Watford (A) Match Preview

It is NEVER dull as a Wigan Athletic fan. I know a lot of clubs around the country probably say the same but let’s be honest, a crazy day for most clubs would be a pretty boring one at Latics. A week of ownership questioning, rumour spreading and all round tediousness has finally come to an end. Every single member of staff travelling to Watford is a hero and has our utmost respect, and hopefully this match can take their minds off things

Wedged in between the crazy week off the pitch was a pretty brave and positive performance on it. We drew 1-1 with Coventry City and probably could’ve come away with all three points had we been slightly more clinical. We’ve heard that before haven’t we? We probably played our best looking football that night too which was nice to see.

We’re travelling to Vicarage Road to take on Watford tomorrow afternoon, who are (unsurprisingly) on their third permanent manager of the season. Chris Wilder is now at the helm after replacing Slaven Billic and this’ll be the Sheffield born gaffer’s 2nd home match at his new club. If they have any chance of the play-offs it’s a must win…

Latics Team News

Thankfully it looks like we came through Tuesday’s game injury free, and with Omar Rekik’s one match suspension served we’ve got a nice group of players to choose from. We were also boosted by the return of Charlie Wyke who has been in and out of the team all season, and hopefully he’s now fit to last the run in. We certainly need him.

Ben Amos continues to divide opinions with his goalkeeping performances. He made a wonderful save in the last minute to earn Latics a draw, but was also very much at fault for Coventry’s only goal. He needed to be more commanding in his penalty box but remained glued to his line allowing a free header to beat him. He made amends with the 1v1 save, but still leaves a lot to be desired.

Charlie Hughes was the only recognised CB on the pitch for the last 15 minutes on Tuesday night, a sign of how far he’s come in his short career to date. He’s mature beyond his years and clearly has all the technical attributes to go far in the game, although as expected there’s still a lot of fine tuning that needs doing. As breakout seasons go though, he’s having a belter.

Steven Caulker replaced Omar Rekik in the side and looked assured at the back. I’d personally keep him in the squad and have Rekik replace Nyambe on the left of the back three, mainly because it’ll allow him to get on the ball in better areas. Watford also have a bully of a striker in Keinan Davis and we’ve seen Rekik struggle 1v1 against these kind of players. Caulker won’t.

There’s genuine competition at Wing Back now which is nice. James McClean and Tom Pearce both have strong cases for a spot in the starting 11 on the left, as do Ryan Nyambe and Tendayi Darikwa on the right. Maloney tends to make tactical changes rather than leave his team unchanged so it’ll be interesting to see who gets the nod.

Christ Tiehi was back to his best against Coventry and looked a class above the rest in his 60 minutes on the pitch. Alongside Max Power he did well to control the game against a three-man midfield and was unlucky to be subbed off as we hunted for an equaliser. If the pair of them can continue that kind of form we’ll have a great chance.

Danel Sinani had his best game in a Latics shirt on Tuesday and was unlucky not to score a couple of goals. Will Keane also ought to have scored his first goal in two months, but scuffed an effort from a few yards out straight at the goalkeeper. He’s lost his touch in front of goal somewhat in recent games and we’re really struggling without him in that department.

Ashley Fletcher is on loan from Watford so won’t be available for the game, and that gives opportunity to a fringe player to get a go in the starting 11. Wyke and Magennis are both back and could start, or we might go with Lang or Aasgaard in favour of a more fluid but less physical front three, with Keane as the 9. Again, it’s nice to have options.

An Opposition View

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

1) Latics and Watford last met in late October during a really tough period for us. It ended 1-0 that day but a lot has happened since then, so as best you can, can you sum up the past few months at Vicarage Road for us?

“It’s been a real rollercoaster of emotions and new management. It’s not like we’re not use to it, but even by our standards, 3 managers in one season is a bit much. Basket case of a season since we last saw you guys.”

2) It’s well known that Watford get through managers quicker than most, and Chris Wilder recently became your third permanent gaffer of the season. Firstly, your thoughts on Slaven Billic’s sacking, and secondly your thoughts on his replacement?

“It’s a roll of the dice, we are desperate to make the playoffs, and the club decided that Billic’s style of play and approach to tactics was 1,000,000 Miles from what their idea was. Wilder has 11 cup finals, as I write this he’s won 1 and lost 1. This has got a draw written all over it.”

3) Despite being hotly tipped by some to bounce straight back up the Premier League your chances of a play-off place look slim right now. Has it been an underwhelming campaign or are you where you expected to be?

“Our season has been like going on a once in a lifetime holiday, and it rains every day. Very dull with the odd bit of fun. In truth it’s been a terrible season, but that has more to do with what’s happening off the pitch then on it.”

4) As I’ve mentioned lots of people had high hopes for this squad of players, but who are you expecting to be the key difference maker against Latics in this game?

“It’s a tough one to answer as Wilder is changing formation and our style of play with the ball. Two players I will give you that could cause you problems. João Pedro scored the last time we meet, so he’s definitely one to watch, the other is Imran Louza. A central midfielder, that on his day could play for a top 6 side in the Premier league, he’s been hampered with injuries, but hopefully he’s on the way back.”

Tactical Talk

I have to admit I am a huge fan of the style of play Shaun Maloney is trying to implement at the club. I would say the first half against Coventry on Tuesday night was the most ‘easy on the eye’ a Wigan team has been in years, and that includes the league winning team from last year. Unfortunately we’re not effective as they were, albeit in a tougher league, but I really see the potential for success in the future with this philosophy.

The reality is relegation will help us bed that style of play in even more, so in theory the fact we are doomed for the drop isn’t THAT bad. This squad of players, which is likely to be very different come the first game of next season, aren’t really suited to the way Maloney wants to play so having a clean slate to build on could really help us.

This shows the average positions from the Coventry game and as you can see we were pretty aggressive. Both wing backs were high up, as was Ryan Nyambe who is starting to look rather assured as a LCB. I’m still not convinced it’s his best position but he’s doing a good job filling in.

The other notable thing I take from this map is the fact we flooded the left side of the pitch. Max Power, who usually lines up on the right of our midfield 2, is very close to his partner Christ Tiehi on the left, whilst Will Keane and Ashley Fletcher are also pushed over to that side of the pitch slightly.

That left Danel Sinani and Tendayi Darikwa in acres of space on the right and both came close to opening the scoring for us in the first half. The way we created chances for them by overloading one side of the pitch and then switching the ball quickly was really impressive and I expect us to attempt a similar tactic against a Watford side who set up identically to Coventry.

However, I could go on about tactics and data and all the sorts of things these previews usually include, as I have done above. However, I’m conscious of the fact that the squad of players travelling down to Watford will not be thinking of this kind of thing right now. They’ll be wanting to know where their next pay cheque is coming from, not where they may be able to hurt Watford tomorrow afternoon…

Final Thoughts

We’ve all had a lot to say about this group of players this season but right now, regardless of what happens in the next nine games, these lads deserve our complete respect. They’re turning up to work without being paid and putting their all in, and I’m sure anyone who is a fan of the club can appreciate their need for our support.

I’ll end this match preview with a simple message to our ownership group Phoenix 2021 Ltd:

Pay these players, in full, or get out of our club…

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