Whilst not being totally off just yet it’s fair to say this might be one Great Escape too far for Wigan Athletic. Our loss at Bramall Lane on Good Friday along with results going against us elsewhere means we realistically need to win every game and hope results go our way in order to stand a chance of survival.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that’s entirely unlikely but until it’s mathematically impossible I’ll keep writing it! We might as well go all out for the win in every game now and I don’t think many fans would take issue with that. A bit of entertainment and hopefully 6 wins would certainly be a nice end to the season…
Swansea are pretty much ‘on the beach’ now after their play-off push fizzled out. They’re a side that could turn up and wallop us is they’re on it but equally could turn up, roll over and not put in as much effort as a side that needs the points desperately. I’m certainly hoping the latter is the case this afternoon.
Latics Team News
After Friday’s game it’s clear to see Shaun Maloney isn’t in the business of setting up to draw games. It makes sense given the situation we’re in but even so it’s hard to actually put it into practice when you’re in the heat of the moment. We came through the Sheffield United game without any notable injuries so assuming fitness levels are adequate we might be able to go into this one unchanged.
Ben Amos has arguably had his two best games in a Latics shirt this past week and was unfortunate to end up on the losing side at Bramall Lane given his heroics. We’ll need this form to continue if we’ve any chance of staying up but it’s nice to see him proving his worth as a shot stopper. The only frustrating thing is it’s taken this long to happen!
The defensive unit is improving game by game too which is another positive. Considering Rekik, Whatmough and Hughes are all still relatively inexperienced they’ve come together to create a wonderful trio and look really solid. At times against Sheffield United they struggled with the waves of pressure but you’d like to think the task will be slightly easier today.
Wingbacks Tendayi Darikwa and James McClean both made goal saving interventions to keep the Blades to just the one goal as they also continue to improve their performance levels. As I seem to be saying in every preview though we need the improvements to be made going forward rather than back because the lack of goals is crippling.
Christ Tiehi was substituted early in the second half so he should be fit to play again, whilst midfield partner Max Power doesn’t seem to know anything other than starting and finishing every game. They were always going to struggle against a Premier League quality midfield, Swansea will allow them slightly more room to maneuverer.
Thelo Aasgaard’s inclusion from the start on Friday was probably his toughest challenge to date. Whilst he didn’t get much of a look in on the ball he still had our best chance of the match and showed that he can belong at this level. With Sinani out for the season I want to see him start as many games as possible ahead of what will be a big season for him next year.
Callum Lang worked his socks off as he always does and was perhaps unlucky not to create anything last time out. He’ll be vital in the transition from defence to attack against a possession hungry Swansea side, and if he can link up with strike partner Ashley Fletcher we might score 2 goals in a game for the second time since, well, the last Swansea game!
Swansea City are one of the most tactically unique sides in the league and they’re not the kind of team that we can carry plans over from other games in order to nullify them. Often we can press teams in a similar way which makes the preparation slightly easier, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that this time around.
In the reverse fixture back in November we were limited to just 22% of the ball and 4 shots in our 2-2 draw. Both of our goals came from set pieces and it goes without saying that that’ll be a bug part of our game this time around. I’d like to think we’re much more suited to going toe to toe with them on the ball this time under Shaun Maloney’s stewardship.
They’ve changed their system since the last time we played them too, going from a 3-4-2-1 type to a 4-3-1-2 diamond midfield formation. Since changing to this system they’ve taken 7 points from a possible 9 so you’d say it’s working! The challenge for Latics will be limiting them to few chances and ideally shots from range that pose little threat.
What we are a lot better at is funnelling our opponents’ play into less dangerous areas. A lot of attacks we face come in wide areas as teams look to get outside our narrow defensive structure, and this is something Sheffield United did well. However, against a Swansea team that are pretty narrow in their build up we might be okay.
In terms of our play going forward I can’t stress enough how much I want us to start shooting from range. I know we might not have the players that make it a likely route to goals but I do feel like it’s something we don’t try enough. Whether we win a corner from it, it forces a rebound opportunity or the ball goes straight in it’s something we aren’t making use of.
I feel like we’re guilty of overplaying at times which is as much a decision making fault as it is a fault of the system we’re playing. It’s a criticism that gets put on a lot of possession focused teams that they choose to prioritise territory over shooting, none more so than Pep’s Manchester City. I see a lot of chat on social media about their reluctance to shoot from range so it’s definitely not just a Wigan problem.
Getting our 10s into little pockets of space where they can turn and shoot in is vital and we know that they’re capable of it, especially Thelo. However, as I’ve already mentioned we may well be starved of the ball at times this afternoon so making the most of it when we have it will be tricky. It’s sort of a damned if we do damned if we don’t kind of situation.
The facts are survival is no longer in our hands and we require huge favours from a lot of teams in the division, but I’m sure stranger things have happened…
All we can do is approach every game as a must win and go from there. Play on the front foot, show off the attacking talent we haven’t demonstrated enough for this season and in some cases, prove that you’re worth keeping around next season. There are contracts to be earnt this close to the end of the season.
Let’s just put a smile on Latics fans’ faces. We’ve not had much to smile about for a while…