Wigan Athletic Sensible Transfers – Attacking Midfield

Part four of my sensible transfers series will cover the Attacking Midfield area, as its the top end of the pitch that we’ve struggled with at times this season. Its certainly not a priority compared to the other positions so check out those articles too!

Attacking midfield wasn’t the most requested position but given the lack of quality depth we have in that position it seems like an important position to address this window. Players like Gwion Edwards, Antony Scully and Ashley Fletcher not getting much of a look in we might need to bring in some fresh faces to bolster our front line.

The Current Options

I should clarify what I mean by ‘Attacking Midfielders’ before I delve any further into things. These are all players that can operate across the 3 behind the striker in our 4-2-3-1 system and bring creativity, pace, a goal scoring threat and pressing intelligence to the side. The players in our current squad that can fill these positions are as follows.

Top scorer Will Keane who is a shoe in in the number 10 role, fans favourite and enigmatic winger Callum Lang, the evergreen Latics legend James McClean, academy graduate Thelo Aasgaard who’s having a real breakout year, summer signing that seems to have gone missing Antony Scully and the injury prone Gwion Edwards. Nathan Broadhead has played there too but I’d rather see him as our striker for the rest of the season.

Scully and Edwards haven’t played enough minutes to create a good statistical report for so I’ll focus on the other 4 names mentioned. However, for what its worth I think we need to give Scully much more of a chance on the left and we need to do our best to get Gwion Edwards off our wage bill by selling him in January.

Will Keane

God knows where Latics would be without Will Keane’s goals this season! Last season’s Golden Boot winner has hit the ground running from a goal scoring point of view this season and has netted 8 of our 23 goals.

His 0.3xG per 90 show that he’s the main player we search for in attacking areas, and he’s scoring exactly level with his xG which is promising. He’s a key player and until we have a clinical striker we’re going to have to keep playing him as he’s a huge source of goals.

In terms of chance creation he hasn’t offered much but that was definitely down to the system he played in. Under Kolo we’ve definitely seen him more involved in the build up which is positive as he’s a really technically gifted player. We need more of that.

I also think Keane is a really important player for our press. His positioning and decision making is something I’ve spoken a lot about before and in Kolo’s system I think having an intelligent defensive player at the top of the pitch will be really beneficial.

If we can get Keane on the ball in a more natural Number 10 role we’ll see the best of him. He’s probably the only person in our squad capable of playing there and with his goal scoring record we need him in the side until we start getting more goals from elsewhere.

Callum Lang

Callum Lang has settled into life in the Championship relatively well I think. He started the season really well but after picking up a couple of injuries he’s only just finding his feet again. His two games under Kolo have been brilliant though and it fills me with lots of hope.

Despite him passing ‘the eye test’ statistically he’s been well below par this season. He doesn’t find himself above the 50% mark in any attacking or possession metric besides touches in the penalty area which is slightly worrying, but stats don’t tell the whole story with him.

3.09 shot creating actions is below average in the league but still pretty decent compared for the rest of our squad. His ability to get Latics up the pitch and into dangerous areas is better than anyone else in the squad and in that sense he’s vital.

We know how hard he works off the ball and he’s putting up some impressive defensive numbers. In our new system having energy and a desire to do the defensive side of the game will be vital for our forwards and nobody embodies that more than Callum Lang.

He also brings unquantifiable things to the side. His passion for the club and his ability to get fans on their feet is something no one else really has and he uses it to his advantage often. The only thing is, please stop with the diving Langy!

James McClean

If things don’t improve in the Left Back department we might not even be seeing Jimmy Mac this high up the pitch! He’s spent a lot of time at LWB this season but he’s still at his best on the left of a front 3 in my opinion, and if we’re to see the best of him it’ll be there.

At 33 he doesn’t have as much pace as he did in his first spell at the club but there’s still arguably nobody better at getting the ball out of his feet and delivering a cross from out wide in the squad. However, that’s probably not going to be too much use in Kolo’s system.

McClean’s netted twice this season, a calm finish against Norwich in August and a direct corner against Blackpool last month, a pretty disappointing return for a player of his quality. He’s not afraid of taking shots but I’d like to see him be a bit more clinical in front of goal.

He see’s a lot of the ball every game, partly down to the fact he takes set pieces, but has been indifferent with the ball at his feet. His delivery hasn’t quite been up to scratch this season despite his 4 assists. Only one of those has come from open play too which is a problem.

When he’s on it though he’s one of the best players in the team. Defensively he’s really good for a winger and works harder than most, so I have no doubt we’ll see a lot of him as the season goes on.

Thelo Aasgaard

Thelo Aasgaard is Latics’ next big thing. The 20 year old has enjoyed a breakout season in the Championship and has impressed in the majority of games he’s played. He probably hasn’t featured as much as he should’ve but hopefully that changes soon.

He has a youthful flair about him that nobody else at the club does and there are things he’s tried in matches that others would hurt themselves attempting! I feel like he fits into Kolo’s philosophy perfectly, especially given our coach’s history of developing young talent.

2.65 shot creating actions per 90 isn’t a lot but in a system that will allow him to see more of the ball I’m expecting him to thrive. He’s probably the most technically gifted player at the club as his high pass completion shows, and completing a dribble a game too is a nice plus.

I was quite surprised to see his defensive stats, it turns out he’s the greatest defensive winger of all time! I guess he’s aided by his lack of minutes but even so it shows that he’s a player that works very hard for the team, which is rare for a flair player.

Personally I’d start him week in week out. He needs game time to allow him to shine and with us seeing more possession nowadays that’ll only make him better.

Current Squad Summary

The starting options in this area of the pitch are actually pretty decent. Will Keane has the CAM role nailed down, Callum Lang is a top player on the right and McClean and Thelo offer great options down the left. The problem comes when we talk about squad depth. The only options we have are Scully and Edwards, one who isn’t being given a chance and the other who isn’t good enough for the level.

We don’t really need drastic improvements to the starting 11 like in the other positions I’ve covered with my articles. With that in mind I’m going to look at options that would add depth to several positions and don’t necessarily have to come in as starters.

As always I’ll be looking at 4 primary targets as well as a few special mentions, evaluating their play style, their physical suitability to the Championship and Touré’s system, their room for development and how much it’ll cost us to bring them here. Lets get into it.

Target 1 – Kwame Poku

The first name on my list, and probably the most ambitious one, is Peterborough United forward Kwame Poku. The 21 year old has enjoyed a stellar season in League One this year after dropping out of the second tier with Posh last term, and I’d like Latics to offer him an immediate return to the level in January.

He’s been one of if not the best player in a Peterborough side that is sitting just outside of the top 6 at the time of writing. Despite only being 21 years old he seems to have the trust of his team mates and his manager, and given his experience at Championship level last season I’d imagine he’d slot into our squad pretty well.

Players like Poku will always come at a premium though, particularly as he’s only 21 and has 2.5 years left on his contract. He’s an exciting young attacking player and has turned into a real fans favourite at the Weston Homes Stadium thanks to his pace, trickery and impressive final ball with his strong left foot.

For the most part this season he’s played on the right of a front 3 in either a 3-4-3 or a 4-3-3 system, cutting inside and creating opportunities with crosses, incisive passes or direct shots on goal.

An xG of 0.12 and an xA of 0.19 per 90 show that he’s heavily involved in his sides attacking play. I think this is largely down to his pace and flair, it allows him to create something out of nothing as well as be a key cog in more patient build up.

His 7.02 dribbles per 90 is incredibly high and as I’ve said several times, we’re crying out for pace and creativity going forward. Someone like Poku can play a key role with and without the ball, his technical ability makes him good in possession and his speed and dribbling makes him a huge asset on the counter attack.

1.59 shot assists and 0.94 key passes per 90 are also really impressive figures. An injection of pace and creation could be the final piece of the puzzle out wide in our side and the fact he’s a left footer on the right gives us an alternative option and the ability to play two inverted wingers with Thelo on the left.

The main issue with this deal is the price. I’d imagine Posh would want well over £1 million plus add ons for the 21 year old and I’m not sure we’d be willing to pay that much until we’re safe in the Championship. Posh are also a historically tough club to negotiate with and always get a good deal for their players so we might not want to enter such negotiations with them for a player we don’t absolutely need. He’s the best player on this list but also the most difficult to get.

Target 2 – Paul Smyth

This is a rare one from me, I’ve picked two players in a row that have Championship experience! Leyton Orient hot shot Paul Smyth is on fire this season in League Two and his goals have fired the O’s to the top of the league. The 25 year old is finally showing the ability those at QPR knew he had, and perhaps the time is right to move back to the Championship.

He scored 2 in 19 Championship games for QPR and never really good much of a run in the team, with the majority of those appearances coming from the bench. He went on several loan moves before eventually finding a permanent home at Orient where he’s settled in well and is starting to look like a player far too good for League Two level.

He’s a natural winger that can play through the middle as well so would add depth to four positions in the Latics side. In that sense he’s quite similar to Antony Scully, a goal scoring forward capable of playing across the front line. He’s not rapid but certainly adds pace to our front line and has the technical game for the second tier I’m sure.

Despite playing out wide he’s accruing an average xG per 90 of 0.31, almost double what Callum Lang is managing. Obviously Smyth is playing in a dominant side and Lang definitely isn’t but its still testament to his off the ball movement and match intelligence that he’s getting so many chances.

He’s not much of a creator and is differently more of an Inside Forward than Inverted Winger. He could actually be a really good alternative to Keane in the goal scoring number 10 role as he has the ability to start attacks as well as finish them.

His 6.69 dribbles per 90 help get his team up the pitch and that’s how he creates the majority of his chances. His movement combined with his long range shooting makes him very dangerous within 30 yards of the opposition goal.

I’ve mentioned before how we need to start firing shots off more often and Smyth would certainly do that. He averages well over 2 shots per 90 and has already scored from outside the box this season.

The worry is similarly to Scully we’ll bring in an in form attacker, not make them a key figure in the squad and they’ll fail to impress. Leyton Orient will probably want a decent fee for him despite the fact he’s out of contract in the summer, but I don’t think its an overly difficult deal to do. The question is, is this just a purple patch for Smyth or is he finally realising his potential and hitting the levels of a Championship player?

Target 3 – Joe Gelhardt

Show me a Wigan fan that doesn’t want to see Joe ‘Joffy’ Gelhardt return on loan to Latics and I’ll show you a Wigan fan that’s lying! The wonderkid who left Latics during our stint in administration looks likely to be made available for loan by Leeds United this window and where better for him to kickstart his career than at the club that gave him a career?

The 20 year old has been in and around the Leeds first team for 18 months now but for whatever reason hasn’t been able to nail down a starting spot in their side. He’s had a lot of impressive moments and people around the country acknowledge that he’s probably going to be an England international in the future, but he needs a run of games to show his talent.

He joined Leeds when Marcello Bielsa was in charge and the Argentinian icon really changed Gelhardt’s physical build. He’s a strong, quick and agile forward who has developed a lot since he last played for Latics. At 20 years old he needs to play though and given our coaching staff’s collective desire to develop young talent it feels like the perfect place for Joffy to come.

Here are Gelhardt’s stats compared against every player in the top 5 European leagues. As you can see, there’s a reason why he’s one of the most highly rated youngsters in the country and it is slightly baffling that he’s not getting more of a chance under Jesse Marsch.

With Leeds in a relegation scrap though they’re sticking to what they know and that gives us the chance to loan Joffy in. Everyone knows what he offers going forward – pace, creativity, flair and a wicked eye for goal. He’s the definition of ‘creating something from nothing’.

An xG of 0.40 and an xA of 0.22 per 90 is incredibly high and you’d imagine that would only increase playing in an easier league. He’s played everywhere in the forward line including behind the striker at Leeds but I’d imagine he’d be the number 9 at Latics.

Not only is he wonderful with the ball, his work rate off it is second to none. Having worked at Leeds for over 2 years now he knows how to press, when to press and where to press which will be invaluable in our new look system. As he cares about the club there’s hopefully no worry of him being one of those loan players that don’t put the work in either.

The excitement he’d bring to our fans would be unbelievable as well. We love a home grown player and the potential of having him alongside Lang and Thelo in a forward line is so exciting.

If he becomes available for loan every Championship club will be keen. We’ve just got to hope that the combination of our new look coaching team, our style of play and his history with the club puts us in the driving seat for his signature. His final game for Latics was the game that relegated us to League One, wouldn’t it be great if he got the chance to put that right…

Target 4 – Anis Mehmeti

Wycombe Wanderers forward Anis Mehmeti has caught the ye this season in League One and is ready for the step up. He’s netted 8 goals and made 2 assists in a Wycombe side that, as many of you will remember, play a brand of football that isn’t particularly suited to technical, agile attackers like Mehmeti.

He’s got a lot of talent on the ball and despite being just 21 years old his tactical brain seems to be really impressive. Having played in a long ball system for the last 3 seasons he’s become really adept at picking up second balls and positioning himself in dangerous areas to receive the ball.

Mehmeti is another player that has Championship experience, featuring for 1500 minutes in the 2020/21 season. This has been his most impressive season to date though and I have no doubt Championship clubs will start inquiring about his services. He’s contracted till 2024 and Wycombe don’t look like getting promoted so he may be willing to move.

He’s been more of a goal scoring midfielder than a creative one this season which is slightly surprising as I’d always have called him the latter. He’s very Thelo-like with his dribbling and isn’t afraid to try the spectacular, something I like from a forward player.

Mehmeti has been encouraged to shoot more this season it seems and his 2.36 shots per 90 suggest he’s more than comfortable doing so. His long range shooting is something I’d love to see added to our squad.

With 7.71 dribbles per 90 its apparent that Mehmeti is a talented technician. He mainly plays as a number 10 but drifts out wide and into space to pick up the ball on the half turn and drive towards goal at pace.

His set pieces are pretty decent which you’d expect from somebody as technically gifted as him. None of the previous 3 names mentioned are set piece takers and given Max Power’s and James McClean’s inconsistency with them this season it’d be good to have a reliable option.

Another thing I really like about him is that he’s entirely comfortable using both feet. You can never have too many of those players in your side and it allows him to play on either side of the pitch.

It might be a difficult deal to do but I can see him costing around the £1 million mark. The thing is, baring a disaster, I have no doubt we’d make a healthy profit on him in years to come and the initial fee could look like a steal further down the line. He should be playing Championship football and there’s not much chance of that happening with Wycombe anytime soon.

Notable Mentions

Those are my 4 main targets but there a a few other players that are worth a mention. They don’t quite make my main shortlist for one of several reasons, either their availability, the cost of bringing them in, their current ability or the fact they might need a bit more time to prove themselves. However, should they become available they’d definitely be good signings for Latics this January.

Target 5 – Ben McCormack

19 Y/O St Pat’s Athletic attacking midfielder who is available on a small fee compensation deal this winter. Averaged 0.5 goal involvements per 90 in the Irish Premiership last season from CAM earning himself several Irish U19 call ups. Composed on the ball, great eye for a pass and excellent first touch taking the ball under pressure.

Should be a very cheap option but not ready for first team football yet. Would add depth in the position and comes in as ‘one for the future’ who can also feature here and there this season. Would perhaps need to come in alongside one of the more prominent names in this article, but one to watch.

Target 6 – Niklas Jensen

18 Y/O Norwegian U19 international playing for top division Brann in his homeland. CAM/LW on the whole, very much a playmaker who can also play deeper if needed. Averaging 0.48 goal involvements per 90 in his first season of pro football, and is underperforming against his xG/xA which suggests there’s even more to come from him.

The doubts would be around his willingness to move to a new country and his suitability physically. Will definitely get a move to a more established league soon, Latics could take the risk and have him around the squad but feels unlikely given our desperation to stay up. More established options available…

Target 7 – Will Patching

Another talented Irish midfielder who enjoyed a great season for Derry City last season. 10 goals and 5 assists in 30 appearances last season from AM and ranks highly for xG and xA per 90 too. Tall and physically capable player with a trusty technique but as with lots of players from LOI might find the transition to the Championship difficult.

Contracted to the end of 2023 but can’t imagine the fee would be too much. Perhaps we could strike a deal that seems James McClean go the other way at some point as we know he’s keen to return to his hometown club.

Target 8 – Jamie McGrath

Does this name sound familiar?! Latics loaned him out to Dundee Utd in the summer and he’s been really good there so far this season, becoming one of the most creative players in the division. Can play the number 10 role in a similar way to Keane or could play a deeper playmaking role, or even out wide if needs be.

I’m unsure if there’s a recall clause in the contract but if there is we might as well use it. The cheapest option and he’s a quality player that deserves a fresh start under the new manager. However, the current signs suggest he’ll be finishing the season north of the border.

Final Thoughts

That’s all for my January Sensible Transfers series. I’ll be releasing a summary article soon though, so stay tuned for that!

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