Wigan (most likely a 3-4-3): Robles, Scharner, Figueroa, Alcaraz, Boyce (Captain), McCarthy, Gomez, Beausejour, McManaman, Kone, Maloney
Bench: Al Habsi, Stam, Caldwell, Henriquez, McArthur, Golobart, Di Santo
Newcastle (most likely a 4-2-3-1): Elliot, Debuchy, Taylor, Yanga-Mbiwa, Santon, Gutierrez (Captain), Tiote, Marveaux, Sissoko, Gouffran, Cisse
Bench: Harper, Haidara, Perch, Anita, Gosling, Obertan, Shola Ameobi
A few observations during the build up:
- Wigan are very fluid in their 3-4-3 formation and are surprisingly good at keeping possession when they want to. Their style is similar to their game against Newcastle last season, a game Wigan won 4-0. Although a number of names have changed, Wigan find themselves in a similar position to last season (and the season before that, and the one before that etc).
- Everton play a strict 4-4-1-1, which can go some way to explaining why Wigan performed so resoundingly against them. With an added midfielder, Newcastle's 4-2-3-1 means that Wigan should have less space to keep possession and may struggle to play their game as fluidly. Nevertheless, their confidence is high.
- It is needless to say that Kone and Maloney are Wigan's key threats. Kone is fast, energetic and skillful, although he may struggle to find service. Maloney is direct and extremely technically gifted.
- Boyce and Beausejour will attack the wide areas whenever they can. Newcastle need to ensure the wide areas are well covered. Gutierrez would have been perfect for this, however he is needed elsewhere. Debuchy and Santon must be extremely careful not to get caught out of position when they go forward.
- If Wigan continue to play three at the back or with wing backs, there will be a lot of space for wide players (Gouffran and Marveaux) to exploit. Gouffran is the quickest and most direct, so I expect him to do the most damage on the counter attack.
- If Wigan are more compact towards the end of the game, Marveaux is likely to do more damage, as his intricate through balls and excellent crossing against Stoke and Anzhi have shown.
- Tiote played extremely poorly against Anzhi and must focus on his ball retention and passing to have a positive effect on the game today.
- Gutierrez will play where Cabaye usually does, as a central midfielder next to Tiote. Considering this is not his natural position, he looked accomplished in that role on thursday night. It's also interesting that he has been given the captain's armband today, considering he hasn't performed well this season.
- Sissoko looked tired against Anzhi, so if he hasn't rested sufficiently he may only have a limited impact against Wigan in his role as a powerhouse trequartista. If he is feeling fresh, I can see him being the one to break the deadlock.
Initially, Wigan appeared to be struggling with Newcastle's high pressure, with a few long balls and passes going astray at the beginning. The pressing subsided for Newcastle within 25 minutes of the first half. Towards the end of the first half Newcastle were being pulled around in midfield by Wigan's passing game and looked to be tiring. However, being a goal down Newcastle did resume the pressure early in the second half second half to good effect, although for certain spells in the second half Newcastle could no longer chase the game and Wigan began to play passing triangles.
Wigan's First Goal
Prior to the first goal, Shaun Maloney skipped past Haidara with ease on the right before pulling the ball back into the penalty area. Santon had also experienced difficulty in getting back into position when on the left hand side as Emerson Boyce beat him down the line. These were obvious warnings of Wigan's intentions. Despite this, Wigan again exploited Newcastle's frailties as MacManaman made the same run, but instead crossed to the far post where fellow full back Santon was caught out of position facing his own goal. Santon subsequently made a hash of his panicked clearance, leaving Beausejour with little option but to freely pass the ball into the net.
The wingbacks combined well here and Newcastle's full backs did not stay disciplined. Gouffran did not help out Haidara in the same manner Gutierrez would have. After the goal Newcastle continued to ignore the danger on the right as MacManaman continually attempted to repeat his assist before being substituted.
Debuchy and his replacement Haidara had to come off within the first half an hour due to injuries. Haidara is looking in serious trouble over the long term. MacManaman's studs up challenge on Haidara's knee probably should have been a red card. This meant that Alan Pardew had minimal opportunity to make changes later on in the game. Nonetheless Newcastle fielded a squad capable of winning the game and by their high standards should not use these injuries as an excuse for losing. Newcastle had to move Gutierrez to left back and James Perch into midfield. Rather than Perch (a more natural defender) coming into right back and Santon moving back to left back, Pardew recognised that he could not have his left hand side exposed again and so moved ultra-defensively minded Gutierrez there. Little threat came down the Newcastle's left hand side thereafter, yet Santon was repeatedly being caught out of possession at right back by Beausejour in the first half.
Half time conclusions:
- Newcastle had not fashioned a clearcut chance. Wigan had dangerous counter attacks and crosses from the right hand side.
- Wigan were defensively disciplined.
- Lapses in concentration from Haidara and Santon left Newcastle 1-0 down.
- Wigan moving the ball around with increasing ease as Newcastle tire in their pressing.
- Wigan struggling to deal with balls in the air largely coming from Tiote. Newcastle could not however find themselves in a position to cross the ball.
- Sissoko was restrained in his counter attacks because of tiredness Wigan's ability to regroup quickly.
- Marveaux is likely to be important in the second half when play slows down. He will be lookng to thread a through ball or cross to Cisse as his set pieces deliveries have been dangerous so far.
- Key area: Wigan's wide right. MacManaman punished Haidara for repeatedly allowing crosses to come in and Santon for being caught out of position.
- Top performer of the first half: A tie between Shaun Maloney and Arouna Kone
In the first half, Marveaux found it hard to get the ball and come deep to collect it. This meant there were less players to play the ball forward to, and sometimes meant passes were intercepted by Kone. However after Pardew's changes Marveaux moved into the centre attacking midfield role as Sissoko continued to wane. Marveaux still came deep to collect the ball, but only to start counter attacks himself with through balls over the top of Wigan's defence leading to a half chance for Cisse and involvement of Ameobi at the later stages. But Marveaux started to provide more than just these through balls, intricate play began to emerge as in one move, two brilliant passes to Cisse led to a blown chance and showed signs of Wigan beginning to budge. Soon after, Marveaux began embarking on fantastic runs through the middle as the game became stretched but his ball was heavy to Gouffran. Marveaux's deliveries were also dangerous, and Newcastle came close to scoring from a corner for the first time in a season and a half when Taylor's header was saved by Robles.
Equally the threat in these areas became ever more potent for Wigan, as they found it easy to play the ball between the lines to Maloney. It also led to some frustrated challenged from Tiote. Tiote played reasonably well but found it hard to shut Maloney, Kone and even Gomez down, who all found themselves between Newcastle's defence and midfield due to Wigan's fluid formation. Tiote tired and was often caught in possession in the later stages, leading to early shots for Maloney from the edge of the area and several fouls, including a free kick on target. This forced corners that Wigan managed to capitalise from later.
Arouna Kone and Shaun Maloney were excellent today, both individually and as a partnership. They were particularly useful as Newcastle pushed on for an equaliser, attempting and succeeding with several 1-2s whilst forcing a couple of important saves from Rob Elliot, despite being outnumbered by Newcastle defenders.
There were certain instances towards the end of the first half where Newcastle were continually keeping possession in their own half and the energy of the two meant that Kone could rob the ball from them and relieve any pressure Wigan were under. Wigan stuck men behind the ball and countered exceptionally, often via Kone, when newcastle were sloppy in possession. On one occasion Gutierrez had to desperately block a shot as James McArthur was released for a one on one chance.
Yanga-Mbiwa especially struggled to contain the energy of Arouna Kone, conceding several free kicks from an early stage when Kone was going nowhere with the ball and Wigan were looking to relieve the pressure. Yanga-Mbiwa did not recycle possession as effectively as previous games, most likely due to the threat of Kone's energy.
Tiote's performance improved significantly in comparison to thursday, it had to in all honesty. He completed 67 of his 76 passes, twice as many as any other Newcastle player and a sizeable amount of those passes were long balls over the top of the Wigan defence. An example of this was when Tiote lofted the ball to Debuchy to score a phantom goal. However, Tiote's ball retention was less impressive. There were several instances where he was caught in possession by Arouna Kone and Shaun Maloney, and at one point vented his frustrations immediately fouling Kone after losing the ball. He fashioned the best chance for Newcastle of the first half with one of his through balls over the top landing to Cisse after the Wigan defenders struggled to deal with the ball in the air
The Influence (or lack of influence) of Moussa Sissoko
Sissoko again looked tired today in similar fashion to thursday night. As a result of this and the compactness of the Wigan defence, Sissoko struggled to have any significant impact in the game. He showed signs of promise in the first 5 minutes with a run down the right hand side and a flashing cross but Cisse was positioned elsewhere. There were occasions where he burst away with lots of green in front of him but his heavy touch let him down. He did see a curved effort go wide in the second half, but that was due to Wigan again struggling in the air. Wigan covered Sissoko's counter attacks superbly and he could not break through a well-organised back three where the wing backs showed more discipline to get back than Newcastle's. Sissoko's passing also became more sloppy as the game progressed, especially in final third to Gouffran and Marveaux.
Gouffran on the other hand had a very limited impact in a game where he should have been at his best. He made two key mistakes when Newcastle had the chance to break: he either cut inside onto his right foot or slowed down to hold the ball up. As mentioned in the build up, Wigan's main weakness is being exploited in the wide areas on the counter attack. Gouffran would in theory be perfect for this, as he is a wide attacking midfielder with furious pace. However by cutting inside he was playing into the hands of the three organised centre backs, who then had a good chance to block or intercept any shot or pass that came their way. By not fully utilising the width of the pitch the wing backs went unpunished when caught out of positon.
Given his role as counter attacker, by holding the ball up and allowing team mates to come into play meant that Wigan could regroup easily, and meant that what he was offering nothing unique in the game. It also meant that any subsequent cross could be dealt with by Wigan's centre backs in a 3 v 1 against Cisse on the counter attack, a battle Cisse was unlikely to ever win on his own. Gouffran's most effective moment was when he broke with Sissoko and forced a corner in the first half. Once it became apparent that his pressing was not paying off he became visibly agitated and was eventually substituted for Ameobi.
Alan Pardew's Opinion:
The character was magnificent. They were very strong with good individual players who are a real threat. I don't feel we have had any luck whatsoever this season and the way we work I think we deserved that luck. We had so many opportunities and we couldn't find the final pass so we made it difficult, but we found a way to win and that pleased me."
- Newcastle's full backs needed to be more disciplined against Wigan's marauding wing backs
- Pardew's switch to 3-5-2 almost paid off, Santon looked reasonably effective as a wing back. Marveaux was also used to good effect in the No. 10 role as Sissoko tired.
- The goalscorers were much less unlikely than they seemed at the time.
- Wigan probably deserved to nick the points, although the manner in which they did was cruel.
- Refereeing decisions went against Newcastle today, and the result may have been different had Newcastle's 2 fullbacks not been injured within the first 30 minutes. Yet they did not deserve to win the game even if refereeing decisions went in their favour.
- Kone and Maloney have formed a highly underrated partnership.
- Macmanaman's challenge may have been the beginning of the end of Haidara.
- Key area: Wigan's right hand side, and between Newcastle and Wigan's back line and midfield in the second half.
- Top performer of the second half: Shaun Maloney
- Man of the match: Shaun Maloney