Pete Reece, aka Noel Wards Leg, analyses a burning topic
One of the most hotly contested topics on the Latics Speyk forum continues to be about our style of play. A good proportion of our fans are asking, ‘where has our patient, skilful play gone and has it been replaced by a more pragmatic approach to the Championship?’
After ten matches in total, it is possible that a pattern is starting to emerge and while it may not be what we’re used to, it could eventually be more exciting and effective than what has gone before. Piecing together evidence from those matches, the point of this article is to suggest that Owen Coyle may well have a favoured style in mind which does the double trick of utilising the players at his disposal and finding a way through the Championship mire.
Let’s start with the most recent match since it contains the most clues as to where Coyle may be heading.
A few things stood out about the Ipswich match. Firstly, we were on the defensive for a large part of the game but there did seem to be a pattern to our defensive play as we threw bodies in the way to block shots (something in evidence against Waregem too) and also on a number of occasions we forced Ipswich to pass the ball back to their keeper as we pressed the ball. It was perhaps the hardest-working performance of the Championship season so far.
Secondly, we tried to utilise the pace of McManaman and McClean to get at the Ipswich defence. Also noticeable was the way that Carson tried to play directly to those players, admittedly with kicking which wasn’t always accurate. However, we did counter quickly at times, the corner for the first goal coming from a break by McManaman, and against Zulte, Latics’ attempts to counter-attack were apparent the longer the game went on. This aspect of our play is consistent with Coyle’s stated desire to play it out from the back, using wingers to beat the full-backs.
Pressing has become a feature of our play this season, very often in the opponents’ half of the pitch. The first game where this was evident was against Bournemouth, when we harried their defence when in possession of the ball. It was interesting that one fan on the forum castigated Coyle for his supposed tactical ineptness in that game as he was heard to shout ”Run!” at his players. ‘Lauf!’ (‘run’ in English) is one of Juergen Klopp’s favourite words at Borussia Dortmund, possibly the best team in the world at playing the high pressing, counter-attacking game.
However, these observations still leave us with some unanswered questions. How would a relatively immobile Grant Holt fit into that style of play? Are our players fit enough? Why have we only seen such evidence in snippets? How can skilful players like Gomez and Beausejour be utilised? Will our counter-attacking revolve around launching high balls to a big centre-forward? And perhaps, most importantly of all, is one style enough in an ultra-competitive division?
Clearly, whatever is happening is a work in progress and, of course, these observations may not be indicative of a style at all. However, I suspect that in his time out of the game when he was watching games all around Europe, Owen Coyle has looked at the style of clubs like Dortmund (and many others in the Bundesliga where counter-attacking is almost a religion) and found their style more to his taste than the Spanish tiki-taka. Personally, I have to agree. I loved watching our attempts to become a proper footballing side over the last four years and the football that Barcelona have played has been at times sublime. Sometimes, however, such a style can seem sterile and pointless as the ball is passed around relentlessly at the back.
But here’s the rub, you can’t have a high-pressing, counter-attacking style without expending huge amounts of energy and how do you then rest? After starting at Liverpool, Brendan Rogers made the point that the reason you see teams recycle the ball so much is because they are resting. And the more you run, the more you will need to rest. Something perhaps that we were trying to do at Barnsley as we put long phases of passing together.
So, this may just be the future at Wigan Athletic: resilient defending, pressing the ball, fast counter-attacking where possible and resting in possession when no break is on. Oh, and one more thing, if you want fast countering, you can’t have defenders just ‘putting their foot through it’. They need to pass it accurately out of defence to set up an attack. The days of hairy moments in our own half may not yet be over.
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