The 2011/12 Premier League season may still be in it’s infancy with 11 games not really enough to gauge how certain teams will do over the course the year. However one thing is becoming certain with each passing week – relegation is a strong possibility for Wigan Athletic. Roberto Martinez’s side have had a disastrous start to the campaign taking only five points from a possible 33 and finding themselves rooted to the bottom of the table after a club record eight defeats on the spin.
The Latics have escaped the dreaded drop for two years in a row narrowly surviving by the skin of their teeth as others perished, dropping into the gloomy waters of the Championship. Martinez, who took over the reins at the DW Stadium from the relatively successful Steve Bruce, has failed to build on the progress made by his predecessor. Last season they clung onto their Premier League status by the narrowest of narrow margins but their current crusade to extend their Premier League stay to an eighth year looks to be a lost cause as they find themselves embroiled in yet another battle to avoid relegation. Is their time in the top flight finally coming to an end?
Answering this question is simple and although it might cause angry Latics fans to point and snarl at the number of games played this season, Wigan’s performances have been frighteningly poor. Draws in their opening two games were followed by their only win of the season against QPR on the 27th August with Sunday’s defeat against Wolves their eight in succession. It’s rather bewildering to see the club in this position once again because they actually do play some quality football at times. Martinez has always been an advocate of controlled, passing football and he has instilled that philosophy into his players. I was at St James’ Park two weeks ago to watch them take on Newcastle and for large parts of the game they were the better side. Their disciplined defending and smooth passing and movement to retain the ball frustrated the Magpies although it all meant nothing in the end as Yohan Cabaye won the game with a phenomenal goal in the dying embers. But watching that performance highlighted two key aspects of Wigan’s play that have contributed to their rapid slide to the foot of the table.
I will say that their midfield impressed me a fortnight ago with Ben Watson, James McCarthy, Mohamed Diame and Victor Moses all look competent footballers who could perform key roles in better teams. If they had a goal getting centre forward and a solid back four either side them then Wigan would be in business. Regrettably they have neither they are the two biggest issues that currently exist in the squad. Again it’s mystifying as to why the Latics have struggled to find the back of the net this season with their fans treated to only seven league goals this season. With a front pairing of Hugo Rodallega and Franco Di Santo you’d expect the net to be bulging on a regular basis. That isn’t the case and whilst the latter started the season in prolific form his goals have dried up and performances become substandard. Worringly the same affliction has fell at the feet of Rodallega who has yet to score this season despite being gifted a countless number of chances to break his duck. The once deadly Colombian seems to have lost his knack of scoring, snatching at chances he would normally bury and it looks as if his confidence has sunk to rock bottom. The simple fact of the matter is that you need a goalscorer in your ranks to survive in the top flight. Wigan have suffered ever since the departure of Charles N’Zogbia in the summer as the Frenchman single handedly kept them up last season before moving to Aston Villa and his source of goals has yet to be replaced. Di Santo, Moses and Rodallega have three between them and with backup in the shape of the relatively unknown Connor Sammon staying up is going to be a tough ask.
The same goes for a defence which has been breached on 20 occasions already this season and has shown no signs of tightening up. The once ingredient that is missing from the Wigan back line is pace with players like Gary Caldwell, Antonio Alcaraz and Maynor Figueroa hardly blessed with natural speed. Heading, tackling and booting the ball away from danger are their main attributes but when it comes to a simple foot race they get beaten each and every time. At times it can be too easy for teams to saunter through a defence that appears to lack little or no structure with players constantly out of position giving teams the opportunity to break the offside trap. Steve Gohouri has to be the worst culprit and I don’t know how many times i’ve seen him make a mistake that has proved costly to his team. A lack of quality, discipline and structure in the back four is giving teams an easy ride and three home defeats in a row is a worrying sign for the DW fans. I’ll go out on a limb and say that they will be playing Championship football next season. Despite possessing a good set of midfield players its those in front and behind that are under performing and in the cut and thrust of the Premier League it’s not enough to keep your head above water. Relegation could be a blessing in disguise for Martinez and his men and as much as I hate making assumptions at such an early stage of the campaign the writing is on the wall for Wigan.
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