Luton Town (H) Match Preview

For what feels like the tenth time this season Wigan Athletic prepare to take on Luton Town, just 4 days after our FA Cup Third Round replay that ended in a heart-breaking 97th minute defeat. The general consensus amongst Latics fans is that we’ll start to forget about that result if we come away with the points from this game, but that’s certainly easier said than done.

Our last league outing saw Kolo Touré secure the second point of his tenure in a dramatic game against Cardiff City. There were some positives to take from that game and with our 3 new signings available for selection you’d like to think we’re in a better place to attack this game than we were on Tuesday night. Because let’s be honest, Tuesday was woeful.

Luton will undoubtedly be buoyed by the result in midweek but we’ve got to hope a long week of travelling will have taken its toll on them. They worked unbelievably hard on Tuesday night so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a few changes, and with the FA Cup Fourth Round coming up next weekend they might have one eye on that.

Latics Team News

We seem to have a revolving door of injuries at the minute. Midweek saw Joe Bennett and Callum Lang withdrawn with injuries, adding them to the list of injuries including Charlie Wyke, Tom Pearce, Jordan Cousins and Jason Kerr. On the plus side, Jack Whatmough returned from a back injury to partner Charlie Hughes and Curtis Tilt.

Ben Amos seems to have reclaimed the Goalkeeper spot which isn’t surprising considering Jamie Jones’ awful record post World Cup. Neither of them are convincing, or particularly good for that matter, and I still think we need to secure a new stopper before January ends. It seems unlikely though annoyingly as I’m not confident with either of them seeing the season out.

Charlie Hughes has shown himself to be a genuine class act at Centre Back. He’s one of our best passers of the ball, strong in the tackle and positionally well aware the majority of the time. I’d like to see him on the left of a back 3, Jack Whatmough on the right and Steven Caulker return to the side at the heart of defence. That’s a trio I can feel confident in both on and off the ball. Curtis Tilt drops out, obviously. I’m not sure how much explanation that needs…

Ryan Nyambe and James McClean have sort of gone under the radar in recent games which is a good thing to be honest. They’ve not been spectacular but they’ve been solid enough and that’s all we can ask for at this stage. They offer energy and endeavour in wide areas but we could probably do with a bit more creativity from the pair of them. I’m happy with them though.

The midfield is an interesting one. Firstly, Max Power has to be dropped. He’s played every minute of league football this season and has looked well below par in about 95% of those minutes. In midweek he performed his trademarked point, moan and blame routine that has happened in most games this season which is genuinely infuriating. He was one of my favourite ever Wigan players at the start of this season but he’s harming his reputation weekly right now.

I’d replace him with Miguel Azeez. Him and Naylor give us a decent mix of defensive solidity and creative spark which is what we need from a midfield pivot. With the 3 defenders I’ve mentioned behind them there will be slightly more licence for Azeez to push forward and support the front 3. Christ Tiehi could also debut in this role which would be interesting.

The front 3 has to include Thelo Aasgaard, I don’t really care who else as long as he’s in there. Firstly, he’s our most creative player and should be the first name on the team sheet regardless of who we’re playing. However, this game especially because Luton are probably scared to death of him at the minute. He netted at their place, he netted midweek and hopefully he does so again.

Will Keane and Ashley Fletcher seem like the most likely combination which I’d be happy with. If Callum Lang is back he might play instead of Fletcher but I wonder if he’s be more effective off the bench in this game, especially if he’s not 100% fit. Attacking reinforcements Scully and Magennis could play important roles too.

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 somebody far more knowledgeable on Luton than myself!

1) It feels as though Wigan and Luton have played each other 10 times this season already, playing out a win, draw and defeat each. What’ve you made of Latics in the games you’ve seen?

The most recent game aside, I think your game management against us has been hard for us to deal with, especially in the Championship game. You’ve got some talent in your squad too, Aasgaard has scored two against us already this season and he’s been one I’ve rated for a while. [@wearelutontown]

 2) The most recent game, an FA Cup Third Round replay, ended with a 97th minute winner for the Hatters. Do you think that result will give you the psychological edge coming into Saturday?

Expecting a different game, we’re both in need of a win for different reasons and we’ll have both learnt a lot in the last few weeks about each other, so I think it’ll be a much more of a possession based approach from us wanting to attack with more purpose than we did on Tuesday.

We’ll go in with confidence though, we’ll believe we can come away with all three points. [@wearelutontown]

 3) Rob Edwards is enjoying life at Luton Town and looks like a fantastic appointment so far. Do you believe he’s capable of leading you into the playoffs and beyond with his style of play?

It’s an early call I think, but you get a gut feeling about managers and even in a short space of time I get the feeling he’ll continuously improve us, he’s still early on in his managerial career so he’s got scope to grow too, but playoffs might be one step too far this season, not out of the question though.

I predicted 8th/9th in pre-season and I don’t think we’ll be too far away from that. [@wearelutontown]

 4) The two squads know each other pretty well at the moment I’m sure, but who in your squad do you think will be the match winner(s) for Luton Town?

Carlton Morris is the obvious choice, but equally, Tom Lockyer has earned us points at the back this season too. [@wearelutontown]

Tactical Talk

Kolo seems to be favouring this back 5 formation now and I think there’s good reason for that. Obviously the primary reason for playing a back 5 is to limit space in the defensive third and, in theory, make yourself more defensively secure. Against teams that play a two-man attack like Luton it also gives us a numerical advantage and should make marking easier.

Obviously all of this is ‘in theory’. As we’ve seen in every game under Kolo there’s still a lot of work to be done in the defensive department and we’re still waiting for our first clean sheet under him. The introduction of Steven Caulker to our back 3 (and the probable exclusion of Curtis Tilt) will help us massively. But personnel isn’t the only solution.

We have to be better at keeping the ball, which should be easier with a back 3. However, in the first cup tie with Luton and against Cardiff we managed just 31% and 36% possession respectively. That’s mainly because we didn’t set up in a way that supports ball retention. It was, and this will probably annoy the Leam inners amongst you, prime Richardson ball. Not good.

The biggest problem is a lack of options to pass to, particularly when our defenders have the ball. The outside Centre Backs found themselves bereft of options so many times against Cardiff and it forced them to play a combined 30 long balls, completing just 7. That’s 23 times we lost the ball in completely avoidable circumstances.

Here is the problem. The 3 lines are Hughes’ passing options: a simple pass out to Nyambe who is in a vulnerable position easy to press, an incisive through ball to Power that would need to be threaded through the eye of a needle or a switch of play towards Cousins who is marked and difficult to reach accurately. Naylor isn’t showing for the ball at all so there isn’t a good option for Hughes to pick out.

The black circle is where we need a player to be. Naylor’s position is fine if he was partnered by another deeper lying playmaker, but as he’s the top of the midfield triangle it isn’t. Cousins and Power being high up the pitch is a nice way of stretching the opponents defensive structure but there’s no point doing that if there’s nobody to pick the ball up in the spaces left behind.

This is much better. The most important thing to note in this image is the position of Naylor and Keane. It looks like we’re set up in a 3-4-1-2 system despite the fact we’re still in the same 3-1-4-2 system from the previous image. So I’m going to ask you to use your imagination and assume Naylor is a CB here not the DM, and Keane is the AM here not the ST. Sorted? Great.

The pass out to Nyambe still isn’t ideal as he’s really easy to press with the touchline directly behind him, but that’s fine as other options are showing themselves. Max Power drops off to show for the ball and is in a nice amount of space to turn and move forward. Cousins is still stretching the play with his high and wide position. Keane picks up a nice space in the space between defence and midfield created by Power’s willingness to drop deep. Immediately you can see there are more options for Hughes.

To put it simply, a double pivot works better with a player in front of them rather than behind them. With the AM in place there’s more room for the CMs to drop into and receive the ball in rather than them having to stay higher up the pitch so as not to cramp the space occupied by a DM. Its why we need somebody like Azeez or Christ to come in, show for the ball in deeper areas and drive forward with it into the space available. Power and Cousins aren’t those types of players.

This isn’t the only thing that needs changing obviously but I hope this has shown you how a simple change in system could change our fortunes. We need to be better on the ball and create more chances, and we can’t do one without the other. Also, as obvious as it sounds, we can’t concede when we’ve got the ball so lets keep it more!

That being said, I think this Wigan team probably could concede whilst having the ball. We’ve managed to concede in plenty of weird and whacky ways this season, perhaps that’s next…

Final Thoughts

At this point I’m starting to believe the laws of averages are all a load of rubbish, because SURELY by now we should’ve had a win or two. Maybe this is the game that sends us on our way to a miraculous second half of the season that ensures survival and sends us on our way to world domination under Kolo Touré.

Maybe that’s a little ambitious but what I say about the laws of averages is true. At some point you’d think we do actually have to win. Whether its this game I don’t know, but it certainly needs to be as we’re slowly being cut adrift by our rivals at the bottom. We’ve drawn and lot against Luton in the past two weeks, so there’s only one result missing…

Also there might be some potential new signings looking at this game to decide whether or not they fancy joining Latics. Lets put a show on for them, and lets try and get ourselves up the table so a certain Jesse Marsch can get off our backs…

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