Millwall (A) Match Preview

The Tics are back!

After almost a month without a game Latics return to Championship action this weekend as we travel down to London for a meeting with Millwall. Without wanting to kill the enthusiasm too quickly we’re winless in our last 20 Championship away games in the capital so it’s time to change that!

Its no longer Leam Richardson leading us into battle though, Saturday will be Kolo Toure’s first game in charge of Wigan Athletic! The Ivorian legend has been in the job for over a week now and has spent time implementing his style already, which by the sounds of it is a modern brand inspired by former coaches and mentors like Wenger and Klopp. Sounds promising!

The hosts are chasing a play off place this season and sit a point outside of the top 6. They’ve also had a chance to blow the cobwebs off last weekend with their first game back against Sunderland. The Lions were tamed with a 3-0 loss but they’re a different beast at home and Latics should be prepared for a tough afternoon.

Latics Team News

The month off will have done Latics a world of good. For the last few weeks before the break we were struggling numbers wise and players were picking up injuries with frightening regularity. Hopefully all of that is past us now.

The squad spent some time on a warm weather training camp in Turkey with the new manager and played a warm up match against Dutch side Roda JC. We lost 2-1 but it should mean the players have a bit of match fitness in their legs. We know Millwall do so we need to match them in that regard. 

Jason Kerr aside I believe everyone has recovered from the injuries they carried into the break. Ben Amos was back in full training which gives Kolo a big decision to make in goal. Jamie Jones has probably been the better of the two this season so I’m expecting him to get the nod.

Ryan Nyambe should’ve recovered from his injury by now and reports suggest his absence from training this week was due to illness. Given the lack of training I doubt he’ll make the 18 and with Tendayi Darikwa’s performances starting to find an upward trend he’ll keep his place in the side.

Jack Whatmough is nailed on to start but I’m interested to see who partners him. Curtis Tilt is the man who has partnered him more often but there are doubts around whether or not he suits the way Kolo Toure wants to play. REG is someone who does slightly more I’d say but whether he’ll come into the side immediately I’m not sure.

The left back spot is another intriguing one. Tom Pearce has had an injury ridden season but he also seemed very out of favour under Leam. He may be given an opportunity to impress the new manager but a lack of match fitness will be a worry. James McClean was handed the Captains armband in the friendly we played in Turkey whilst playing in defence so perhaps he’s Toure’s man.

The manager also has a full quota of CMs to pick from. I’d imagine 2 of Tom Naylor, Max Power, Graeme Shinnie and Jordan Cousins will start in the middle and again you’d imagine it’ll be whoever has impressed the new staff the most since their arrival. Perhaps it’s time for the Cousins X Shinnie link up that fans have been craving for months!

Going forward it sounds like we’ll be slightly more exciting, with all due respect to the former management team. The players will all feel like they have a chance to impress and in attacking areas we definitely need to separate the good from the bad, as harsh as that may sound.

Scully and Fletcher barely got a look in under Leam but are both available for selection. Perhaps the change in manager is the catalyst they need to kick on and impress with more opportunities on the pitch. I wouldn’t be surprised if both make the bench tomorrow afternoon.

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 someone far more knowledgeable on Millwall than myself!

1) From the outside it looks like Millwall have made a really impressive start to the Championship campaign. What’ve you made of the Lion’s season so far?

“Millwall’s season so far has been defined by extreme highs and pretty devastating lows. The start of the season, at least after the opening day win against Stoke City, was pretty appalling. The Lions won just one of their six Championship games in August and were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by League One strugglers Cambridge United.

Things improved ahead of the September international break, but consistency was still a major issue, highlighted by a 2-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. It prompted Gary Rowett to switch from his preferred back five to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which kickstarted a five-match unbeaten run in October against some of the pre-season promotion favourites.

Consistency has still been the major issue. For every 3-0 win against Watford, there’s a dire 0-0 draw at home to ten-man Hull City. It seems to always be one extreme or the other, which has frustrated a lot of the fanbase. Overall, Millwall are only out of the top six on goal difference, which is a pretty brilliant position to be in heading into the second half of the campaign.” [@alexjNAD]

2) Millwall have a head start on Latics in a way having played a game last weekend after the World Cup break. It didn’t go to plan though with a 3-0 loss to Sunderland, do you think that’s the rustiness out of the way?

“I think it certainly helps that Millwall got their Championship return out of the way early on despite the result. Sunderland was always going to be a tough first game back – a newly promoted side with a number of talented individuals like Amad Diallo, Alex Pritchard and former Lions loan target Ellis Simms. Add to that a fierce atmosphere in front of almost 40,000 fans, and it felt like a bit of a recipe for disaster from the start.

There were some significant frustrations. Firstly, Sunderland’s home record has been nothing short of abysmal so far this season and they were still able to hand Millwall their heaviest defeat of the season. Secondly, the Lions actually played really well in the first half, showing no rustiness at all, and they were unlucky not to lead going into the break. The second half was a totally different story, however, and they were made to pay for wasting their chances int he first 45. It was never a 3-0 game though.

Nonetheless, it puts Millwall in a much better position in terms of their preparation going into their December fixtures, especially Saturday’s game against Wigan. I think the Latics may take some time to adapt to Kolo Touré’s style of play.” [@alexjNAD]

3) You’ve got the 3rd best home record in the division, and the Den is notoriously a tough place to go. What do you think makes this team so good at home?

“Millwall’s home record has been notoriously strong for a long time now. The obvious answer is that the atmosphere is simply incredible. I’d argue that Lions fans create the most hostile environment of any side in this division and a lot of away teams crack under the pressure when they visit SE16.

It seems to be a mentality thing more than anything else, however. Millwall are usually pretty poor on the road, which I think is purely a lack of confidence. Just when you think they’ve turned a corner (like in their 4-2 win at Preston), they collapse at the next possible opportunity (like their 3-0 defeat at Sunderland). You see the total opposite at The Den, where every player plays like they’re 10ft tall. The contrast is huge and Rowett is still working hard to try and find out how to level things out.” [@alexjNAD]

4) There are several good players in the Millwall team, but who do you think Latics fans should be fearful of come Saturday afternoon?

“Zian Flemming is the obvious stand out. He’s been Millwall’s best player so far this season by a considerable margin.

At his best, the Dutchman is easily one of the top players in the entire division. He’s the complete package – a physical attacking midfielder, a ruthless finisher, a creative outlet and just a really energetic presence at the heart of the team. He’s still adapting to English football, and once he hits his peak I have no doubt that he’ll be playing at a much higher level. It’s really important that the Lions don’t rely on him too much though, because his consistency isn’t quite there yet.

Weirdly enough, I’d argue that Jake Cooper is Millwall’s second biggest threat. The centre-back is a giant and a huge reason why they have by far the best set-piece record in the Championship. If he isn’t scoring headers, he’s flicking the ball on for someone else to knock it in. It usually takes two or three opponents to mark him properly given his size. He’s crucial to this Millwall team.” [@alexjNAD]

Tactical Talk

In all honesty I don’t really know what to expect from Kolo Toure and his staff for this game. The only thing we have to go off was our friendly against Roda JC in which we played a 4-2-3-1 system and looked keen on ball retention and fast transitions, a stark difference to how things were at times under Leam. There seems to be a real intention to keep the ball on the floor under this new management group which is exciting.

A real problem for us this season has been building passages of play patiently up the pitch. With the 4-2-3-1 system that Leam set us up in it relied a lot on our number 10 acting as a second striker rather than a third midfielder. This, combined with a lack of genuine creativity in CM, made our build up play very stretched and very predictable.

The first thing I’d like to see is a more withdrawn number 10. Will Keane has made the ‘shadow striker’ role his own but he needs to get the balance right more often. If he can drop off and link play with our 2 CMs that will allow our wide men to make runs either side of our single striker, and in turn give us more attacking options.

Having our number 10 ‘in the hole’ gives our wingers more space as you can see. When pushed right up alongside our striker the space out wide is cramped and it leaves a gaping hole in our midfield. Against a Millwall side who also play 4-2-3-1 regularly we can’t afford to be stretched in central areas. The Lions’ CAM Zian Flemming is superb in that position and shows how impactful a good player in that role can be.

The Dutchman has been wonderful this season and stopping him needs to be high on our to do list. He loves to get himself into shooting positions and averages over 3 shots per 90, with 39% of these efforts hitting the target. He’s not greedy though, averaging just under 1 chance created and 1.89 accurate passes into the final third per 90.

Similarly to how Latics coped with Joao Pedro against Watford I think we need to get bodies in front of him limiting his service. Shinnie and Cousins, or whoever plays in CM need to do a good job of screening in front of him whilst Whatmough and his CB partner need to make sure they aren’t dragged out of position by his clever movements.

In terms of patterns of play, match tempo and pressing traps I don’t have a clue what to expect from Latics if I’m honest! This’ll be a really interesting game to watch to see how, if at all, things have changed under Kolo’s management. I’m looking forward to it

Final Thoughts

It’s good to be back! It’s the start of a new era at Wigan Athletic and I think we all need to get behind this group as best we can. I’m not sure how long it’ll take for the new manager’s ideas to be implemented but we’ve got a bit of time. This second section of the season is much longer than the first so we can afford a bedding in period, just not for too long!

An away trip to Millwall is as tough a start as we can get though. Their home record is immense but we shouldn’t forget how impressive we were away from home at the start of the season, hopefully we recapture that form tomorrow afternoon.

Many people’s focus tomorrow will be on England’s World Cup Quarter Final with France but first things first Kolo Toure’s Wigan Athletic are in action, and all eyes should be on that! Lets hope they bring home the 3 points!

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