The two best teams in League 1 go head to head on Friday night knowing that the winner will take the driving seat in pursuit of the title. With the division’s best home side facing up against the division’s best away team in front of a full stadium, it is sure to be a tense and tight affair.
The reverse fixture saw a 94th minute winner from Will Keane, one of only 5 goals Rotherham have conceded away from home this season. Perhaps this gives Latics the psychological edge heading into this match but a lot has changed since then.
Latics Team News
One thing I’ve discovered whilst writing this section of my previews is attempting to guess a Latics starting 11 isn’t very easy!
I do expect us to employ a 5 at the back formation today however, matching up with Rotherham’s system and hopefully providing us with more defensive solidity. If Leam does go down this path I’d expect to see Jason Kerr come into the side, probably in place of Gwion Edwards.
Kell Watts, who recently signed a 2 year deal at parent club Newcastle United, played well in midweek but former Rotherham man Curtis Tilt may be preferred on the left of the back 3. James McClean will have a difficult job at LWB against fellow Republic of Ireland international Chiedozie Ogbene, but if anyone is up for it it’s Tuesday’s man of the match.
Max Power and Tom Naylor will likely keep their place in the midfield, as will attacking aces Will Keane and Callum Lang. However, possibly the most ‘up for grabs’ position in the side is who leads the Latics line.
Stephen Humphrys has contributed the goals and assists in his substitute appearances, something Josh Magennis has struggled to do so far in a Latics shirt. But the benefit of having someone of Magennis’ stature and experience against a mean Rotherham defence could be our best bet.
Also, given Rotherham’s incredible success from set-piece situations Magennis could really show his uses in both boxes.
It might be unsurprising to hear that Rotherham’s statistics from this season are very good. In simple terms, they’ve scored the most goals (57) and conceded the least (18). They take the most shots per 90 (15.06) and concede the fewest shots per 90 (8.52). They’ve delivered 200 more crosses than any other team this season at an average of 28.9 per 90.
They’re basically really really effective at what they do.
They play a 5-3-2 system that is extremely difficult to break down. A stand out defensive metric is that Rotherham have the lowest PPDA (Press Per Defensive Action) in the league at 7.12. The lower the PPDA, the less time a team allows the opposition to have the ball. Latics will have to move the ball quickly in the transition and get their back 3 running towards their own goal, aiming to defeat their high press by playing through and over it.
There is a very interesting and more in depth look into Rotherham’s defensive style here: https://totalfootballanalysis.com/team-analysis/rotherham-united-202122-their-defensive-record-scout-report-tactical-analysis-tactics
Having watched their match against Sheffield Wednesday I expect them to adopt a similar philosophy against us. Deny us goal scoring opportunities, take the game deep and score off a set-piece, something they have done an incredible 19 times this season.
However, they’re are far from unbeatable. If Latics can remain solid and frustrate Paul Warne’s side we’ll get plenty of opportunities on the counter attack. Latics also have the best conversion rate in the league, so even if they limit us to a low number of shots we have the ability to score at least one of our chances.
Strikers Michael Smith and Freddie Ladapo are the Millers biggest source of goals, so keeping them quiet will be the main aim. The pair average a combined total of 6.44 shots per 90, and have scored 24 goals between them this season.
They pose threats all over the pitch, and Wigan will have to be at their best to beat them.
Player to Watch
Although lots of the credit for Rotherham’s success this season goes to their strikers, just as much should go to their midfield pairing of Dan Barlaser and Ben Wiles. I’ve picked out the former as the Millers one to watch on Friday night because of his all round abilities in the 6 role.
Barlaser averages 7.79 defensive duels per 90 at a success rate of 66.1% which demonstrates his defensive solidity, but he is far more than a ‘destroyer’. The 25 year old also attempts 7.4 progressive passes per 90 and 0.34 key passes per 90 in the heart of the Millers midfield. He will have to be kept quiet by Latics’ midfielders because he has the ability to hurt us with his creativity.
He also posses impressive long range shooting ability as seen in Rotherham’s last home match against Accrington Stanley.
1 word. Tense.
This may be a match between the divisions two best sides but given the weather conditions, the enormity of the match and the packed out ground I expect the football to be frantic. Whoever stays the most calm will put themselves in the best position to secure victory.
However, I can see this match ending all square which is probably a result both sides would be happy with.
Rotherham 0-0 Latics