Backline shifts could cost Wigan dear

I wrote an article a few months back arguing the case that Wigan could potentially be relegation favourites going into this new Premiership season, and while I wouldn’t hold too much store by just one result, the manner of the capitulation again newsboys’ Blackpool does have an awfully ominous feel to it.

Three of the four starters from last term’s defence have departed, and while it could be said that this was long overdue due to their appalling goals against tally of 79 goals, the second worst in the league last season only behind relegated Burnley, and a lack of clean sheets, with the side collecting only 8 in total all last season, it could perhaps be a case of too much change all at once.

This total was somewhat distorted by the 8-0 hammering by Chelsea on the final day of the season and the 9-1 defeat at White Hart Lane it has to be said though and in Paul Scharner and Titus Bramble, when fit and playing together, they at least had a capable central defensive partnership. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of the side’s character has meant that manager Roberto Martinez must have been unsure as to what team was going to turn up come match day, never a fine predicament to find yourself in as a manager.

With Paul Scharner, Titus Bramble and Mario Melchiot all having departed, the shifts in the defence were notable against Blackpool and the lack of organisation painful to watch at times. Titus Bramble, for all his error prone gaffes can be a solid centre half. He’s unlikely to ever shed the joke image he’s acquired over the years, and he’s not the sort of player that’s likely to shine to the casual viewer on Match of the Day, but he could be missed this season.

Melchiot’s departure will have gone unnoticed by many as he departed on a free transfer to Umm Salal at the end of last season, but he’s a widely experienced full-back at this level. His departure does leave a gap open at the back, and with Emerson Boyce pushed inside against Blackpool, a player whose undoubtedly not good enough postionally at this level to play at centre half, it left the relative Premiership newcomer Steve Gohouri to play at right back, and he had a nightmare.

Ronnie Stam has been brought in from Dutch champions FC Twente  for around the £3m mark and with a decent reputation but he only came off the bench against Blackpool, and will have to acclimatise to a new league quickly to head off any potential slump.

Maynor Figueroa looked destined all summer to depart to Roy Hodgson’s new look Liverpool side for around £5m, but after Emiliano Insua’s move to Fiorentina was called off due to the Argentine’s extortionate wage demands, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Honduran was forced to stay at the DW Stadium.

Paul Scharner has yet to find a new club after leaving on a free in the summer and he proved a valuable centre half in his time at Wigan. Capable of marshalling the backline with authority and chipping in with the odd important goal, he’ll be extremely difficult to replace and his versatility is a precious commodity for clubs in the lower reaches of the top flight.

And therein lies the problem, despite the arrival of Ronnie Stam and Antolin Alcaraz, Martinez has fundamentally failed to sort out the problems with the backline. Gary Caldwell was brought in during January last season, probably to offset the planned departure of Paul Scharner, but he’s failed to shine as yet and hasn’t looked comfortable in the Premiership since his move south of the border.

Experienced Premiership players are crucial to any club, but especially to clubs trying to sort out their failing back line and while Stam and Alcaraz may be good signings in the long run, a settling in period has to be allowed and the Premiership is not the sort of division where you can learn on the job. A move for someone such as Sol Campbell or Tal Ben Haim would have not gone a miss, and although wage demands will have come into it, those two know the league inside out and could have done a job for the Latics.

Wigan are a frustrating animal – creative, unpredictable and with the potential to beat the bigger sides in the league, on their day they can be a handful, but it’s at the back where their problems inherently are. It’s clear for all to see that Wigan are vulnerable when put under pressure, and last season’s 36 point total was achieved with the help of impressive victories over Arsenal and Chelsea, and these are not the sort of games you can rely to pick up points year on year.

They face Man City, Spurs and Chelsea in three of their next five league games, and with it unlikely that they’ll pick up points in any of these three fixtures, Martinez could be put under some severe pressure straight away.

Chris Kirkland is undoubtedly a fine goalkeeper, despite a shaky start against the Seasiders, the midfield looks in decent shape and so does the front line after it was bolstered with the arrival Mario Boselli, a player who’s looked promising in pre-season, to compliment Hugo Rodallega, but at the back they were pulled apart time and time again by Blackpool and it could prove a dangerous precursor for the rest of the season. The existing problems from last campaign have not been addressed and this

Written By James McManus

 


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