22.10.11 – Saturday 3pm
Location: St James’
Early prospects: Giddy, supremely confident.
Newcastle United entertain Wigan Athletic in the second half of back to back fixtures hosted by St James’ Park, looking to stretch their superb unbeaten run in all competitions to 14 matches.
With the general consensus now in agreement that NUFC have officially ‘played someone’ (and amply held their own at that), the attention now moves back to maximising the points on the board regardless of the opposition in question. A few mentions of challenging for Europe have started to surface, and is of course way premature (having barely played a quarter of the season) but with NUFC starting to show a few glimpses of real quality and the overall strategy which is more familiar in the archetypical progressive European sides such as Lyon, we can dare to be ambitious, if certainly not expectant…
Team Line-ups and Strategies:
After a dreadful five successive losses, our opposition will be looking to put themselves back on track in a less than perfect fixture for Roberto Martinez’s men.
Once again little change is expected of NUFC with the 442 layout and consistent XI delivering results beyond most expectation and, on the whole, performances to match. Alan Pardew’s curveball of introducing Davide Santon at RB, not LB, last week is a strong indication of Danny Simpson’s position being as much under threat as the out of position but over performing Ryan Taylor’s. Pardew has since went on to clarify that Simpson was taken off due to a lack of energy caused by off the field problems, so with this in mind the possiblity of Santon replacing him short term is a real one. Otherwise expect much the same as usual at home this term – possession based, fluid and attacking (*licks lips in anticipation*).
Wigan can welcome back prized asset Hugo Rodallega from injury to bolster an attack struggling to score goals, completing a first team squad with a clean bill of health. Roberto Martinez has used his squad generously this season with 21 different players having made at least one substitute appearance this (18 of those having made at least one start) so changes would not be a surprise – especially when considering their current form. In terms of strategy, The Latics are expected to play a familiar passing game but likely to do so deep and attack on the break.
Opposition strengths and notable dangers:
Without wanting to sound too disingenuous, Wigan on the whole look worryingly weak – averaging less than a goal a game (6 in 8), conceding just short of two a game (14 in 8), and managing only a solitary point and goal on the road this term. However, this will not be a walk-over by any means and there are as ever points to note.
1. Strong passers: Although not quite averaging the possession to match, Wigan have instilled a very efficient and careful passing style, with a reliable 80% of passes having been successfully completed this season – most impressive of the pack being midfielder Ben Watson with a 85% success rate in his 8 games.
2. Packed midfield: Martinez has regularly employed a playing style familiar to his native Spain, adopting a three man midfield looking to build a base in the centre of the park. With NUFC expected to line up in a 442, the packed midfield may be tough to break through and will have to be stretched to make in-roads towards goal. Wigan have been known to play with considerable width regardless of opposition so closing and harrassing a well spread midfield should create space and opportunities to attack.
3. Opportunism: In true away-day style (and much like they did last season), Wigan will be looking to take full advatange of any breaks upfield – very much implemepting a shoot on sight policy with 46% of their shots coming from outside the box this season. An advocate of this is the opportunistic Franco Di Santo – the young former Chelsea striker has started to discover some form with 3 goals and 1 assist in his second spell in the North West (following a loan spell at Blackburn), averaging 2.6 shots per game playing predominantly as a lone man.
As common at the minute, a few tweaks here to a largely successful and effective stragey with the oppositions strengths and weaknesses in mind would not go a miss.
1. The virtue of patience: With the giddy nature of recent results and performances the expectation levels have started to expand again. NUFC will undoubtedly come out of the blocks looking to take the game to Wigan, but the point should be hammered home not to get disheartened or frustrated if things don’t fall in our favour straight away (which arguably applies as much for the crowd as it does for the team). Stay calm, keep plugging away, and it should come.
2. Press, press, press: Given the expectation of Wigan lining up deep, the NUFC midfield will have to be prepared to venture further upfield to maintain pressure on the opposition – and is standard either of the strikers dropping deep should help this greatly. Despite their numbers, the Latics midfield plays with space and as such leaves exploitable gaps in which to turn over possession and build pressure.
3. The substitute shake up: Aired to flamboyant effect against both Blackburn and Tottenham already, the introduction of a certain Hatem Ben Arfa in a free role in the latter stages of the respective games and reverting to 4411 has added a whole new dimension to our play and added deadly dynamism at a time of the game when the opposition is starting to tire. Eventually this has the potential to be our primary style of play, but for now (as HBA continues to shake off the rust of such a long spell out) it would be wise to implement the shake-up – perhaps between the 65-70 minute mark, providing the dynamics of the game allows it too.
Final thought and gut feeling:
On paper, everything about this fixture favours the home side heavily, but after the plaudits flooded in on the back of the Tottenham ‘test’, the threat of complacency lingers in the mind. Having said that, NUFC are still expected to provide a professional and determined performance and if done with the swagger of late should provide a victory: home win.
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