WIGAN FANTASY PREVIEW
Wigan. I am writing the Wigan fantasy preview. What did I do to deserve this, you might ask? Did I draw the short straw? Is this a forfeit? Will it consist of the words “this page is intentionally left blank“?
No, actually. I specifically asked to write the Wigan preview because I think it is the most exciting one. It is the most exciting to me because both the least is known about them and the most there is to tell. Wigan are a unique team with a unique formation, and this makes them extremely hard to play against. This is a recent change that surprised everyone – including, it appears, Fantasy Premier League who have priced them cheaply. Even better, they’ve gone and made a whole bunch of them out of position. Strikers classified as midfielders. Wingers classified as defenders. Still, I’m aware it takes a brave man to argue the merits of Wigan, and tonight I’m Terry Butcher v Sweden. More bandages please…
Cast your mind back to February 2012. Wigan lie deep in the relegation zone, having struggled all season. They’ve only just ended a four-match losing run with a home draw against Everton. With growing press speculation about manager Martinez getting the sack, legendary chairman Dave Whelan has already given him the dreaded vote of confidence, insisting he will stay. Wigan line up for their 25th league match of the season – a crucial 6-pointer against relegation rivals Bolton.
But this time, something is different. Wigan are blessed with defenders good on the ball and not afraid to go forward such as Maynor Figueroa, Antolin Alcaraz and Emmerson Boyce. Also, in the January window, Martinez has cannily signed Chilean winger Jean Beausejour who can play both in defence and attack. He chooses to plays a formation unlike any other in the league – three at the back. Wigan line up in a 3-4-3 shape. With three dedicated defenders, the wingers and the rest of the team are free to go forward, giving them up to 7 players in attack (below). Perhaps equally importantly, the opposition don’t know who to mark.
Wigan take their first win in nine matches using the new system. Three draws and a loss to Swansea follow, before the real fireworks begin in Gameweek 30.
Wigan shock Liverpool 2-1 away. They clean up Stoke 2-0 in a game they utterly dominated (I should know, I was there). An undeserved away 2-1 loss to Chelsea follows, with the first Chelsea goal strikingly offside and the second grabbed deep into stoppage time. Wigan then deliver perhaps the biggest shock of the lot: a 1-0 home win over table-topping Man United. Almost unparalleled in the manner of the upset as well as the result, Wigan deny Man United a single shot on target. Wigan travel to Arsenal next, with Arsenal in the midst of a great run of form that seems to be propelling themselves towards third place. After going behind early, Wigan strike back with two rapid goals and control the game to win. Wigan then finally lose away 2-1 at home-team Fulham.
Still in danger of relegation despite this run, Wigan host an on-fire Newcastle. In a late season charge that towards the Champions League spots, Alan Pardew’s men have swept opposition before them with Cisse and Ben Arfa running riot in an attacking 4-3-3.
Wigan win 4-0. By the end of the match, Newcastle have changed their formation to 3-4-3 too.
They seal safety in their next match with a 1-0 win over Blackburn, before winning their third game in a row with a final-day defeat of Wolves. Since gameweek 30, their record stands at 7 wins and 2 losses. 21 points from a possible 27. Virtually title-winning form…
… but let’s reluctantly leave those glorious memories and return to the present day. “Great – so that was a fluke, wasn’t it?” But a fluke is luck, and the truth is that they didn’t get lucky. It is not as if Arsenal, Newcastle, United or even Liverpool were in a bad run of form when they lost to Wigan. They certainly didn’t lack motivation given their respective positions in the league. Wigan had a system that no-one was playing last season and no-one probably will this season, and the personnel to play it. Speaking of personnel, their first team is virtually unchanged. Simply put, it is down to them. If they continue where they left off, so will the points. And thanks to whoever sets the prices, at good value.
We’ll now run through the contenders in each position…
Ali Al-Habsi (5.0) is the undisputed number one for the Latics with Lee Nicholls his deputy. Despite being relegation contenders, Al-Habsi was placed a respectable 8th on the goalkeeper rankings. This is largely due to the obscene number of penalty saves he made – 4 in total – and a similarly eye-watering number of saves – 130, averaging 3.4 a match. He obtained a modest 8 clean sheets over the entire campaign. However, counting from Gameweek 30 playing under the new system, he took 4 clean sheets in 9 games, of which 3 were at home. Two were shut-outs of Man United and Newcastle. If Wigan’s defence performs even close to this level, and he doesn’t disappoint on bonus points, Al-Habsi could be a good value keeper. He was, after all, the 5th-best value keeper last year despite having spent most of the season removing the ball from his net.
The Wigan three-man defence is extremely settled. Caldwell (5.0) plays furthest back in what could even be regarded as a sweeper role. Here, he gets the last-minute blocks and clearances in and is a good candidate for bonus in tight games. Alcaraz (4.5) and Figueroa (4.5) play as the right and left centerbacks respectively. Figueroa is noted for his willingness to move forward, but it’s Alcaraz that actually got the most attacking points last year. Rushing forward to offer aerial threat, he notched 2 goals last season, including one header from open play against Stoke. While Caldwell may be a little pricey for the CS risk on offer, Alcaraz is a decent defensive punt should Wigan continue in the same vein.
The big fantasy interest is an out-of-position anomaly created by FPL classifications. Since Wigan play Boyce and Beausejour as attacking wing-backs, you might expect them to receive the same classification. They haven’t. Beausejour has been classified as a midfielder… and Boyce (5.0) as a defender, offering him both CS and attacking points! Boyce plays on the right wing and gets forward with gusto. He returned a considerable 3 goals and 2 assists last year. As an out-of-position defender for whom a fundamental part of his role is to attack, Boyce is as much, if not more, a contender for attacking points as the template options of Hangeland and Huth.
While the central midfield duo of McCarthy (5.0) and McArthur (5.5) look nailed-on, their roles look ill-suited to returning attacking points. The former, in particular, is a defensive midfielder, with McArthur offering some support in attack. The first interesting option is an instant hit from the January window, Jean Beausejour (5.5). Beausejour made a late charge into discerning FPL manager’s teams with 7 assists and 7 bonus points, with his attacking raids down the left fundamental to the 3-4-3 system. Getting forward further than right wing counterpart Boyce, Beausejour is a renowned supplier of crosses. At 5.5, Beausejour is still firmly a budget midfielder and could easily be worth the extra 0.5 cost over bargain basement options.
The highly-rated Victor Moses (7.0) is the most familiar pick in the team, though not necessarily the best. Playing out-of-position as a forward on the left or right, Moses scored 6 goals and 6 assists. He paid the price of being Wigan’s top fantasy scorer, seeing a rise to 7.0. Moses remains perhaps Wigan’s greatest goal threat, pending rumours of a move to Chelsea.
Things get really interesting with yet another out-of-position prospect – the criminally underpriced Shaun Maloney (5.0). The ex-Celtic captain spent much of the season on the sidelines, with Martinez commenting that he needed to work on his fitness. Given a run on the team from 11th March onwards, Maloney scored 3 goals and 2 assists in just 8 starts and 5 substitute appearances. His increased attacking threat is natural given that he actually plays as a left forward, playing around the central striker Di Santo. He drifts centrally and is known for a powerful long-range shot. Just ask United fans – it was Maloney who smashed the long-range winner past David De Gea, winning him the Man of the Match award against Man United. As if that wasn’t enough, he was on penalties for at least some of last season, scoring one against Liverpool. I don’t feel the need to speculate about his penalty duties this season, as I believe he is already more than worth 5.0 without them.
With such a settled team, there are few players to punt on outside the first eleven. Jordi Gòmez (5.5) is one of them. Nailed on for most of the season until the change in formation, he had penalties during this time, scoring 5 goals and a single assist. His run in the team was appropriately ended by his substitution off for Shaun Maloney on the 11th March. After this, Maloney got at least 60 minutes in 8 of the 10 remaining games, while Gòmez managed this in only 2 of the 10. It’s clear that Maloney has taken Gòmez’s place, and with that possibly the penalty duties.
The only other contender worth mentioning is teenage sensation Fraser Fyvie (4.5) who arrived from Aberdeen with great praise. Though information isn’t exactly abundant about him, Martinez remarked: “Technically he’s very gifted, enjoys playing in the midfield where he can cover large areas, he’s very powerful off the ball and in possession is someone who can read the tempo of the game very well.” Suggestions have been made that he may be a Scholes-type player. With a goalscoring record of 2 in 58 and praise generally centred around his reading of the game, the picture I’m getting is that he will be a deep-lying midfielder and as such only threatens McArthur or perhaps McCarthy in the starting lineup. In any case, entering a settled squad with a cautious manager, we’ll have to assume his gametime will be low for now.
Wigan’s main forward, excluding the rarely-seen and goalless Conor Sammon, is the selfless Franco Di Santo (5.5). With a modest goalscoring record of 7 goals and 2 assists in 31 last year and 8 goals in 57 for Wigan in total, he’s not a contender for a striker spot in your team. It’s clear, though, that Martinez has a special role for him as the central anchor of the attack around which the others play, as he plays deeper than both Moses and Maloney. Once again, Wigan do things differently from their rivals, with their recognized striker not being the main source of goals. Reminds you, perhaps, of another team that was described as strikerless during a certain tournament in June, doesn’t it…
No, perhaps I went a little too far there. But we can dream. Join me in this fantastic Latic adventure. Happy punting.