The wait is finally over! League football is back at last and a challenging season awaits following Latics’ promotion into the EFL Championship, a division we were so brutally relegated from just 2 years ago.
Leam Richardson’s league winning side face an exciting start to the season as they welcome their North West ‘rivals’ Preston North End to the DW Stadium in what promises to be a tasty affair. The Lilywhites will be backed by a sold out away end of 4700 supporters who’ll make the short dash down the M6 hoping to see their first opening day win since 2018. ‘
Latics come into the game off the back of an unbeaten pre season and with most of the side that led us to League 1 glory still at the club we’ll be hoping to carry that momentum into this campaign, starting on Saturday afternoon.
Latics Team News
Wigan’s lack of transfer activity has drawn lots of attention this summer from supporters and pundits alike. Ryan Nyambe’s arrival from Blackburn Rovers is our only bit of business but he looks to be a few weeks away from full fitness so it’ll be a very recognisable starting 11 that Leam puts out this weekend.
Latics have trialled 2 formations in pre season; a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-1-2. These are the two formations we used the most last year (4-2-3-1 for 53% of the time and 3-4-1-2 for 13% of the time) so again that shouldn’t spring any surprises come 2pm on Saturday.
Ben Amos will remain in goal but Latics will need him to improve his shot stopping this campaign. He conceded 6.89 goals more than the xG model suggested he should’ve last season, surprisingly poor for a league winning team.
With Preston likely to line up with 3 at the back I expect Latics to match them and opt with the 3-4-1-2 formation they used so well towards the end of last season. This would probably mean a back 3 of Jason Kerr, Jack Watmough and Curtis Tilt, all of whom got good minutes in pre season and avoided injuries.
Captain Tendayi Darikwa will play a key role at RWB and will be looking to silence the doubters in the Latics fanbase. With new signing Nyambe providing stern competition the Zimbabwe international will need to start the season well. On the opposite side 1 of James McClean, Joe Bennett and Tom Pearce will offer energy and dynamism to our team, as well as good deliveries into the box.
I expect Tom Naylor and Max Power to get the nod in central midfield although January recruit Graeme Shinnie has looked fantastic in pre season. Naylor is undroppable after last season and Power’s set piece delivery could be huge for us meaning he’ll likely get the nod.
The attacking trio of Callum Lang, Will Keane and Josh Magennis started our last pre season game against Sheffield Wednesday and that looks to be the likely combination going into Saturday. Stephen Humphrys could get the nod after his late goal against the Owls but will more likely start on the bench, from which Leam can make 5 substitutes this season.
Players like Shinnie, Humphrys, Jamie McGrath and Thelo Aasgaard are all capable of making an impact of the bench and could all feature thanks to new substitution rules. However, Latics fans don’t need reminding of Leam Richardson’s reluctance to change things drastically mid game so don’t expect all of them to be introduced.
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into Saturday’s opening fixture I’ve called in the help of 2 folks far more knowledgeable on Preston North End than myself!
1) What’ve you made of North End’s pre season?
“Pre season has been alright, average games is the best way to put it really ! Been some decent ones with decent displays from the likes of Woodburn and Brady who’ve stood out being new players. The players look a lot fitter than they did at the beginning of last season and more switched on with Ryan Lowe and Mike Marsh implementing their ways.” [@PNEhomeandaway]
“PNE have done well enough in pre-season, though there is never too much reading into the results. They’ve performed well in places and not so much in others but again, that will happen and more so with chopping and changing. The most notable thing is probably that not many have got full 90s but Lowe is happy enough with their fitness and certainly they don’t look off the pace, he prioritised keeping them all free of injury which he’s pretty much done.” [@TomSandells]
2) How do you expect Ryan Lowe to set his side up on Saturday afternoon?
“5-3-2 will be the formation I’m guessing, Lowe’s favourite formation with full backs pressing high. It looks like Troy Parrot will make his debut with Riis up top with Brady and McCann playing full backs.” [@PNEhomeandaway]
“Lowe will always go for a three at the back system, against Wigan almost certainly a 3-5-2. He’s been playing around with a 3-4-2-1 in pre-season but that is for sides that they expect to struggle against and you would think North End would be trying to go for the win on Saturday. The personnel is fairly consistent in some places too, it would be a huge shock to not see new no.1 Freddie Woodman in goal, Andrew Hughes as one of the centre backs, Ben Whiteman and Robbie Brady amongst the five in midfield and Emil Riis and Ched Evans up top.” [@TomSandells]
3) Who’s the key player that Preston fans will be pinning their hopes on this weekend?
“Key players will be Brady with his crossing, Daniel Johnson with his link play and hopefully Riis with his goals but Troy Parrot could pull a great debut out the bag!” [@PNEhomeandaway]
“PNE fans will be pinning their hopes on Emil Riis backing up his first goal-laden season with another, but the man they need to deliver is Ben Whiteman. He runs the midfield for PNE and when he’s on it he could be one of the best in that position in this league. Riis’ goals, and the lack from elsewhere last season, means there is pressure on the Dane to repeat the feat this time around – 21 goals in all competitions last season – but it remains to be seen if he can. He’s confident though, and got one in pre-season which will help him a little.” [@TomSandells]
It’s always difficult to know what to expect going into a new season, especially as Latics will be competing in the Championship this time around. If last season is anything to go by we’ll rely on a solid defensive base with the majority of our attacking work being done by the front 3 and Max Power’s set pieces.
With Preston likely to set up with 3 at the back I’m expecting Latics to match them, something we did 7/12 times when playing against a 3-5-2 last season. We might see Latics go man for man up top to try and restrict North End from building from the back, but this will put a lot of pressure on our 2 man midfield to deal with their central trio.
Preston had the 3rd lowest PPDA (press per defensive action) in the Championship last season with 9.06 which suggests they’ll look to pressure Latics into errors and hit us on the counter attack.
James McClean will need to be particularly wary of this threat. His heatmap when playing at LWB shows just how high up the pitch he likes to get and in turn how much space behind him he leaves.
His individual battle with Preston’s RWB, probably Ali McCann, could play a big part in determining the outcome of the game. The Irish internationals attacking contributions cannot be doubted but it will be his defensive output that will be the most important on Saturday.
If on the off chance Leam decides to opt for his trusted 4-2-3-1 system you’d imagine we’ll look to hit Preston on the counter attack with the pace of McClean and Lang out wide. The role of Josh Magennis will be vital in providing a focal point for our attacks but question marks remain in regards to his link up play and goal output.
In many ways this is the perfect reintroduction to Championship football for Latics. A home game against a local side that should attract a good crowd against a side that is still in a transitional period under a relatively new manager.
But many Latics fans are pessimistic about the season with worries around the lack of Championship quality in our squad. This’ll be a good test against an established Championship side but I fear it could expose the desperate need for transfer activity.
Enjoy the season Latics fans, we’re back where we deserve to be. That being said don’t expect us to fly under the radar as that’s never been the Wigan way!
Thanks a lot for reading! Feel free to check out more of my work here and be sure to come back every week for more Wigan Athletic and Championship content.
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