the last three years or so, a relatively new development this season has seen full-backs moved into the kind of position where you would expect to find a conventional winger. Gareth Bale’s stellar performances for Tottenham have understandably received plenty of attention, but Everton’s Seamus Coleman and Ronnie Stam of Wigan Athletic are also full-backs who have found themselves re-deployed further up the flank.
As the dust settles on a Premier League season that somehow managed to be full of surprises and yet completely predictable at the same time, Football Further looks at some of the tactical trends that characterised the campaign.
Wall-to-wall flat back fours
A flat back four, often with attacking full-backs, continues to be the overwhelmingly predominant defensive strategy in the Premier League. All 20 teams in the English top flight preferred a back four this season and the rare deviations often met with alarming results. Injuries forced Manchester United to deploy a makeshift back three of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Richie de Laet at Fulham in mid-December and they went down 3-0, while Wigan’s attempt to stymie Chelsea’s influence in wide areas on Sunday by lining up in a previously untested 5-3-2 was an unmitigated disaster.
Another interesting feature of the campaign has been the perhaps surprising popularity of two-striker formations. Tactical experts readily assert that one-striker formations represent football’s future, but in this season’s Premier League, only Arsenal, Blackburn, Everton, Liverpool, Wigan and Wolves regularly played with only one recognisable central forward in attack.
Elsewhere, strike partnerships were all the rage, from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka at Chelsea to Frédéric Piquionne and Aruna Dindane at Portsmouth. Some sides even played with three. Birmingham deployed James McFadden on the left of midfield in support of Christian Benitez and Cameron Jerome, Martin Paterson played in a wide role alongside David Nugent and Steven Fletcher for Burnley, while Sunderland managed to accommodate Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and Fraizer Campbell in their line-up towards the end of the season.
“The 4-4-2 structure is not his forte,” said Birmingham boss Alex McLeish on McFadden’s repositioning as a wide midfielder. “He has got an edge in the last third which is why in the middle part of the season we played him around the corner and narrowed the midfield – [Sebastian] Larsson, [Barry] Ferguson, [Lee] Bowyer – and we compensated a wee bit in that very good run we had. James played around the corner to support the front two and that is his best position. You do take a bit away from him trying to make him a 4-4-2 player.”
The shift in attacking emphasis is borne out by the statistics. Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tévez and Bent all scored in excess of 20 goals this season (and Fernando Torres would definitely have joined them had it not been for injury), which was the first time since the 2003-04 campaign that four strikers breached the 20-goal barrier in the same Premier League season. With Frank Lampard also chipping in with a superb 22-goal haul, 2009-10 was also the first season since 1994-95 that five players broke the 20-goal mark.
When Roberto Martínez arrived at Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2009, he made it clear from the outset that he wanted to do things his way. “We’ve introduced a completely different style of play to the team,” he said in August. “We’re allowing the players to think more about their own decisions during the game.”
Martínez joined Wigan from Swansea City, where he had built a side whose flowing football garnered plenty of plaudits. His challenge was to bring style and success to the DW Stadium and from the very start his tactical plan revolved around a 4-2-3-1 shape that accommodated a two-man midfield platform and skillful passers in advanced positions. In the 2-0 pre-season defeat to Romanian side FC Timişoara in late July, and the 4-1 victory over Preston North End that followed a few days later, Wigan started with Lee Cattermole and Hendry Thomas in central midfield and three attacking midfielders in support of a lone striker, Hugo Rodallega.
Wigan lost Cattermole to Sunderland but his place was taken by Michael Brown (now at Portsmouth) for the first Premier League match under Martínez, an unexpected 2-0 victory at Aston Villa on the season’s opening day that attracted much praise for the quality of Wigan’s play. Their starting XI that day featured left-footed winger Charles N’Zogbia on the right flank and a pair of composed playmakers in Jordi Gómez, who followed Martínez from Swansea, and Jason Koumas.
“It’s a completely different way of playing to last season and if you ask every player it’s much more enjoyable to play in,” said Koumas. “The new manager wants us to attack from the first minute and I think we can hurt a lot of teams this season.”