Gary Caldwell’s 63rd minute goal at Anfield finally gave Wigan the 3 points that their performances have deserved in the last few matches. The winner from the Wigan captain might have come as a surprise to many but for Wigan fans, Caldwell epitomizes the ‘heart’ and ‘fight’ for their club. After frustrating draws against Norwich and West Brom, where they deserved more than just a point, victory against Liverpool has againAi??raisedAi??hope. Hope of a great escape from relegation, once again.

The Latics are currently in the 19th position in the league, but more importantly, are now just 1 point behind Bolton who are 17th in the table. Since Roberto Martinez took over at the club in 2009, he has successfully steered Wigan away from the drop. In the last season, Wigan were at the bottom of the table in March, and they managed a rise to 16th, 3 points above the drop-zone. This season, it seems, Wigan have found their way back in the race for ‘safety’. Roberto Martinez’s latest change in tactics is exactly what they have lacked throughout this season, and this will provide them the required impetus to move above the relegation zone.

Roberto Martinez : Wigan's Savior!

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Roberto Martinez is a respected man among fans as well as the pundits. This respect is not only due to the fact that he has kept Wigan up with such a small squad and a shoe string budget, but this respect is for the fact “how” he has done it. Ever since he has taken over at the club, he has installed a style of football that is pleasing to the eye.

He insists on keeping the ball on the ground and passing it. During his early days, English critics/media didn’t believe that a small team like Wigan can actually play Arsenal-like football and avoid relegation, but they did. Sam Allardyce’s school of football isn’t the only way to survive, Martinez proved it, as is Swansea are proving it this season.

Having said that, this season has been disappointing for Martinez, not because they find themselves in a relegation dog-fight once again, that was expected, but because the way they have looked dismantled at times.

With the heart and desire they have shown in the past few matches, they might again escape relegation, but Roberto Martinez, who is aAi??perfectionistAi??in many ways, will know, tactically he has got it wrong this season, atleast in the first half.

Let us now take a look at, what made Roberto so successful in previous years, what went wrong in-between, and what will again help him secure Wigan’s Premier league status.

Deviation from theAi??successfulAi??4-2-3-1

To know what has gone wrong this season, lets dwell on the past. When Roberto Martinez took over in 2009, heAi??successfully installed the 4-2-3-1 system into the team, with few variations. The Spaniards first game in charge was against Aston Villa in 2009, here is a look at the team that he set out at Villa Park.

The 4-2-3-1 formation used by Wigan against Villa in Aug'2009 (The complete arrows show the movements of the players while attacking, the dotted arrows show their defensive movement)

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Wigan won this match against Villa 2-0, with Rodallega and Koumas getting on the score-sheet. Martinez used this formation through-out the 2009/10 and 2010/11 season, as Wigan played some of the most eye-catching football in their history. Though they didn’t always get the desired result, they stuck to there principles of passing the ball.

The defense that Martinez had at his disposal was not the greatest, but they were allAi??experiencedAi??nonetheless. Caldwell was perhaps the best of the lot and Melchiot the most experienced. Figueroa was better going forward, than while defending. The weakness in defense showed as they conceded 79 goals that season, just 3 less than relegated Burnley.

Defense was never Wigan’s strong point though, it is when they moved forward they were at their best. Having said this, the stat of 37 goals in a season, doesn’t actually support that fact. But one has to remember, it was his first season in charge at Wigan, and the team was still adjusting to his new tactics and way of playing football. But their potential was truly reflected in their victories over Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal that season.

The team was full of ‘utility’ players, the sort of players who bring in tacticalAi??flexibility. Scharner could play both as an attacking/defensive midfielder and also as a center back, as showed in the formation above, he has played in all the outfield position for Wigan, other than as a left back. In fact he was mostly used as an attacking midfielder unlike the match shown above. Rodallega played both as the lone striker upfront and as a left wide forward/midfielder.

But the Colombian forward was certainly more dangerous out wide, as he loved to cut inside from the wings, while Nai??i??Zogbia on the right hand side provided balance to the team by staying wide and providing width. Nai??i??Zogbia and Rodallega complemented each other very well and both were dangerous from the counter-attack as well.

Jason Scotland and Marcelo Moreno were played up front, but that was mostly during home matches. Roberto Martinez put Rodallega up front in most of the away matches, as he played on the counter. This meant, Koumas and Moses would play on the left with Nai??i??Zogbia on the right.

Diame, Thomas and McCarthy shared the responsibility of sitting in front of the defense. Diame and Thomas built a wonderful partnership, where they controlled Wiganai??i??s passing game sitting deep. This provided cover to a relatively weak defense. The attacking midfielder role usually went to Scharner, with Gomez mostly making substitute appearances. Scharner was a player who was not only good going forward, but excellent while dropping deep and winning the ball.

The attack of Wigan was wonderfully balanced, with Rodallega cutting in from the left, it created space for Figueroa to move forward, which he did with aplomb. Melchiot was more defensive when compared to Figueroa, which provided the balance. The width on the right was maintained by Nai??i??Zogbia, which meant Melchiot could sit deep and form an almost 3-man defense with the two center backs, as Figueroa went on his adventurous runs forward.

Here is a look at the change in formation when Wigan attacked and defended –

This is the line-up was used during a 3-1 victory over Chelsea in 2009. Above image shows the change in formation while defending, note how Scharner dropped deep to form a 3-man blanket infront of the defense. Rodallega, Scotland and N’Zogbia pressed upfront and looked to use their pace on the break. The arrow shows the movement of the players while attacking. Note how Rodallega cuts inside from the left and Figueroa bombs forward into the space. N’Zogbia stays wide, while Melchiot stays back to form a back-three. Diame or Thomas take there turn to join Scharner up the field.

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Roberto Martinez has maintained this formation and tactics for the past two seasons. In 2010/11, Wigan again finished 16th, again upsetting the odds to survive on the final day, thanks mainly to a 78th minute headerAi??in the last game of the season against Stoke, and doing so while sticking to their principles of playing good football.

Last season though, the team was better defensively and even more potent on attack, thanks mainly to the wonderful form of Hugo Rodallega. They conceded 19 goals less than what they did in 2009/10. Though there were some changes in the names appearing in the starting line-up, the tactics used were the same. This tactical stability showed its results. But things have been far from stable this season, at least tactically.

N’Zogbia left and so did 4-2-3-1

Charles N’Zogbia, along with Rodallega, was the most important component of the Wigan team. The Englishman was the subject of a lot of attention from clubs all across England. Wigan were never in a financial position to hold on to their prized asset and finally in the summer last year, he was sold to Aston Villa.

After N’Zogbia left, Martinez didn’t buy any direct replacement for him. Moses has stepped up as the replacement, and he has done fairly well in the season so far. But the problem lies in the fact that Wigan have lacked fire power up front this season, this is mostly due to the fact that Rodallega, their leading marksman, has been unsettled and injured.

Franco Di Santo has scored just 4 goals till now, while Connor Sammon is yet to open his account. In fact, the midfield trio of James McArthur, Jordi Gomez and Victor Moses has scored more goals between them (10). Unsurprisingly, the Latics have scored just 27 goals this season, lowest in the league.

The problem for Roberto Martinez was how to form his team without N’Zogbia and Rodallega (who looks set for a move away next season). In James McCarthy, he had one of the most talented young midfielders in the league. With Di Santo up front, Martinez played Moses on the left (Normally where Rodallega would start) and Jordi Gomez, a versatile midfielder, on the right.

At the start of the season, the Spaniard moved away from the 4-2-3-1 and went in with a 4-1-4-1 formation. He used Watson as the holding midfielder, while Diame was played in a more attacking role, alongside McCarthy. But this move, neither helped in scoring goals as Wigan failed to make use of chances created up front due to the lack of clinical finishing, and it weakened their defense further, hence conceding 55 goals till now (3rd highest).

The most unsettling thing was Martinez’s constantAi??tinkering with the tactics, he has attempted using 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1. In fact, he even went in with 5 defenders in 5-4-1 and 5-3-2 formations, most recently against Swansea. This has highlighted the fact that the young tactician is unaware of his best eleven this season. At times this season, Martinez has been circumspect while picking up the team, he has gone in with a defensive mindset, and hence moving away from the principles he has set himself in the previous seasons.

The game against Norwich – the turning point?

The match against Norwich at Carrow road, could well prove to be the turning point of the season for Wigan. They drew 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes, but it was the intent that they can be proud of.

Roberto Martinez, after going in with defensive formations, finally left his inhibitionAi??and went in with an attacking formation of 3-4-3. Wigan dominated possession and had more shots on goal than the home side. Though they were again wasteful up front, managing to score just once, they have taken a positive step forward.

Wigan's 3-4-3 formation used against Norwich.

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In the next match, Wigan came up against West Brom. Martinez lined up his team in 4-4-1-1 formation, which turned more into 4-3-3 while attacking and 4-5-1 while defending. Di Santo was supported up front by Moses, who came inside from the wings, and Maloney from the middle. The match again ended in a draw even though Wigan were the better team. They had 60% possession and 21 shots on goal, but the problem remained converting those chances.

At Anfield, not even the staunchest of Wigan fans would have predicted a victory against Liverpool. But Martinez, once again proved that he is back to his ‘tactical’ best, believing in his footballing principles, and results are coming in. The Spaniard went in with a 4-3-3 formation.

This time Maloney, McArthur and McCarthy forming the midfield trio. They worked extremely hard to put off Liverpool, but the mostAi??heartening thing was the fact that out of the 8 chances created, they converted 2 of them, certainly a much healthier ratio.Ai??Shaun Maloney put in a good performance from midfield, and showed that he can be a regular starter.

Now with Rodallega set to come-back into the team in the next match, things suddenly look brighter for Wigan. Roberto Martinez has again brought back hopes of survival, and most importantly, brought back the Wigan we, neutrals, loved so much. The wonderful tale of Roberto’s Latics looks set to carry on, at least for another season.

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6 Responses to “Wigan Athletic’s Corner: Can Roberto Martinez’s Tactical Tweaks Avoid Relegation?”

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  1. worbo says:

    Good stuff though we have played 3 at the back for most of this season not just from Norwich away

    • Amlan Majumdar says:

      It is 5 at the back you are talking about I guess – that is if you exclude the two defenders played as wing backs.

      • Steve Balmer says:

        No, it’s 3 at the back. Also we’ve never played 4-4-2 under Martinez. Or 4-4-1-1. Leave the in depth analysis to the experts eh?

        • Amlan Majumdar says:

          They didn’t play 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 ? :-) This season in their 1-0 loss to Manchester City (16th Jan at DW stadium). They played 4-4-2. With Rodallega and Moses playing up-front. With Crusat and Gomez on the wings, while McArthur and McCarthy in the middle. Check this http://www.whoscored.com/Matches/506419/Live

          And they played in 4-4-1-1 in their recent victory against Stoke City :) With Santo upfront, Moses just behind him. Maloney and Beausejour on the wings. Check this – http://www.whoscored.com/Matches/507002/Live

          Coming to 3/5 at the back. They have played 3 and 5 both. Infact they have played two wing backs with 3 central defenders.