After 5 defeats in 7 things don’t get any easier for Latics as we make the trip down to West London for a game against table topping Queen’s Park Rangers. Latics will also be keen to end their torrid record at Loftus Road, a ground we haven’t won on since 2003!
Wednesday night was probably the worst performance of Leam Richardson’s permanent reign and it’s important we put that swiftly behind us. Mistakes were made and what’s important now is accepting them and doing something about them. Changes are necessary and I’m looking forward to seeing what they are.
Things couldn’t be more different for the R’s. They’ll be hoping for continuity after a great start and will be buoyed by the recent news that manager Michael Beale has committed himself to the club after links suggesting a move to Wolves was on the cards. Given Latics’ recent record against managerless teams though this might be a good thing for us!
Latics Team News
In fairness to Leam he made some brave changes on Wednesday night and was let down by some tragic performances. He switched to a more attacking 4-2-3-1, picked players in their best positions and clearly set his team out to play differently to how we did for the majority.
Ultimately though I still feel like he’s picking players based on previous achievements not current ability. For me, we have better players warming the bench whilst lesser players, who excelled in League 1 but aren’t up to it in the Championship, retain their place in the side.
Obviously Leam sees them every day in training and I’m sure he has his reasoning beyond just ‘having favourites’. But I think most would agree that things aren’t really working with this current starting crop of players and changes are necessary to keep things fresh and keep supporters onside.
Ben Amos is certainly one of the players under scrutiny and he’s probably lucky that competition for places in the GK position isn’t as strong as it could be. Jamie Jones is back involved with the squad but I have concerns about his injury record and don’t feel 100% confident throwing him straight in. Amos is statistically one of the poorer keepers in the league, let’s hope that changes soon!
Jack Whatmough chose a bad time to have his worst performance in a Latics kit but we can let it slide as he’s usually unbelievably good! His partner on the night Curtis Tilt continues to frustrate me personally and I really don’t understand why he’s completely displaced Jason Kerr in the side. Yes he’s left footed but that’s not the be all and end all for a LCB, plenty of right footers play on the left across the world (including at QPR!). Kerr needs to come back in on Saturday in place of Tilt, for me that’s unquestionable.
Ryan Nyambe’s prolonged absence is really hurting us at the moment too. Darikwa was another one who had an absolute shocker against Boro (not the only one of course) and is struggling to find consistency at the level. Against the talent QPR have out wide I worry that our skipper might be in for another troubling afternoon.
Left back is just an absolute mess at the moment! James McClean has been used there a lot but is much more useful further up the pitch. Tom Pearce has disappeared off the face of the earth it seems and after his performance on Wednesday there will be some people hoping Joe Bennett does the same! Ultimately I don’t know what to suggest here. Bennett will probably play but needs to improve drastically, McClean might play if Leam wants to go more attacking and Pearce could play if the aforementioned players mysteriously vanish…
Some positive team news is the return of Jordan Cousins! What a wonderful player he is, tenacious and powerful with his ball winning whilst also far more useful in possession than people give him credit for. He completed a cool 91% of his passes, which compared to Naylor’s season average of 76% shows you who the better ball player is of the 2!
I’d pair him with Shinnie and give Max Power a rest as he’s not been anywhere near as effective as he might’ve liked this season. Shinnie and Cousins are combative enough to deal with the R’s midfielders and composed enough to help us retain the ball.
I’m not sure if it’ll be a 4 or a 5 to be honest, mainly because I’m still not sure Leam knows his favoured formation. Assuming it’s a 4 I’d like to see the same front 4, maybe with Broadhead replacing McClean who deserves a rest. We need pace, craft and clinical finishing and I think with Wyke, Keane, Broadhead and Thelo we cover those bases just about. We could absolutely do with more pace, it’s why I hope Scully’s on the bench, but for now I think that’s our best forward line.
If it’s a 5 at the back I’d hope to see Broadhead, Keane and Wyke together like we did against Blackburn. That’s a partnership I really like to be honest and given time to develop could be really useful. Again though we can’t then ruin things by subbing on the usual suspects in their place though, get some different names on the bench and let them show us what they’re about. Scully and Fletcher that means you!
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into tomorrow’s fixture I’ve called in the help of somebody far more knowledgeable on QPR than myself!
1) What a start to the season it’s been for QPR! You’re sitting pretty at the top of the Championship with an exciting young squad and manager. What’ve you made of these first few months of the campaign?
“Overall it’s been a very positive first few months (I mean we’re top so of course it is!), and what’s been interesting is the improvement over time. It was always going to take a new manager some time to get his ideas across. We’d also had a fair bit of player turnover in the summer, and were coming off a terrible run at the back end of last season, so no-one was too surprised by the slow-ish start to the season. To be honest I thought we’d start really kicking on after the World Cup which we feel will benefit us quite a lot, so it’s even more pleasing that we’re hitting our strides before that break.” [@AnalyticsQpr]
2) It’s been quite the week for R’s fans! Mick Beale looked set to leave for Wolves but has now fully committed himself to the QPR Project. Can you tell us your thoughts on Beale and the start to his reign?
“He came in with a very strong reputation as a coach. His background is fascinating, everyone is aware of his work with Steven Gerrard at Rangers and Villa, but his strong work as a youth coach at Liverpool and Chelsea (and a stint in Brazil with São Paulo) marks him out as someone different from the norm, and someone we had to prioritise given our main policy is to develop our own youth players for resale into the EPL. Overall he’s a very good talker, but unlike many good talkers he can back it up with results!” [@AnalyticsQpr]
3) Only 3 sides have scored more goals than you this season and you have some really exciting talent at the top end of the pitch. How can we expect QPR to set up on Saturday afternoon, and where will you look to hurt Latics?
“I’d expect us to go out on the front foot. We’re getting better and better up the flanks, both full backs have really hit their strides in recent weeks. We also love to shoot from range, which has been fairly successful so far this season. Hope you’ve got a decent keeper to deal with that!” [@AnalyticsQpr]
4) Finally, as I’ve said there’s a lot of talent in your squad but who’ve been the standouts so far? Who should Latics fans be worried about come kick off?
“Well I would’ve said Chris Willock but yet again he’s injured. Ilias Chair has been quality this season, he’s right up there as one of the highest chance creators in the league. Lyndon Dykes is now finally hitting the net again which is great to see. Took a bit of stick from fans for his poor form but he looks to have come through the other side of that now. Most exciting is the precocious Sinclair Armstrong. He’s a product of the academy and was loaned out to the National League last season. Ideally he’d have been loaned out to the League 1 or 2 club this season but the lack of options up front has opened up an opportunity for him. He’s raw but his performance against Cardiff was frighteningly good. He’ll definitely play a role on Saturday and is certainly one to watch.” [@AnalyticsQpr]
I’ve spoken at length about my feelings on Latics tactical style so at risk of repeating myself I’m only going to focus on our opponents for this section today. Michael Beale’s Queens Park Rangers have been really exciting this season and have shown a mixture of attacking flair and defensive solidity which for a young group is really quite impressive.
On the whole its a 4-2-3-1 that Michael Beale has been picking, or maybe a 4-3-3 in games against the ‘better’ sides. I’d imagine it’ll be 4-2-3-1 tomorrow though as he’ll feel like his number 10, probably the enigmatic Ilias Chair, will be able to hurt Latics in the space between our defence and midfield.
Their transitional play is second to none is this division. They average 2.23 counter attacks per 90, one of the highest in the Championship and compared to Wigan’s 1.57, and 51.5% of those result with a shot on goal, again compared to Latics’ 39%. They’re quick and effective on the break and its something we’re really susceptible to.
Against Boro we were hit on the break 5 times, two of those occasions resulting in shots (one of which was scored) and another ended in a Boro penalty. For me its down to the positioning of our CMs, particularly Max Power who is highlighted above. His CM/RM hybrid role often leaves a huge gap in our midfield that the other CM can’t possibly cover. This area (circled above) needs plugging otherwise Chair will find too much space (somewhere around that empty white circle).
Here’s Chair (highlighted) picking up the ball in that space between defence and midfield. In this game he was LW in a front 3 but came very narrow to receive the ball. The RW (circled) is also quite narrow to allow R’s wing back Ethan Laird to fly forward on the overlap. They’ll use quick inter play and dynamic dribbling to progress the ball at pace which will really hurt us if we don’t have CMs prepared in those areas.
Here’s what Chair will do if playing centrally. He’ll look for this kind of space, turn and drive forward with the ball safe in the knowledge that he’ll have two quick wingers giving him options either side of him. Chris Willock has done that superbly this season but fortunately for Latics he will miss this game through injury.
Latics may well attempt to limit QPR’s counter attacking abilities by not attacking in numbers very often! If we pick a midfield 2 of Cousins and Shinnie I think it gives us enough security against counters whilst also allowing us to attack with our front 4 and maybe a wing back. We’ll have to be brave and clinical but its definitely something we’re capable of. Just think of the Norwich game for example.
Their wing backs Laird and Paal will push on high so our wide men will have to be disciplined and track back at times. Equally though if we can leave one up the pitch every now and then it could be a useful tool on the counter attack and might persuade them to stay slightly more reserved. They both have bags of recovery pace though so will probably fancy their chances of getting back anyway!
Essentially this will be a really tough game for Latics and a real tactical test for Leam Richardson. He’s a very highly thought of young coach but is arguably up against THE highest thought of coach in the EFL tomorrow which will be a wonderful challenge for him. I think a back 5 would be my pick, get 3 forward up against their 2 CBs and try and test them that way, whilst also being compact enough to deal with their floating forward players.
Like I’ve said, what a tough game this will be. Not only is our record at Loftus Road pretty grim as it is, this is one of the better QPR sides in recent years. They have the players to test us in several different ways and whilst I’ve discussed how they could hurt us on the break they’re more than capable of playing through us patiently too. Expect us to be put under pressure for long periods tomorrow.
Equally though there are ways to get at them. Luton showed that being quick and direct against QPR can really unsettle them and whilst fans might not enjoy our long ball approach its probably the one most likely to achieve a win tomorrow. Obviously we can’t just rely on the hoofball method but for this game I don’t mind us implementing it, as long as its in moderation.
Fair play to all the Latics fans making their way down to West London for the game, unfortunately I won’t be one of them on this occasion. Our away form has had a slight dip recently but this would be some way to get back to winning ways. Fingers crossed eh?!