Latics’ first away day of the season takes us on our longest travel as we head to East Anglia to take on Norwich City. Sky Sports ‘very kindly’ moved the game to a 12:30pm kick off but that hasn’t stopped over 700 Wiganers making the 10 hour round trip in support of Leam Richardson’s side.
We enjoyed some wonderful away matches last season in front of some brilliant away ends but the Championship brings increased challenges and nobody needs reminding of the success Norwich have achieved in this division in recent years. They’ve won the league the last 2 times they’ve competed in it and Dean Smith will be expected to complete the hat trick this campaign.
Latics displayed some positive signs in our opening day draw with Preston whilst the Canaries fell to a 1-0 defeat against Cardiff City so both of us will be desperate to get some meaningful points on the board in front of a national TV audience at Saturday lunch time.
Latics Team News
It’s no secret that we need to make some moves in the transfer window in the next few weeks. Leam Richardson admitted as much in his most recent interview with Latics TV saying ‘We’re well aware of our depth of squad and we need to improve it at this level.’ However, as of now the only change to the squad from last weekend is Jamie McGrath’s loan exit to Dundee United.
Jack Watmough picked up an ankle injury in the first half of the Preston game but looks as though he could be fit enough to make the squad. The stylish centre back has already missed more minutes this season than he did for the whole of last season which is a testament to him and everyone will hope he’s an ever present from now on in.
There were some positive performances at the DW, none more so than Ben Amos who kept a well deserved clean sheet and made some wonderful saves and you’d imagine we’ll need him to be at his best against a talented Norwich front line.
Our wing backs will face stern tests against Norwich’s wide men, particularly Tendayi Darikwa who will have to deal with Kosovan international Milot Rashica. Questions have been raised over the Zimbabwean’s place in the side once Ryan Nyambe reaches full fitness so it’ll be interesting to see how he responds.
Tom Naylor showed his class alongside midfield partner Max Power last weekend, particularly in the defensive side of the game. I would like to see Graeme Shinnie play alongside them at times this season and this could be the kind of game where extra midfield steel might come in handy.
In attacking areas we’re still without Charlie Wyke who is ‘a few weeks behind the rest of the lads’ according to Leam Richardson. Josh Magennis and Stephen Humphrys both featured last weekend but neither looked like nailing down the striker role for themselves. Expect Magennis to start, work his socks off for 65 minutes and then be replaced by Humphrys to add dynamism for the last quarter.
I’d like to see the subs bench used more but I’m aware of Leam’s favoured method of giving the starting 11 as much of a chance as possible. Someone like Thelo Aasgaard needs unleashing with 25+ minutes to go rather than 5, and whilst I know it’s somewhat risky to bring on a young flair player it would add levels of excitement to the team and supporters that are unachievable through any other means.
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 someone far more knowledgeable on Norwich City than myself!
1) Norwich lost to Cardiff on the opening day. What did you make of the game and what do they need to do differently this weekend?
“I was one of the 1,300 City fans who made the trip to South Wales and put simply, it was grim viewing. Many supporters remain puzzled as to the style of play, plan and identity Dean Smith is attempting to implement at Carrow Road, which currently represents a confused combination of attempted phases of fluent passing and aimless long balls down the channels. City looked totally toothless in possession and lacked real quality whenever we entered the Cardiff half – we were far too easy to defend against and it’s difficult to see where Teemu Pukki is going to receive any form of service from. There’s a conspicuously creative, Emi Buendia-sized hole in this current team and other than Todd Cantwell, we appear to have little by way of players who can link up the play in midfield and manufacture opportunities to score goals.”
2) How do you expect Dean Smith to set his team up against Latics?
“I’d anticipate a similar setup to last weekend at Cardiff, albeit with those additions of Nunez and – hopefully – Sara in midfield. Sara’s fitness may deny him a start – although I’m hopeful Smith will take a risk – but I’d like to see the Brazilian, who is a strong, combative midfielder with ‘crazy’ running stats, slot into the midfield three in place of Jacob Sorensen and Nunez, a technically-gifted, creative and tenacious attacking midfielder, start instead of either Milot Rashica or the misfiring Josh Sargent. A three of Cantwell, Rashica and Nunez would be hugely exciting – with Kenny McLean and Sara behind – but whether Smith opts to stick or twist remains to be seen.”
3) Who are the key players that Norwich fans will be pinning their hopes on tomorrow?
“As mentioned above, Cantwell is unequivocally the most creative player in our squad but I’d be confident that Nunez, coupled with Sara, can bolster our output and provide Pukki with the level of service he craves. If you give the Finn chances, he will score goals – his strike rate for City in both the top flight and Championship proves that – so it’s crucial the players in midfield behind him are armed with the tools to get in behind the Wigan defence and able to break down what is likely to be a physical, obdurate and well-organised opposition defence. On paper, Rashica should also be a seriously dangerous player at this level and despite his poor showing at Cardiff, I’d be hopeful he can deliver a much-improved performance and pose a real threat to the Wigan defence. If Cantwell, Pukki, Rashica and the South American new boys click, we should be extremely difficult to defend against and have enough in the tank to right the wrongs of last week and grab our first points of the season on home soil.”
Latics went with a 4-2-3-1 / 4-2-4 system against Preston and played a rather front-footed aggressive brand of football. We averaged 0.47 attacks per minute and accumulated an xG of 2.6 according to Wyscout, the highest of any Championship club in the opening gameweek.
On the flip side we allowed Preston an xG of 2.03 which on another suggests we’d have conceded at least once. Ben Amos’ heroics combined with a profligate Preston front line saved us this time around but we can’t rely on that all the time, we need to sure up.
As the graphic shows we basically had a four pronged attack with little support from the midfield 2. Darikwa and Power got forward somewhat but in turn left gaps that exposed our RCB. This is the area that Preston nearly exploited before half time through Emil Riis who checked across Jason Kerr before dashing into the huge space left in between our CBs.
Leaving this much space open against Norwich will result in us conceding goals I have no doubts about that. Teemu Pukki is clinical at this level whilst Rashica and Cantwell have the talent to hurt us with their pace and progressive running. Darikwa will need to be more withdrawn or will need Power and Naylor to cover the space he leaves, but then we lose some creativity down that side.
It highlights the need for a more play making midfielder who we can use to spread the creative load. Thelo could be that man but I doubt this is the game to through him straight into. Will Keane is more of a Shadow Striker than a Playmaker so we don’t get much creativity out of him whilst Lang and McClean are wingers that like getting shots off rather than inverted wingers that come inside and link play.
We’ll have to make the most of any chances we get against Norwich as I doubt there will be many. Cardiff managed just 3 shots last weekend and only had an xG of 0.08, with Romaine Sawyers’ long range strike the difference between the two sides. They will be without Grant Hanley who is dominant in the air so set pieces could be our best chance of scoring.
I’m expecting another 4-2-3-1 system from Latics but a slightly less aggressive version of the side that drew 0-0 with Preston. We simply don’t have the depth at CB to go with a quality back 3 so it makes sense to continue with the team from last week but with Jason Kerr replacing Jack Watmough.
On paper this is one of our toughest games of the season but you could argue that it’s a pretty good time to play Norwich City. The taste of disappointment from last season is still fresh and they’re coming off the back of a pretty woeful opening day so the mood hasn’t exactly been lifted.
That being said their side is full of quality and we’ll have to be really watchful at times as I’ve mentioned. It’ll be interesting to see how we fare against a top side in the division but I fear it could highlight the weaknesses there still are in our squad.
That being said we’ve certainly got a good chance. The pressure is completely on Norwich and if we go about things in the right way we could upset the applecart at Carrow Road even more.
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.