Wigan learn lessons from Guardiola and Mazzarri
Published: 06.05.12 / Written by: David Gold
Wigan's revival this season has been truly extraordinary.
They are a team noted for their late season dash for safety, having successfully avoided relegation on the last day in the last two campaigns. But none has been quite as spectacular as this seasonís clamber to safety. They have beaten Liverpool and Arsenal away from home, Manchester United at the DW, and pulverised Newcastle last week. The same Newcastle that is, who have been in superb form both before and since that defeat.
So why the sudden improvement? What has happened? For one thing, as Roberto Martinez says, they have a bit of confidence, of good arrogance. The victory over Liverpool game them belief, and subsequent wins over Manchester United and Arsenal meant they took on Newcastle with the confidence as well as belief they would win. And it really showed.
Wiganís system though has changed throughout the season as Martinez has searched for his best first eleven. He has stumbled onto a brilliant system which borrows from both Barcelona and Napoli. When Barca won away to Real Madrid earlier this season, 3-1, Guardiola made an intriguing tweak to his team. Losing, he pushed Dani Alves forward to create a midfield four, but pulled Eric Abidal across from the left and into the centre, making a back three. With Sergio Busquets dropping back, this could turn into a back four with Carles Puyol moving into the right back position.
Martinez has done something similarly innovative, with Emerson Boyce pushed forward into what is a midfield four, with James MacArthur, James McCarthy and Jean Beausejour. Boyce can drop back into defence though to create a four, but it means when attacking that Wigan have a back three. The back three was seemingly dead a few years ago though, because of the increasing use of sole strikers up front. Since that has happened, there is only a need for two centre backs, the third is spare. What Wigan have done with their spare defender is pushed him forward, as against Newcastle, when Maynor Figueroa rampaged forward into space from the left.
Going forward, Wigan are quite similar to the Napoli team who have been so impressive recently. Though Napoli are subtly different, preferring the opposition to come onto them before launching their attacks, whereas Wigan prefer to take the game to their opponents, the shape is similar. There are two players out wide, in Beausejour and Boyce, who act as full backs, as there are with Napoli Ė Paolo Campagnaro and Christian Maggio.
Then there are two strong midfielders who are good on the ball in the centre; for Napoli read Gokhlan Inler and Walter Gargano, for Wigan McCarthy and McCarthur. And then Wigan have their Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik Ė Victor Moses and Jordi Gomez, with Franco di Santo acting as their Edinson Cavani.
Of course the Napoli players are superior to Wiganís, but the shape is similar and it invites itself well to taking on teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle, teams who take the game to you. Like Napoli, Wigan have a great record against the top teams. It will be interesting to see how they cope against smaller teams when they work them out and sit back too. But this is a tactically innovative, confident and technically good team, who will be far harder to beat than anyone could have imagined from now on.