After another bizarre week at Wigan Athletic its time to look ahead to the weekend as we prepare to take on Watford at the DW Stadium. Latics will be desperate to end a week of controversy and uncertainty off the pitch with a positive performance and result on the pitch, but face a huge test against Watford, a Premier League side a matter of months ago of course.
For the first time in a long time we’ve had a full week off which should’ve allowed us to work on a few things coming into this game. After 5 defeats in 6 its vital that we get something from this game to ease the nerves of everyone at the club, especially as the league table is finally starting to spread out a little bit. We could end up in the bottom 3 on Saturday too which wouldn’t do anyone any good!
Opponents Watford haven’t settled into life back in the Championship as well as many might’ve expected. The Hornets currently find themselves 10th in the league and, perhaps unsurprisingly given their recent history, have changed managers already. Slaven Bilic is at the helm but his side are yet to find any real consistency coming into Saturday’s game.
Latics Team News
There was a lot of talk about our team selection ahead of the game against QPR and I think its fair to say Leam got the majority of his decisions correct. He played a back 3 that looked solid enough, picked Graeme Shinnie and Jordan cousins together in midfield alongside Max Power and gave Nathan Broadhead a run out through the middle.
Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t be able to name an unchanged side tomorrow as star centre back Jack Whatmough picked up an injury late on at Loftus Road and faces a spell on the sidelines. This is such a big shame and a huge blow to our defence which needs all the help it can get at the minute.
Jamie Jones is back fit again and personally I’d like to see him come into the side. For me, Ben Amos has been well below par for the last month or so and was arguably at fault, albeit not the only one, for both goals last weekend and according to several statistics models he’s conceded considerably more goals than he would be expected to.
Ryan Nyambe’s return from injury will be welcomed by Latics fans but we’re still unsure when that’ll be. Hopefully he returns this weekend as he’d make a good replacement for Whatmough in our back 3. It would also allow us to change to a back 4 if we wanted, but given our LB nightmare this season that seems unlikely!
Rarmani Edmonds-Green made his debut as a replacement for Whatmough and could come straight into the side to replace him. My personal choice would be a back 3 of him left, Kerr central and Nyambe right assuming he’s fit to play. Curtis Tilt has looked shaky recently and will be incredibly vulnerable against this Watford attacking force.
Graeme Shinnie and Jordan Cousins played together and looked really impressive, as they have done individually this season. I think they give us everything we need from a midfield 2 in our system and provide a good base for our attacking players to build on. Max Power was much improved on Saturday but I still feel like he could do with a rest. No player has played more Championship minutes than him this season.
Resting Power would allow us to bring Thelo Aasgaard into the side in a more recognisable Number 10 role. I think getting the ball to him in central attacking midfield areas will give us a great chance against a disjointed Watford defence and we know he has the ability to unlock defences with his creativity and vision.
Keane and Broadhead worked well together and given Charlie Wyke’s injury, which he sustained in training, I’d like to see the pair of them start up top together again. Broadhead looked so dangerous on Saturday and took his goal well, I really think he’s our 15 goal a season striker if we can keep him fit and play to his strengths. If we give him chances he’ll take them, Saturday proved that.
The bench will be interesting, mainly to see if the game of ‘Where’s Scully’ continues. Pace is something our bench severely lacks and I can’t stress enough how important a dynamic attacker off the bench is, especially if we’re chasing a goal. Josh Magennis nearly scored a worldie at Loftus Road but I still struggle to see what he offers over Scully.
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 some people far more knowledgeable on Watford than myself!
1) Watford have had an indifferent time adjusting to life back in the Championship and currently find themselves 10th in the league. What’ve you made of your sides start to the season?
“Well Dan it’s been a season of what can possibly go wrong next. With a small sprinkle of football. We are a club that has an identity crisis and a fan base split by our family club values and wanting to compete on the big stage. Apart from last weeks 4-0 win over our local rivals Luton it’s been very shaky. But the championship is a league that can change at anytime. To be fair, with all the ups and downs, I’ll take 10th.” [@watfordboy82]
2) Rob Edwards lasted just 10 games in charge before being replaced by Slaven Bilic. Firstly, did you agree with the sacking of Edwards, and what’ve you made of Bilic since his arrival?
“The fact that we were promised a Progressive young Football manager and got one was a big step in the right direction for me. However we turned back to type soon after as results and performances were not where they needed to be. Bilic is a fantastic appointment, he brings with him a know how of how to get out of the championship, but at the back of my mind he’s got a tough job. The club have not backed the management in the transfer market, missing out on key areas.” [@watfordboy82]
3) Your away form has left a lot to be desired so far this season with just one win on the road. What do you think the reason for this is and how would you go about changing that at Latics, bearing in mind we’ve been really poor at home too!
“I wouldn’t change much. Your home form is much like our away form, 1 win. I think both teams play the same home and away, it should make for a good game. Going into this game, I hope to see our front 3 cause you all sorts of problems, but if you can press the midfield, we could fall apart and hit the panic button. That’s been the story so far for us.” [@watfordboy82]
4) Your squad is still packed out with Premier League and International quality players. Who do you think will cause Latics the most problems come 3pm on Saturday?
“We’ve done very well to keep João Pedro and Sarr and most teams supporters will comment and worry about them. But we have added a few others that on paper make us look very strong on paper. Keinan Davis on loan from Aston Villa is the pick of the bunch for me, big strong and knows where the goal is. Another one to watch is a player that when he finds his feet will be another success story for Watford in terms of turning a small outlay in to 50+ Million. Remember the name ladies and gentlemen. Yáser Asprilla.” [@watfordboy82]
As I’ve already touched upon I’m not opposed to this 5-3-2 system, especially against the better sides in the league. A common misconception is that playing a back 5 is a defensive move, but I feel like with a few tweaks it could become a really useful system at both ends of the pitch.
Systems like Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United overlapping CBs in a 3-5-2 and Graham Potter’s fluid 3-4-2-1 at Brighton are examples of defensive looking set ups that actually prioritise attacking first. We should absolutely be prioritising defensive solidity first and I think Saturday showed that from open play we were very difficult to break down.
Latics have scored 8 of our 17 goals this season from set pieces which shows that a lack of creativity from open play is evident. Currently creative responsibility seems to fall on Max Power in that RCM role but its not working out as well as we’d like. He’s averaging just over 1 shot assist a game which isn’t really enough for the side’s main creative outlet.
That’s why I’d bring Thelo Aasgaard, who is averaging 2.77 shot creating actions per 90. Not only does his dribbling get us up the pitch (5.29 dribbles per 90) he also has that eye for a pass and would be really dangerous in that final third. He gives us a different kind of creativity and still allows our wing backs to do the majority of the crossing out wide rather than Power who tends to be the main deliverer on the right.
It will also be good to keep Watford’s defensive midfielders withdrawn by giving them a number 10 to deal with. By playing a flat midfield 3 we encourage their sitting players to push higher up the pitch safe in the knowledge that they aren’t leaving a more advanced midfielder in space. Thelo would stretch them a bit more and hopefully prevent them picking up the ball just outside the box which is something Edo Kayembe especially likes doing.
Ultimately we’ll have a lot of defending to do tomorrow against what I believe is the best forward line in the league by some distance. Sarr and Pedro are Premier League talents and the addition of Keinan Davis has given them a wonderful vocal point for the pair of them to work around. How well we deal with Davis will determine whether or not we win the game.
Davis is a player capable of holding the ball up and linking play with his teammates or carrying the ball forward himself. His powerful running abilities mean he’s averaging 2.51 successful dribbles per 90 and his 3.11 shot creating actions show that his end product is good too. The loss of Whatmough will be felt even more now that the Villa loanee has found his feet at the Hornets.
Remaining compact is vital but we can’t offer too much space out wide as players like Sarr will rip us apart. We also need to be brave, particularly against a Watford side that averages well over a goal conceded per 90 and one that is poor away from home. Talent wise they’re streets ahead but if we stick to what we’re good at we can definitely hurt them, especially with a quick transition from back to front.
As I’ve mentioned its been another manic week at Latics but hopefully all the noise has quietened down and everyone’s focus has been on preparing for this game. It feels like the kind of game that should we win it could give us the confidence to mount a solid run of form into the World Cup break, and we really need to pick up some points sooner or later.
The task can’t get much tougher though. Watford have the players to wipe the floor with us if they’re on it, and last weekend’s thumping of rivals Luton will only have added to their confidence. Hopefully, their inconsistencies remain a problem and we can cause them problems as many teams have done when Watford visit their ground.
Latics will be hoping for a Norwich performance rather than a Burnley performance, although that being said we still did well against the Clarets. If we’re at our best we have a huge chance here despite our growing injury concerns, fingers crossed we secure the 3 points!