Wigan Athletic vs Bolton Wanderers Match Preview

Most football fans will agree that the international break tends to drag on a bit, especially those that support clubs who have to go 2 weeks without a game. This international break, for me at least, has felt like its lasted a lifetime as we edge ever closer to the end of the season.

However, the main thing that has caused these last 14 days to drag on and on is the magnitude of the fixture that awaited Latics at the conclusion of the international break. Its the game, along with the reverse fixture, that every supporter looks for first as soon as the dates are released in pre season.

Wigan Athletic welcome local rivals Bolton Wanderers to the DW Stadium. I’m not sure you’ll be able to call it a warm welcome mind you, but they’ll be there!

Latics Team News

The 3 lads who represented Wigan on the international stage have all come back injury free which is great news. James McClean and Will Keane both started 1 and came off the bench in 1 for the Republic of Ireland as the Boys in Green drew 2-2 with Belgium and defeated Lithuania 1-0.

Josh Magennis scored his 3rd goal in as many games for Northern Ireland in their 3-1 victory over Luxembourg. The former Bolton man should be raring to go for Saturday’s game and hopefully his good form continues.

Ben Amos, another former Bolton man, has performed superbly for Latics this season and will surely start in goal. He will be hoping for another clean sheet against Wanderers, although he wasn’t really tested in the reverse fixture that Latics won 4-0. (No, that won’t be the last time I mention it!)

I’d like to see us continue with our 3 at the back system that has worked so well in recent weeks. Jason Kerr, Jack Watmough and Curtis Tilt have all been fantastic and you can see that there is an understanding between them. Against a Bolton side that do like to play on the front foot and dominate the ball having a solid backline will be vital.

Tendayi Darikwa and James McClean would be my picks for the WB slots as they performed so well against Morecambe in our last game. The battle in wide areas will be vital, and if our 2 lads can get the better of the Bolton WBs it will set the platform for us to dominate the game. Both have the crossing ability to hurt Wanderers, as well as being solid defensively. They also both love a tackle which is handy for a derby game!

The best midfield pairing in the league Tom Naylor and Max Power should take the field for Latics on Saturday afternoon. Both will be heavily involved in possession, especially Power whose link up with Darikwa on the right side could be key in exploiting space in behind. Out of possession we will be relying on them to break up attacks, intercept forward passes and spring counter attacks of our own.

Pass Map from the Morecambe game. As you can see Power and Naylor were heavily involved in possession. Max Power especially linked up well with Darikwa and Keane. (Source – Wyscout)

Ahead of them is where the real selection headaches take place. Callum Lang sat out the last 2 games after picking up his 10th yellow card of the season against MK Dons. In that time Josh Magennis, who replaced Lang in the side, has scored 2 and shown himself to be a fantastic option. He also has the added incentive of being a former Bolton player, and it seems as though many whites fans are expecting him to net on Saturday afternoon.

For me the only player safe in that front 3 is Will Keane. The 20 goal a season man is the perfect link between midfield and attack and whichever strikers play ahead of him I believe he’ll combine well with them. He also scored in the reverse fixture and you’d think he’s likely to net again.

For me, perhaps controversially, I’d start with Lang and Magennis up top, with Stephen Humphrys dropping to the bench. This isn’t a slight in Humphrys who has been excellent whenever he’s played, I simply think he offers us the most off the bench. I also think the aggression and basically nastiness of Lang will help get us on the front foot immediately.

As I mentioned previously I’d go with Magennis as the number 9. I just think it’s the right kind of game to play him in, and I also think the Bolton defence would rather play against Humphrys than a more physical player like him. As the Chess saying goes, your best move is the one your opponent least wants you make, and I think this is a prime example of that. There will be 4000+ Bolton fans covering their eyes whenever he gets the ball close to the goal, that shouldn’t be forgotten.

The Opposition

I’m going to try and put my professional and neutral head on now whilst writing this report. Bolton Wanderers are a decent League 1 side, they play what some people would consider to be an attractive brand of football and have a couple of exciting players that are highly thought of by many people.

I feel like I need to go and wash my hands after typing that…

In all seriousness the upturn of form Bolton have shown in 2022 has been impressive and it seems as though a change in formation and personnel has been the reason for that. January signings Aaron Morley and Dion Charles have been in good form and given Ian Evatt the chance to implement his preferred system.

The 3-4-1-2 system seems to be Evatt’s go to, with the Whites focusing on retaining possession. Despite averaging over 56% possession, the 3rd highest in the league, Bolton have only created 44 ‘big chances’ according to FOTMOB, which ranks only 15th in the league.

That being said, and I’m sure Ian Evatt and every single Bolton twitter account will thank me for including this, they average 1.6 xG per 90, and score an average of 1.5 goals per 90. This shows that their attackers are performing poorly and not scoring the chances you’d expect them to score, which has lead to the xG table becoming the most common topic of conversation on Bolton twitter…

Defensively they allow an average of 1.24 xG per 90 and concede an average of 1.23, so their goalkeepers are pretty average. They allow an average of 10.24 shots against per 90, but that number is only 8.24 when playing with the 3-4-1-2. Latics might not be afforded as many opportunities as they were in the famous 4-0 victory in October and I’d imagine we’ll have to work harder for the 3 points this time around.

A weakness for Bolton is the space in behind their wing backs. This wasn’t too much of a problem when Marlon Fossey was in the side as his pace allowed him to recover quickly and well, but now he’s out injured they’ll be much more vulnerable in these areas. There isn’t a great deal of pace in the back line and using.

The back 3 of Bolton are play very narrow which allows space in wide attacking areas. Fossey (closest player) is able to get back in shape quickly, but Declan John at LWB is 15 yards behind play. If Latics are brave and leave 3 men up against the Bolton back 3 we will be able to exploit these areas.

I do expect Ian Evatt to set his side up to try and beat us on Saturday. Given the humiliation they suffered back in October, and the fact that they have a chance to cost us promotion I’m expecting a fast start from them which we will have to deal with calmly. The longer the game goes on the more dominant I think we’ll be, but truth be told the win will go to the side that handles the occasion the best.

Player to Watch

It pains me to say this but Bolton midfielder Aaron Morley is a fantastic player. For the past 18 months I’d hoped we’d try and sign him from Rochdale where he’d impressed alongside current Tic Stephen Humphrys, but alas it never happened.

Since joining Bolton in January, Morley has shown off an impressive range of passing and defensive abilities at the heart of Evatt’s midfield. The 22 year old attempts an average of 55 passes per 90 with a completion of 81% and has registered 4 assists in his 14 games.

Defensively he performs well too, making 4.2 interceptions per 90 and winning 60% of all duels, which he averages 5.45 of per 90. Up against Naylor and Power he will have a real challenge on his hands but he does have the ability to control the game if given the opportunity.

Right enough of praising a Bolton player, I’m off to wash my mouth out with soap.

My Prediction

As I mentioned previously this game really will come down to who handles the occasion the best. Both sides are in good form, both will be coming to win the game and of course its a local derby so I’m expecting a lively affair.

Taking all bias and emotion out of it I’m confident that Latics will have enough to secure the win. An early goal would settle a lot of nerves but as is usually the case with us we like to leave it late, so I guess I’ll settle for a last minute James McClean winner in front of the away end.

If you’re not already going get yourself down to the DW and back the boys. Up the Tics!

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