Blackburn Rovers (H) Match Preview

Its another Lancashire derby for Latics tonight as we welcome Blackburn Rovers to the DW Stadium under the lights and in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The game, which was supposed to take place in September but was rearranged after the Queen’s death, looks set to be a fiercely contested one between two sides in desperate need of consistency this season.

Wigan come into it off the back of 2 consecutive defeats, something we hadn’t suffered in over a year before now, and remain winless at home this season. The performances in those couple of games are probably the 2 worst of Leam Richardson’s spell as permanent manager and improvement is needed against Blackburn.

Rovers themselves have struggled for consistency this season but sit in a very decent 7th place. No team has won more games than Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side, but only 2 sides have lost more which highlights the inconsistency of their squad. They’re trapped in a win, loss, win, loss pattern at the minute, and having won at the weekend Latics fans will be hoping that pattern continues…

Latics Team News

Injuries, players out of form, fitness doubts; its time to write the most unpredictable team news section in the EFL!

We made some big changes on Saturday against Cardiff and its probably fair to say they didn’t work out. Joe Bennett returned to the starting 11 for the first time since he was (wrongly) sent off against Birmingham and looked well off the pace, admittedly in an unnatural LCB role. I can’t see it being an experiment that’s done too many more times.

Tendayi Darikwa came in for Ryan Nyambe and did fairly well but looked off the pace at times too. His work rate was there as expected and looked threatening on occasions but his end product left a lot to be desired as did the rest of the squad’s. Former Blackburn man Nyambe wasn’t in the squad which is worrying, I’m hoping he returns to the starting 11 tomorrow.

Jason Kerr came into the back 5 and didn’t look at his best either but that’s a bit more understandable as he’s barely played since August, the month in which he won Player of the Month. Similarly Graeme Shinnie came into the side and wasn’t at his best in what was an off day for pretty much everyone in the squad as a whole.

Charlie Wyke and Josh Magennis played up front together with Will Keane but failed to combine positively at all. They’re all a bit too similar which made things very easy to deal with for Cardiff, especially given the poor service they were given. If we go two up front it can’t be two target men as the service they get simply isn’t worth it, and with that in mind I’d like to see a bit more variety in our front line.

Anthony Scully came off the bench in an unusual LWB position as Leam looked to throw as many attackers on as he could. I saw enough to excite me though and would love to see him get more than a few minutes tonight. Thelo Aasgaard didn’t even get off the bench which baffled me and given what he did to Rovers last season I’m sure he’s well up for it.

Ben Amos should’ve done better with 2 of the 3 goals at the weekend but isn’t in any danger of losing his place in the side. Jamie Jones has damaged his ACL which will keep him out for a while so its up to Amos to improve after a pretty poor week by his standards.

Long term absentees Jordan Cousins and Gwion Edwards remain out of the picture whilst Tom Pearce seems to have been totally forgotten! Callum Lang’s absence is really hurting us at the moment I feel, his energy and craft is something we’ve really missed in the past 2 games and fingers crossed it won’t be long before he’s back fit.

An Opposition View

To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into tonight’s fixture I’ve called in the help of a few people far more knowledgeable on Blackburn Rovers than myself!

1) After a summer of change at Ewood Park, Rovers have started the season well and currently sit 7th in the league. What’ve you made of your sides start?

“The word on everyone’s lips is inconsistent, and rightly so. We started really well and dominated away at Swansea, which increased expectations temporarily, then backed up with a win against a talented West Brom side (of course we didn’t think they’d be that poor for the rest of the season!) Rovers then showed some really rocky form, winning and then losing ever since the end of August, which still stands now. We’d love to make it two wins in a row at Wigan this Tuesday.” [@roverschat_]

“Very mixed. Somedays we are like Barcelona other days we are like Crawley Town a team very much going through an identity crisis. Hopefully we end on the right side of this transition but in honesty it feels very different to what we have experienced in the last 5 or 6 years.” [@roverseas]

2) Jon Dahl Tomasson’s arrival was met with a lot of excitement from Blackburn fans. Have you been impressed by his style of play since he took over?

“To be honest, it’s not too much of a change from Mowbray. The thing I’ve picked up though is he’s willing to change and adapt formations to beat teams, whereas Mowbray always seemingly had a set formation for a season. We’ve not fully adapted to Tommason’s tactics yet. He clearly wants a side high on fitness and running, it’s just taking the lads a bit to get used to this.” [@roverschat_]

“Again due to how the results have been coming in, yes and no. Do not get me wrong, I feel we are in the right hands as we move from Mowbray ball to something completely new, however some matches can be painful to watch, Cardiff City a most recent disasterclass.” [@roverseas]

3) Incredibly you’re still yet to draw a match 13 games into the season. Is it fair to say it’s been a bit of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ season for Rovers so far, and if so how do you think that could be changed?

“I’ve never seen us win then lose so often, it’s bizarre. We really are ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. One game we’re really impressive and we look like we can beat most teams, and then the next it’s a genuine struggle to string some simple passes together. It’s really frustrating but we’re trusting the process. I think it’ll change naturally as the lads adjust more to how Tomasson plays. I hope so anyway.” [@roverschat_]

“I think we are waiting for the Eureka moment, where everything drops into place, however that Eureka moment may take a while, and in fact in order to get out of the “Jekyll/Hyde” rhythm we need to break the cycle, and despite how goods things can be we may end up losing twice to break the cycle.” [@roverseas]

4) Latics have had a miserable time at home this season. Which Blackburn players are you expecting to cause us problems tonight?

“Ryan Hedges has to be one to watch. We signed him in January and he came into good form as the season waned out, but he’s started this one so well. He played wing back the other night but I’d expect him back in the front three. Liverpool loanee Tyler Morton is another one. He’s managed to take John Buckley out the side, who has become a real fans’ favourite, so that shows his quality. He is good on the ball and has a good eye for a pass, and looks to be a real talent for Liverpool in years to come. I’d also pick out summer signing Dom Hyam, who arrived from Coventry. He looks to be a real bargain and he is such a solid option.” [@roverschat_]

“Ryan Hedges has been the surprise package for us, even though I tipped him for success last season. He is a fave with JDT and can score goals, and create assists despite being played in a variety of positions. Meanwhile Domin Hyam has been a solid addition, and though not creating headlines he will be big unit to break down on Tuesday.” [@roverseas]

Tactical Talk

I could go on forever about the changes I’d like to see made to our system, style and set up in general but I’ll keep it quick so I can cover Blackburn too!

For me I just want us to cut down on the long ball hit and hope football that has dominated the past 180 minutes of football we’ve played. It works at times and I’m not suggesting changing to a tiki taka style but I’ve no doubt we could mix in a bit of shorter passing and patient build up play. We’ve done it at times this season and looked really good doing it so I don’t know why all of a sudden we’ve gone purely route one.

We average the most long balls per 90 in the league, unsurprisingly, and our numbers have increased in recent weeks. Here’s an interesting statistic for you all though, and one that’s really quite telling in my opinion. The 4 matches we’ve played the most ‘long balls’ in are as follows:

  1. Reading (H) 80 long balls played. 1-0 loss
  2. Burnley (H) 72 long balls played. 5-1 loss
  3. Cardiff (H) 66 long balls played. 3-1 loss
  4. Hull (A) 65 long balls played. 2-1 loss

It certainly doesn’t feel like a coincidence that we’re at our worst when we’re at our most direct. Obviously its worked for us on occasions but clearly when we employ it as Plan A it leaves us struggling to make inroads, whereas in games when its used here and there (Huddersfield, Bristol City, Preston) we’ve looked much more threatening.

Its also pretty frustrating that 3 of those 4 games we were very direct in were games against sides you’d expect us to have a better chance of ‘playing football’ against. I’m sure there’s method behind it that I’m blissfully unaware of but for me its a frustrating, demoralising and boring gamble that isn’t paying off and I hope we’ve seen the last of it.

Our opponents tonight Blackburn Rovers have got the balance exactly right from a build up play perspective. They’re averaging the 5th highest number of long balls per 90 but, just like how I hope Latics do, they mix it with less direct play too. 11% of their passes are ‘long balls’ compared to Latics’ 18% which makes them much less predictable.

They’ve played a couple of formations this season, mainly either 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3. In each system the principles stay the same; high energy, high tempo and a fluid forward line. When it works they look really good, particularly going forward, and have the ability to cause us real problems if we’re as disjointed defensively as we were at the weekend.

Bradley Dack, Sam Gallagher, Tyrhys Dolan, Ryan Hedges, Ben Brereton Diaz, George Hirst and Sammie Szmodics are all players capable of playing in several positions in the forward line which makes them a very difficult team to prepare for. With the 5 sub rule we have nowadays it also means they can completely change things up if needed which poses us more problems to deal with.

Their attacking play in their game against Rotherham at the weekend was really impressive but as we’ve touched upon its a result of incredible inconsistency. They’re still learning the philosophy of their new coach and it hasn’t clicked fully, but when it does they’ll be a wonderful side based on what I’ve seen of them so far. Psychologically though this good be a good time to play them whilst they’re stuck in this WL cycle.

I’m expecting them to come and look to dominate the ball with their intense press and solid defensive structure. I mentioned the fluidity of their forwards but Rovers’ defence and midfield 2 have been solid on the whole and provide a great base to launch attacks/counter attacks from. In a 5 they’ll be narrow and deeply set off the ball and can launch counter attacks with the 1 or 2 wide men they leave up the pitch. In a 4 they’ll press slightly more and look to win the ball higher up the pitch, but might see slightly less of the ball.

In a back 5 they can sit very deep and launch counter attacks with pace. This image shows how compact and tough to break down they can be.

Latics need to go back to basics with a 4-2-3-1, get some pace and craft on the pitch in attacking areas and pick a defensively solid back 4. Fans can accept losing but losing in the manner that we have in the past 2 games hasn’t sat well with many people and in order to generate a good atmosphere at the ground tonight we have to start well.

Picking an exciting team will go a long way to making that happen and if the players are available I’d love for us to go for it tonight. Psychologically Blackburn could really struggle tonight, desperate for back to back wins and without a win at the DW for a very long time. If we can play on that self doubt we could be in with a chance, but we cannot afford to waste time with the direct rubbish again…

Final Thoughts

Games like this are always unpredictable aren’t they? We can’t win at home, Blackburn aren’t great away from home, neither team are consistent and both are in need of a win! Its pretty much guaranteed to be a tense affair and whoever settles into their game plan quicker will stand the best chance.

What we are sure of is that Latics will be hungry to rectify the 2 poor performances from last week. Back to back defeats will have hurt this side as they won’t have experienced it as a group, so seeing how we react to it will be interesting for me.

I’m hoping for a repeat of the 2018 season tonight. Latics in a rut welcomed Blackburn to the DW and beat them 3-1 in front of the Sky cameras. That sounds alright to me…

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