West Bromwich Albion (A) Preview

With time running out for Wigan Athletic to mount our survival bid we travel to the West Midlands to take on West Bromwich Albion. After a battling 1-1 draw against another midlands team Birmingham City we’re in desperate need of 3 points, and with this being our game in hand on those around us it’s imperative that we get something from it.

Saturday’s match showed another side of Latics as we dominated possession more than we have in any other game this season. Despite seeing 70% of the ball we couldn’t break through a sturdy Blues defence and it highlighted the weaknesses in our squad. There were glimpses of creativity but unfortunately, the goal aside, we looked short of quality in the final third.

Opponents West Brom will be keen to put an end to their recent poor run of form and are very dangerous at home. Carlos Corberan is an impressive young manager and they’ll be looking at this as a must win game, so we’ll have to be at our best defensively whilst also being much more clinical going forward. It’s a big ask.

Latics Team News

The weekend brought more good and bad news on the injury front for Latics. Omar Rekik returned to the starting 11 and looked very good in his 60 minutes on the pitch, but Callum Lang missed out after picking up a painful knock against Preston. Maloney suggested the issue was a dead leg and that he might be back for this game.

The fact that we had the majority of the ball should hopefully mean the majority of players are fit enough to go again in midweek as they didn’t spend all game chasing the opposition. We also managed to make it through without any injuries that I can make out so touch wood we’ve got a full squad of players to pick from, minus those already out long term.

Ben Amos will remain in goal but unfortunately we’re starting to see a return to the norm from him this season. At the start of the Maloney reign he was impressive but we’re starting to see him be beaten by efforts you’d expect him to save and it feels like the confidence in him is starting to go again. Fingers crossed we see him back to his best again in this one.

Defensively I thought we looked fine once again against Blues and baring that 2 minute manic spell in the second half we never looked under pressure. Jack Whatmough had one of the best CB performances I’ve ever seen to be honest and Charlie Hughes and Omar Rekik both looked good on and off the ball. It’s a travesty that we’re in the bottom 3 with a defence that good.

Ryan Nyambe got the nod at RWB and was veryy unlucky to give away a soft penalty. Going forward he continues to look uncomfortable but had some nice moments which should see him keep his spot, especially as we’ll need him defensively. James McClean got an assist with a nice cross but again still isn’t being as effective as he can be going forward.

For the first time ever I’ve not got heaps of praise for our midfield pairing after the game. I still thought Max Power was solid and tried everything he could to spark us into life, but Christ Tiehi didn’t have any real impact on the game apart from giving away the free kick from which they scored! He was hooked at half time so should be fit to impress in this game though.

Going forward we picked Thelo, Sinani and Fletcher which is a trio I like. They struggled somewhat first half but when both were given slightly more free roles after half time we saw the best from them. I wouldn’t make a change up top, fitness permitting, as I feel like they give us the best chance of creating chances when we don’t have much of the ball, which I expect will be the case against WBA.

If Lang can make the bench I reckon him and Keane can make big impacts as the game goes on. We didn’t have many attacking options at the weekend, only Keane and Magennis really, so being able to add Lang to that would be ideal. I was impressed with Keane on Saturday and was pleased to see him not slowing play down as much as he has done recently. He was also very unlucky not to grab a goal.

An Opposition View

As always I’ve called in the help of somebody far more knowledgeable about West Bromwich Albion than myself to contribute to this section of the preview!

1) A lot has happened and a lot has changed since these two sides met in late August for that turgid 1-1 draw at the DW. Can you give us a brief summary of how West Brom have got on since the reverse fixture?

“Albion have done well since we last played, we’ve gone from being around/ in the relegation zone, to being 7 points off the play-offs with a game in hand.” [@AnalyticsWba]

2) New boss Carlos Corberan has had a mixed start to his reign at the Hawthorns, starting so brightly but tailing off results wise in recent games. What’ve you made of him, especially in comparison to former boss Steve Bruce?

“I’m really pleased we’ve got Corberán and I think he’s doing a fantastic job. I’d say we’ve only really had poor performance in a game and a half under him – Birmingham away and the first half of Watford away. We look comfortable to switch between styles as well. We’re happy to sit in and wait for opportunities to counter, but we’re also happy in games that we dominate the ball and have to break down a low block.” [@AnalyticsWba]

3) Your home form is really impressive and you’ve not lost there since October. Why do you think you’re so impressive at the Hawthorns, is there a stylistic difference or perhaps a motivating atmosphere from the stands?

“Our home form has been fantastic, we just seem to be extremely solid. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why we’ve been so much better at home than away, but there’s been a difference.” [@AnalyticsWba]

4) Despite being hit with injuries to a few players you’ve still got a starting 11 to rival most in this division. Who are the in form players you’re hoping will be the difference against Latics?

“John Swift has hit a bit of form and looks to be really enjoying his football – he’s getting involved all over the pitch, trying tricks and just looking threatening. Daryl Dike is an interesting one, it seems a lot of Albion fans don’t rate him that highly. He’s getting a lot of good chances but hasn’t been extremely clinical. He also doesn’t do much outside of the box, which might be why some fans don’t rate him.” [@AnalyticsWba]

Tactical Talk

Shaun Maloney continues to impress me with his in-game management and Saturday only furthered this. At half time it was clear things weren’t working well so he made the huge call to sub off our best player, bring on a forward for a midfielder and go for broke. It came within a few inches of working out perfectly.

The tactical change itself was rather drastic and definitely lifted the crowd when it became clear we were going for it. We went from a very obviously structured 3-4-2-1 to a new look and quite frankly bonkers 3-1-4-2 with Keane and Fletcher up top together. Max Power was the deep midfielder and Sinani and Thelo took up slightly deeper roles.

The way Thelo and Sinani played in the second half was something we’ve not seen from either of them in a Wigan shirt. Both saw much more of the ball than they’re used to (Thelo with 34 passes compared to his usual 24 per90, and Sinani with 56 passes compared to his usual 42 per90). However, they didn’t manage to do much with it.

Sinani only attempted three passes into the penalty area during the game, with two of this not reaching their intended target. Thelo didn’t attempt any.

There are several ways you can look at this and several things you can put it down to. I’ve seen a few people on social media blaming the tactics / set up as the reason why we’re not breaking teams down but I disagree wholeheartedly with that. Yes, we’re set up to remain defensively solid as a priority over free flowing attacking football but that’s not the reason for our struggles going forward.

The truth is we’re very one dimensional in attack. There’s little to no pace, not much long range shooting threat and a very obvious method in which we build our play. It’s focused on getting the ball into crossing areas or into the half spaces between opposition lines, but that’s very easy to defend against when our attack isn’t threatening.

We need someone with pace to force opponents a few yards deeper and open up space for our ’10s’ to operate in. If we don’t have a threat in behind the opposition it limits us hugely and that’s currently the case with us. Will Keane coming on made us look more threatening but only because we had another body in attack, not because he offers anything particularly different to someone like Ashley Fletcher.

This game with West Brom is a game for both Keane and Fletcher. Firstly, they’re both tall players who give us great threat in the air and against a side that have struggled against set pieces and crosses that could be the point of difference for us. Secondly, they’ll both provide targets at the top end of the pitch for us to hit and hopefully relieve pressure when Albion have spells of possession.

Pairing them with a more creative midfielder would be my choice, or if the plan is to be extra defensively solid maybe push Christ further forward with Naylor and Power slightly behind. We have to accept this’ll be a game that we’re under pressure in at times and maybe starting with a three man midfield will help us cope. Naylor also adds that height I’ve just spoken about which could be key.

Final Thoughts

A few weeks ago games like this were ‘free hits’ against sides far better than us. Well now they’re must wins, regardless of the talent discrepancy between us and our opponents.

Latics can’t afford anymore slip ups and this game in hand offers us the chance to close the gap on our competitors. It won’t be easy and not many are expecting us to pull off a result but if there was ever a time to unleash the Wigan DNA it’s right now. It’s win or bust from now until May I’m afraid.

Up. The. Tics!

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