Its fair to say Latics are in a rut at the moment. 7 losses in 8 games, 2 clean sheets in 16 games, 2 shots on target in the last 180 minutes of football and a complete lack of excitement and hope amongst supporters, its been a tough month or so for Latics fans. Things reached their lowest on Wednesday night in our 1-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Stoke, a game we really could’ve won.
Unfortunately we haven’t looked like winning a game since the Blackburn one, and you could argue that was more a case of them not turning up than anything else. Its been a combination of avoidable defensive errors leading to goals and a painful lack of chance creation in attack that has harmed us this season and against a side like Swansea those two things are arguably the most important if we’re to get something from the game.
The Swans have finally clicked under Russell Martin this season and find themselves just outside the play off places in 7th. A lot has been said about their possession centric style and perhaps a lack of a Plan B at times too, but on the whole Plan A works well for them as their league position shows. I’m sure they’ll be looking at this game with nothing less than 3 points in mind.
Latics Team News
From what I can tell I don’t think we picked up any more injuries against Stoke, and even if we did Leam Richardson kept it well hidden post match! Its quite hard to know what to write in this section at times because the club keep this kind of news so well hidden. Therefore, lets assume Amos, Nyambe, Pearce and Lang are all still absent.
I kind of wish I could say that Anthony Scully and Ashley Fletcher were injured too as it would at least justify their absence from the squad on Wednesday night. However, Leam confirmed post match that the pair of them were left out for ‘tactical reasons’. Nope, no matter how many times I write that it still doesn’t make sense to me…
Someone that definitely will be in the squad again tomorrow is Graeme Shinnie, in fact if he’s not we may as well not turn up at all! We missed him hugely in midweek and hopefully he’ll come in and show that he’s one of very few players in our squad that is genuinely Championship quality.
I expect we’ll continue with our back 5, although we’re struggling to remain defensively solid lining up this way despite that being the priority! Stoke’s goal was a tragic compilation of basic errors from our defensive players, which there were 9 of on Wednesday by the way, and it pretty much summed up the lack of belief in the squad at the moment. Against this Swansea side though we will have to play a back 5 to try and make us as difficult to play through as possible.
The midfield 3 of Naylor, Cousins and Power worked about as well as I expected it to, and by that I mean it didn’t! They’re 3 good defenders of space but none of them used the ball particularly well, Power and Cousins both completed 80% of their passes and Naylor just 68%! We simply aren’t going to create any chances with a midfield three of players that wasteful on the ball.
Shinnie and Cousins has to be the partnership going forward. They’re our two most energetic players, good enough on the ball for a Championship team and more than capable of completing their defensive duties too. Power and Naylor are both on 4 bookings too so we may as well just leave them out until the 5 booking threshold is past I reckon…
In front of that midfield two I long for the day we get to see Thelo Aasgaard in the number 10 role. I tweeted after the Stoke game that if we continue to play the way we are doing I’d hope for Thelo’s sake that he leaves in January as its a criminal waste of a talented player playing him in our system. He needs the ball on the floor and licence to carry it, and in that 10 role ahead of two good defensive midfielders I don’t see any reason why it can’t work.
There’s a saying in sport that the best move you can make is the one your opponent least wants you to make. If you asked Swansea now would they rather face long balls up towards two isolated forwards or fast breaks, ball on the floor led by a tricky dribbling midfielder I know which one they’re picking! Swansea will just launch wave after wave of attacks if we try and go long against their back 3, we have to be more adaptable.
I’d actually drop Nathan Broadhead for this game but that has absolutely nothing to do with his performances. Quite frankly he’s had an impossible task playing up front in a side that is more creative in how we gift opposition goals rather than ourselves. We know he’s got fitness concerns at the minute so rather than making him chase nothing balls for 60 minutes I’d rather see him make an impact off the bench.
Playing Wyke and Keane up top would give us a better chance I’d say. Both of them are very astute pressers which could come in handy as we’ll spend a lot of time off the ball, but this has to be backed up by the collective. Get Fletcher and Scully on the bench because even if they’re not world beaters we may as well give them a go. Josh Magennis’ contribution on Wednesday was a blatant handball that resulted in a disallowed 94th minute equaliser, unfortunately that’s not enough to keep him in the squad for me. The hand of
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 Swansea than myself!
1) Swansea have been one of the most interesting and talked about sides in the Championship this season and currently sit 7th place, just outside the play off places. What’ve you made of your sides season so far?
“I think our style of play attracts a lot of talking points. We started slow out of the blocks, with certain sections of the fan base (wrongly) taking aim at Russell and wanting change after 5 games. There was much hope we’d be far sharper after a full pre season given he’d joined days before the start of the 21/22 campaign. Following a series of wins squandered late on, Millwall most notably, we went on a run of 6 wins in 8 games and showed we can be worthy playoff hopefuls. Anywhere within targeting playoff range should be considered successful.” [@ForeseeaBall]
“It’s been a good season as a Swans fan so far, even with a very poor start. As you say, people have been talking about our identity and our philosophy as we have really settled back into the Swansea way – and even been picking up some really solid results! I’m excited about Russell Martin and the team and what they might be able to achieve.” [@amyclement94]
2) The reason so many people are talking about Swansea this season is largely down to your style of play. Is it fair to say Russell Martin’s possession centred philosophy is still generating mixed feeling amongst Swans fans, or has he won over the masses?
“Swansea more so than other clubs will have more patience towards a style like Russell’s given our recent history but you’ll always get negative vocals. Think most fans happy with it currently, but does tend to shift pretty quickly in opinion both ways! It’s a style that does yield mistakes at the back & lead to self inflicted goals conceded — as we’ve seen a few times this season but the hope is overall you out do the opposition overtime! Personally a massive fan when you get it right & understand the issues that may come with it — especially when utilised with Championship level players.” [@ForeseeaBall]
“There’s always one who is #MartinOut for whatever reason, I think every fan base has people like that. But generally there is a positive, united feel at the club at the moment. It has taken a while for the football to settle but I think the fans are behind him. For me, I REALLY want him to be the guy to take us back to the Premier League.” [@amyclement94]
3) It’s obvious that you’ll look to dominate the ball on Saturday and given Wigans recent form I’d imagine we’ll turn up at the Liberty Stadium haply to settle for a point. You seem to have struggled at times against teams that sit back and are difficult to break down, would you say Wigan should try and do the same?
“Sometimes we can lack that cutting edge/moment of magic to create against a low block. Jamie Paterson is back and probably the most equipped in that sense to unlock through creativity. The likes of Ntcham & Piroe capable of shooting from distance to defeat a low block. Preston’s performance the other night a blueprint how to maximise your chances vs Swansea. Wigan’s best bet definitely to be compact & press coherently when possible to force mistakes from Swansea, while also looking to sucker punch in transition.” [@ForeseeaBall]
“Absolutely. Preston were good at that. Other teams have been good at that too. We often look devoid of ideas and we move the ball around and around but nothing comes of it. In those moments, if we pick up the tempo, maybe bring on a more daring, creative player we can often crack it, but it is a little bit of an issue.” [@amyclement94]
4) You’ve got some very exciting players in your side, certainly ones that I as a Latics fan am envious of! Who would you say our supporters should be fearful of come kick off time, and are there any Wigan players you’re wary of?
“Would usually say Joel Piroe but he’s looking off the pace of late! Ntcham a match winner off the bench. Cundle & Cooper can cause problems when they pick the ball up between lines. Ryan Manning probably been our best player this season & we’re without captain Matt Grimes who’s suspended & ends a run of 67 consecutive games! Callum Lang if he wasn’t injured, but Will Keane probably the one I’d be most wary of from Wigan.” [@ForeseeaBall]
“Ahhh! Yeah we do have some really exciting players. The whole squad looks pretty good at the moment in my opinion! I’d watch out for Michael Obafemi’s pace, he’s quick and he will run for every ball. Also Ollie Cooper, a product of the Swansea academy, has been given a lot of game time this season and he’s really showing his potential. We have made some defensive howlers this season, I can see Will Keane wanting to take advantage of that!!!” [@amyclement94]
Swansea City are one of the most tactically unique sides in the league and they’re not the kind of team that we can carry plans over from other games in order to nullify them. Often we can press teams in a similar way which makes the preparation slightly easier, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that this time around. That being said though we have played against Russell Martin’s MK Dons side before so there will be similarities to that.
During lockdown we beat MK 3-0 and whilst this Swansea side plays slightly differently and has far better players than that side I’m sure Leam will have it in the back of his mind. That day we played in a 4-2-3-1 and pressed really well, whilst also using an interesting man-marking method throughout. Our two DMs tracked MKs two AMs and it worked well, so Leam may well ask them to do the same again.
As has already been touched upon Swansea struggled in midweek against Preston who set up brilliantly to nullify Swansea’s game plan. Preston were able to prevent the Swans’ wingbacks from making any real impact out wide whilst also remaining compact enough to limit space for Swansea to play through.
The press seemed to be initiated when the ball went into the 2 Swansea AMs who weren’t given time to turn and were often forced backwards. This led to a lot of possession for Russell Martin’s side but the majority of it came without a purpose. Preston lined up with a back 5 as did Bristol City who did a similarly good job of keeping Swansea quiet.
Swansea have only failed to score in 5 games this season and 4 of those were against sides that played a back 5 (the other was Burnley who are just very very good!). That makes me think, along with the fact that we don’t really have the personnel for a back 4 at the moment, that we’ll set up in a 3-5-2 / 3-4-1-2 system and look to play in a similar way to the sides that have shut Swansea out.
The fact their captain Matt Grimes will miss the game is a huge plus for Latics. He’s their main man in possession and has racked up over 100 passes in each of his last 4 games, a remarkable number. Losing him means they lose the heartbeat of their build up play and it’ll be interesting to see who replaces him in the midfield and how they go about their work.
Latics have to be aggressive with our press in my opinion. We have to get at Grimes’ replacement early and put them off their game in the hope that it instils a panic in their side. The key thing, and something Preston did so well, is our players have to close down the man on the ball whilst making sure they hand over the player they were marking to a teammate. if we get dragged out of position like we did on Saturday they’ll cut us open.
This is exactly what Swansea will want to see. Their plan essentially is to drag defenders out of their shape with intricate passing play and the have runners exploiting the space left by them. If we defend as we did in the pictures above it’ll be a cricket score to be honest as Swansea are a far more accomplished attacking side than Stoke.
Shinnie and Cousins provide a good enough shield for our defence and if we do play Thelo he’s also a surprisingly accomplished defensive player. He ranks highly for his defensive numbers this season and could definitely do a good enough job in our own half whilst also hopefully providing that magic going forward.
Surely we’re due something sooner rather than later aren’t we! It feels like we go into games at the minute not wondering how it will go but by how many will we lose and that’s a terrible place for a supporter to be in. It doesn’t get any easier as well, this game looks set to be another challenge for our side who must be feeling close to rock bottom.
I do think we’re slightly better suited to a game like this though funnily enough. I’d imagine Swansea will come to try and beat us which might leave spaces for us to exploit, but as I’ve said we have to be so correct with our defending. We struggle to break teams down that let us have the ball, Swansea probably won’t do that.
Hopefully we can rediscover some of our away form from the start of the season, that would be nice. The Latics fans travelling down deserve a bit of joy, now would be a lovely time to bring an end to this awful run of form.