Return of the Mac – Wild move?

Appeal

It is easy to see why many Latics fans yearn for the nostalgic return of Callum McManaman and Yanic Wildschut. Both players excelled in their previous stints at Wigan. Players with excellent 1v1 ability have historically excited Wigan fans; think N’Zogbia, Moses. McManaman and Wildschut are no different.

McManaman came through the academy and went on to tear Gael Clichy and Pablo Zabaleta apart on the club’s most historic day ever. Wildschut arrived on loan as a relative unknown before cementing himself as one of the key performers in the 2015-2016 League One winning campaign. Through their relentlessness and trickery, both players developed strong relationships with the fans. Halcyon days. It would be a fairytale to see them back at the club, wouldn’t it? The lads, back where they belong. Or would it?

Worth it?

Both players would presumably eat up a considerable amount of Wigan’s budget for the forthcoming season. Latics are still without a starting left back and arguably need strong reinforcements in central midfield. There are four wingers currently at the club – Jacobs, Massey, Colclough and Walker. It would not be smart to add two wingers to a team that needs additions in other key positions, considering their respective records since leaving the club.

Since departing, McManaman has only scored ONCE and assisted FOUR times in 35 Championship appearances for Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday. Similarly, Wildschut has managed just TWO goals and ONE assist in 35 Championship appearances for Norwich and Cardiff. Put it this way: McManaman has directly contributed towards a goal every seven matches, and Wildschut once in approximately every twelve. Very poor output for two players expected to make a significant contribution to their clubs’ goal tallies.

Square pegs?

Massey and Jacobs, Wigan’s starting wingers, have different tactical profiles to McManaman and Wildschut. They often come infield to allow the full backs to get high and wide, a key feature of Paul Cook’s successful system. A beneficiary of Massey moving infield is Nathan Byrne, who chipped in with 6 assists in 44 League One appearances last term. Byrne is allowed freedom of the right wing to utilise his outstanding dribbling and crossing abilities.

Pic1
A typical scene, here vs Rotherham. Jacobs and Massey moving infield forces the opposition to shift over, freeing up Byrne on the opposite side.

 

The wingers moving centrally also provides support for Grigg and Powell, who usually look to run in behind. If Wigan lose the ball high up in central areas, they have the numbers to press the ball immediately. This forces the opposition to either clear the ball long into a predictable area, where Burn and Dunkley can use their physical advantage to regain the ball, or to play the ball wide, where Wigan can press towards the sideline to use it as an extra layer of pressure.

McManaman and Wildschut operate differently. They like to hug the touchline. McManaman’s most productive spell came when Roberto Martinez was at the helm. To unlock McManaman’s 1v1 ability, Martinez used the principle of overloading to isolate. In simple terms, Wigan would build up play on the left-hand side, creating 2v1s or 3v2s to force the opposition to shift over. This would create a 1v1 on the right-hand side where a switch of play would allow McManaman the space required to beat his man. McManaman is not particularly quick nor great in tight areas, but his impeccable timing of runs allows him to use momentum to beat his man when given a large amount of space.

Due to the intense, attacking nature of McManaman’s game, he often tires early in matches and does not have the capacity to make long recovery sprints when the ball is lost. McManaman operating on the same wing as Byrne could cause some issues. Firstly, both players being caught attacking high up the pitch could leave Wigan’s right-hand side open to exploitation on the counter. Secondly, as McManaman doesn’t come infield, both players taking up the same space would make each player less effective. Given Byrne’s key role in Wigan’s attacking play, would McManaman’s attacking contribution be worth the sacrifice of defensive solidity or Byrne’s effectiveness?

Wildschut also excels 1v1, but like McManaman he is not adept in tight spaces. The difference, however, is that Wildschut’s 1v1 ability shines mainly in transition, where he uses his blistering pace and power to beat his man in large spaces. During his initial spell at Wigan, Wildschut would often stay high up the pitch when defending to be available to receive the ball in as much space as possible when Wigan regained possession. Upon receiving, Wildschut would usually knock the ball 15 yards or so ahead of his opponent before leaving them in the dust. Although questions were posed over Wildschut’s end product, his ability to get Wigan in the final third after long stints of defending released great pressure from his teammates and helped to create many chances.

Tight fit?

Although McManaman and Wildschut may not fit into Cook’s current system, the difference in tactical profiles of the pair may be of benefit to Wigan in the Championship. Presumably, Latics won’t dominate matches as much next season. This means fewer sustained periods of possession, which diminishes the ability to control transitions because players aren’t set in positions to press to win the ball back quickly. In matches where Wigan try to control possession but cannot control transitions,  Wildschut could be a huge threat by providing an outlet on counter-attacks. Where Wigan control possession and control transitions, isolating McManaman 1v1 could be a key asset.

A solution for Wigan in matches where they won’t see the ball for long periods would be for the full backs to feature in more limited roles. There would be less space for the opposition to exploit in transition and the wingers would be granted more space to work with. However, can Wigan afford the luxury of two wingers that contribute little defensively? Championship sides will exploit Latics’ weaknesses more than in League One. Nostalgia aside, Wigan could benefit from adding one of the old boys to provide an alternative attacking threat. As the last Championship campaign showed, balance is key.

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