After a manic Deadline Day where Latics brought in 2 and lost 1 the attention immediately switches back to league football as we travel down to Bedfordshire to take on Luton Town. Both teams are yet to really kick on in the Championship this season and will be hoping to use this game to build a bit of momentum in the weeks leading up to the international break in late September.
Latics earnt a decent point in midweek against West Bromwich Albion but the performance left a lot to be desired. With our squad dangerously close to bare bones, at least before yesterday’s deals, we had to put some square pegs in round holes and when you take everything into account I’m pretty happy with the point.
Luton Town haven’t quite hit the heights that they reached last season but look to be finding their feet slowly but surely. They’ve picked up 7 points from their last 3 games including an impressive draw at home to Sheffield United, and trips to Kenilworth Road are always challenging for a number of reasons.
Latics Team News
Trying to keep up with the availability of Latics’ squad is probably just as challenging as keeping up with Usain Bolt in a foot race. I don’t know how it happens but every week a different player drops out of the squad for reasons nobody outside of the club knows and it makes writing this section of my match preview pretty damn difficult to do accurately!
On Tuesday night it transpired that Callum Lang had picked up an injury against Burnley and was having ‘a scan’ to determine the severity of it. I’m assuming that this weekend will be too soon for him and the same goes for Tendayi Darikwa who’s nursing a nasty shoulder injury that he picked up last weekend too.
Ben Amos returned from injury on Tuesday night and looked comfortable enough. It was probably a nice game for him to come back into as he didn’t really have much to do outside of pick the ball out of the net following Karlan Grant’s wonderful finish. He’ll be tested a lot more tomorrow so lets see how he pulls through.
The back 3 that was so wonderful last season are all fit but they’ve got some healthy competition now in the form of new signing Rarmani Edmonds-Green. He’s a player that is best when playing in a back 3 and I expect him to come straight onto the bench on Saturday afternoon if we play the same system that we have done in the past 2 games. If we do change to a 4 I imagine it’ll be Tilt and Watmough, we’ll have to wait and see.
One player that will be hoping we play a back 4 is Ryan Nyambe. He’s played RWB the past 2 weeks and whilst he’s not been bad by any stretch I just think he’s so much better as a traditional RB. Defensively he’s one of the best around but there’s some work to be done on his attacking play, and I’m sure that’ll come with time. He also needs those in midfield to offer for the ball in a better way than they have done in recent weeks too.
Tom Pearce was apparently free to leave on deadline day but nothing ever materialised so he’s still around, but he seems to have tumbled down the pecking order. Joe Bennett seems to have disappeared after the Birmingham game despite his red card being overturned. James McClean will probably be the LWB again and I’m fine with that, as I would be if he’s the LB in a back 4.
Midfield has been the hot topic of conversation this season as it becomes more and more clear that we’re missing a playmaker in there. Tom Naylor’s uncharacteristic error on Tuesday night saw him substituted for just the third time in his Wigan career. Max Power was busy but not particularly impactful whilst Graeme Shinnie put in another impressive performance that arguably makes him the most important player of the 3 coming into Saturday.
If I was to drop one of the 3 I’d probably drop Power. His set pieces are important for us but I’d argue his deliveries this season haven’t really been up to scratch and therefore don’t make him ‘undroppable’. A midfield 2 of Shinnie and Naylor is hard working and really good defensively. There’s not much creativity in there but if they can give the ball to those better than them we should be fine.
In attacking areas we’ve been bolstered by the arrival of Anthony Scully from Lincoln City. He’s a winger that’s also able to play as a centre forward so will fit into both our 3 and 4 at the back systems. Whether or not he’ll play a part this early I’m not sure but perhaps a little cameo off the bench could be in store. Then again our bench is full of forward players so he’s got a lot of competition for places.
Will Keane is already dividing opinion in the Championship and in many ways I can see why. Last season we was wonderful but he hasn’t been able to make the same impact in the division above and often looks like a passenger in matches. There are players on the bench that have looked dangerous when they’ve featured and I think its only a matter of time before Keane drops to the bench.
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into Saturday’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on Luton Town than myself!
1) It’s been a decent start to the season for Luton Town but you’ve quite managed to carry on the excellent form you showed last season. How would you sum up your season so far?
“It was a slow start to the season, with some draws that deserved more and two defeats, one against Bristol City that they definitely deserved and another against Preston that they didn’t. But things have picked up in the last few games. Performance levels are getting back to what we saw in the second half of last term, and they’re creating plenty of chances with the pace they have, plus some tasty deliveries from the flanks.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]
2) The transfer window closed yesterday but your side concluded their business almost a month ago. Are you happy with the window or would you have liked to see a few more signings through the door?
“It’s been a very satisfying window. Luton tend to do most of their business early, so it wasn’t a surprise that transfer deadline day passed with just three players going out on loan. Dion Pereira, Admiral Muskwe and Elliot Thorpe are young and they need games. They probably weren’t going to get many because Luton have bought extremely well in the summer window. The only position they haven’t strengthened is left centre back, after the departure of Kal Naismith, but Dan Potts has stepped into that position very impressively. Everywhere else, Town have boosted the midfield and attacking options, and there’s some real strength in depth now the treatment room is starting to empty out.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]
3) Both of The Hatters victories this season have come on the road in wonderful counter attacking displays. Do you expect Nathan Jones to set up to counter attack against Wigan or be slightly braver in front of your home supporters?
“They’ll try to play more on the front foot at home as the fans will demand it. But if it turns out that Wigan have more of the ball, they’re prepared to soak up pressure and use their pace to cause problems on the break. They’ve bought players that can do both, though they probably still have to prove that they can break down defensive teams at home.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]
4) Finally, who from your talented squad of players should Latics fans be most worried about come Saturday afternoon?
“A lot’s been made of the fact Elijah Adebayo hasn’t scored yet, but he’s been doing everything but hit the net. He’s due a goal, but if it doesn’t come on Saturday, he’ll be a real nuisance, won’t give your defenders a moment’s rest and that could free up space for Carlton Morris to do some damage.” [@LutonJournoLTFC]
The big question going into this game is whether or not Leam Richardson sticks with the 3-5-2 system he’s gone with in the last 2 games or whether he reverts to the 4-2-3-1 we started the season so well with. Away from home he might choose the more defensive option but after 2 pretty poor attacking performances with the 3-5-2 it might be worth a change.
The problem with our 3-5-2 is the huge gaps between midfield and attack when we have the ball. Because our 3 central players are defensive minded players their less comfortable breaking the lines in support of our front 2 and this creates a massive disconnect at the top of the pitch. It leaves our strikers isolated and makes chance creation very difficult as there are hardly any passing options.
A simple change would be to remove 1 of the 3 CMs in favour of a creative player like Thelo Aasgaard or perhaps Will Keane. Having 1 of them behind a front 2 would create a link between midfield and attack and allow us to play through teams more rather than try and go over them with long balls. Against this Luton back 5 I can’t see a long ball style working well at all.
Sonny Bradley is a dominant CB as is Tom Lockyer and both are players that would much prefer getting in physical battles than having players run off them. Playing someone like Josh Magennis alongside a more dynamic forward like Broadhead would be my choice, JM can do the battling whilst Broadhead looks to run in behind the back line and create chances for himself with quick interplay. Again though he’d need a number 10 to do that with.
The reason I think we should play a 5-2-1-2 is two fold. One, it makes us more dangerous in transition and on the counter attack as we have 2 players pushed up against their back 3 with a creative player finding space in the space between their midfield and defence. Two, I think we’ll need the extra defensive numbers simply because of how many players Luton like to have in the box when attacking.
Luton love to get the ball wide and create overloads with the aim of dragging the opposition out of shape. After creating a disjointed defensive unit they load the box which to put it simply causes havoc! Defenders don’t know who to mark and if the delivery is accurate, which it usually is with Luton’s wide men, they get a lot of chances. We could do with having a back 5 to try and minimise the space in the box and prevent any of their forwards getting on the end of the crosses.
That being said, if we persist with the defensive midfield 3 I’d honestly rather play a 4-2-3-1. Luton at Kenilworth Road don’t make things easy and I just feel like we’re limiting ourselves by essentially having 8 defenders on the pitch. I understand it against 2 of the best teams in the division like Burnley and West Brom but this Saturday I don’t see any harm in being slightly more brave.
It might be slightly premature but I think this is one of those games that could define our season. Its a tough place to go against solid Championship opposition and with a favourable few fixtures following it a victory could really kick off our season. If we were to lose the pressure is then ramped up on us to secure wins over ‘easier’ opposition in the following weeks.
Its a long season though and I’m not suggesting its make or break by any means of course. We’ll have moments where we’re under serious pressure and the Luton crowd will do their best to intimidate the players I’m sure, but I think we’re more than capable of standing toe to toe with them. They’ll be energetic and confident after a good few games so its a real test of where we’re at as a squad.
Latics will be backed by another sell out away fans, although don’t expect that to receive any praise from anyone outside of the club…