Latics’ two recent games against Sheffield United and Chesterfield have demonstrated the importance of getting it right at both ends of the pitch.
At 3-0 up against United, the team didn’t close the game down and they neglected their defensive duties, allowing an unlikely comeback by the Blades.
However, last Saturday’s convincing 3-1 victory at home to Chesterfield means Latics go into tomorrow’s away fixture at Crewe Alexandra in confident mood.
In particular, the first half performance against the Spireites was a joy to behold, with three superb goals from Max Power, Reece James and Michael Jacobs, this time giving Latics an unassailable lead.
If Latics can continue their blistering forward play they must also show greater resilience in defence. Gary Caldwell has struggled to fill the right wing-back position with Johnjoe Kenny, Donald Love and Donervon Daniels occupying the role at various times.
With the addition of Reece Wabara they now have a player who is used to the role and has the potential to fill the position permanently. If Wabara can make the position his own, it will give Daniels the chance to fight for one of the ‘crucial three’ centre back positions.
Captain Craig Morgan and vice-captain Jason Pearce have made the other two centre back places their own with consistent performances, but the third centre back position remains problematic.
Caldwell will be familiar with the importance of the ‘crucial three’ at the back.
During the club’s most successful period in the Premier League and FA Cup
triumph, Roberto Martinez’s innovative use of the back three was the foundation.
Martinez was one of the first managers to lead the way in adopting a back three in England and others soon followed.
Martinez was heavily influenced by the European game and in particular Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli and Udinese’s Franceso Guidolin.
In the 2011/12 season Wigan were looking for a solution to their disappointing early form, so Martinez introduced a change in formation to 3-4-3.
In the last ten games of the season, which featured six wins, many of which were against the top teams, they dominated their opponents.
Caldwell was the Wigan captain at the time and he saw at first hand how successful this system could be. In the first half of the 4-0 win against Newcastle they were virtually unstoppable.
Every outfield player contributed to the attacking play while the Latics back three of Alcaraz, Caldwell and Figueroa were outstanding and gave nothing away.
A major bonus of the system was the flexibility: given different types of opponents or a change in personnel they could adapt to 3-4-2-1.
During the last ten games of 2011/12 and at the beginning of the 2012/13 season the formation was a base 3-4-2-1 that at times looked like a 3-4-3 and at times like a 4-4-1-1.
The ‘crucial three’ provides flexibility without sacrificing too much defensive strength.
Martinez designed a playing system that has a back three and one up front and six players who can adjust as required – which Caldwell is now utilising successfully in League One.
This article was first published in the 12th Man column for the Wigan Evening Post on Friday 22nd January 2016.