Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Wonder of Wigan’s New Tactic

Tom Moseley explains to The Football Front the beauty of Wigan's new system which has been reaping rewards instantly in the Premier League.  

Wigan’s new tactic has moved them away from the relegation zone, and 3 points clear from the bottom three, with a drastic turn in form, that’s put them 3rd in the Premier League form table, with four wins in their last seven. Their tactic can be ultra-defensive and be 5-4-1 with one striker left upfront, or it can be ultra-attacking and be 3-4-3, but the best part about it, is the fact it switches between the two in a matter of seconds.

In defence (especially against Arsenal) it very much looked like this…

Which, as you can see from the picture and presumably saw from the Arsenal game, it’s very hard to break down. Not only is there five at the back, the central midfielders also get back and defend deep, almost playing as holding midfielders. This results in almost a seven man defence and all practically on the edge of the box, meaning no space in behind for teams to exploit.

So Wigan can sit there and watch teams pass in front of them for however long before getting the ball and counter attacking. In a matter of seconds, and this is the main strength of this tactic. Wigan have the ability to turn a ‘backs against the wall’ situation to a ‘throw the kitchen sink at them’ situation and the most important people to do this are the full backs and winger, in my opinion. When they counter attacked against Arsenal, and got their two goals, the tactic went from the one above to something more like this…

I know it isn’t perfect or exact, but you can see what generally happens. The two wing-backs push forward down the line, providing the width, then the two ‘wingers’ from before, (if we’re talking about the Arsenal game,) Gomez and Moses, push inside and support the lone striker Di Santo. This works brilliantly as these two are inverted, so it’s similar to how Barcelona used to play, when their wingers were Henry and Messi or Ronaldinho and Messi and they used to be inverted, so they’d push inside and support Eto’o and then the full-backs, Alves and Abidal, would push up the line and provide the width.

But the only difference being Barcelona had one less defender and one more midfielder, but it's the overall same sort of mentality. Wigan's inverted wingers system works well because Moses and Gomez are two very creative players, which you can see from the game against Arsenal, with Gomez playing a lovely ball across the pitch for Wigan's first and Moses scoop turning then crossing for the second goal. It also leads to good passing as lots of channels would open up, if the opposing full-backs had to mark the attacking wing-backs because it means the inverted wingers could ‘float’ and get into the gaps between the full backs and centre backs, so that stretches defenders and also means there can be a nice bit of interplay between the wing-backs, wingers and forward in these kind of areas. However, the centre-midfielders are extremely important as well, as they provide the balance in the team, thus being able to control the tempo and help the team keep possession in attack. McCarthy and McCarthur had a passing accuracy of 94% and 88%, against Arsenal. Even though, they didn’t make lots and lots of passes, that is still tidy and crucial, especially when holding a lead, like they were. So, as you saw against Arsenal, the counter attacking ability of this tactic is amazing, with basically five attackers, which most defences, would struggle to deal against, as Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea all will tell you.

However, there is another transition, that’s different to these previous two mentioned above. This transition is in-between Wigan's ‘backs against the wall’ and ‘throwing the kitchen sink.’ The third system could be used when leading 1-0 and wanting to attack, but being balanced on not being caught on the break yourself and is basically a 4-2-3-1 and look like this…

This would happen when Beausejour pushed forward down the left, he would become the main left winger, then Figueroa would move over from centre-back and go left-back, creating a standard back four. Moses would then shift from the left to the right and Gomez would play just behind Di Santo, which is a good, relatively-attacking, formation, but also brilliant in my opinion, because Boyce wouldn’t push forward, he’d hold and play right-back, which means they can attack but still have a ‘normal’ back line so it would be hard to be broken against. As they aren’t throwing several bodies forward, then if they want to get back and go ‘backs against the wall’ again, it’s easy to do. All Wigan need is Beausejour to get back and Figueroa to move inside, then the two midfielders to track back as well.

I have to admit, I love this tactic.

I’ve always wanted a team to play with 3/5 at the back in the Premier League, as it’s what Cruijff did with Total Football. I've always been intrigued to see if it would work in the Premier League. And so far it has. Martinez has got it spot on.

I love the versatility of it, the way you can be defending for you lives, and then attacking at will in a matter of seconds. The middle transition, just makes the system that one bit better as you can be balanced as well and don’t have to go between the two ‘extremes’. The tactic has also been effective, with wins against Manchester United and Arsenal, I think, if they start better next year and continue to use this tactic and generally don’t do a ‘Wigan’ I think, they could have a comfortable finish. Well done Martinez, I think you’ve got it spot-on.

This article was written by Tom Moseley, you can follow him on Twitter: @PlayedOfThePark .Check out his website too:

More of Tom's work can be found here

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