WIGAN, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Wigan Athletic Manager Roberto Martinez salutes the fans at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and West Ham United at the DW Stadium on May 15, 2011 in Wigan, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
The first game of the new Premier League season sees Wigan Athletic welcome us to the DW Stadium in Sunday's early kickoff. We'll bring you all the team news in the general preview, and although it's difficult to get a comprehensive scouting report done in light of the fact this is the first competitive game Wigan have played in two months, (meaning we don't know what changes have been made in terms of team shape and system) seeing as Wigan provided perhaps the most tactical interest last season I thought it would still be appropriate to take a look at what Di Matteo can expect on Sunday.
This article will be written on the predication that Wigan will line up in the 3-4-3 formation that surprised so many at the tail end of last season. On paper (or rather, virtual paper), here's how it looks:
Despite interest from some of the top tier clubs in the Premier League Wigan have managed to hold onto Victor Moses, and although it seems he is line to start this Sunday, the smart money is on him lining up for the opposition by the end of the transfer window. Wigan have compensated for his imminent departure by bringing in both Arsenal's pacy winger Ryo Miyachi and Levante's Arouna Kone.
While the new attacking stars attract the headlines, it's the defence that causes the most intrigue, as a back three is a rare sight in England, although Chelsea fans will be familiar with it having faced Napoli's famous Three Tenors system in their victorious Champions League campaign last season. On the rare occasions it appears in England, it's been on one-off occasions and usually used to safeguard against Stoke.
There are two versions of the 3-4-3 system that Wigan play: the first is the more attacking style, which stresses possession football and taking the game to the opposition. The second is the defensive 5-4-1 which places a far greater emphasis on the counter attack and is the version Chelsea are far more likely to see on Sunday. The newfound creativity of the attacking three will then be crucial to breaking down a side which is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts, largely thanks to Martinez's astute management.
If we take the defenders individually, Maynor Figueroa and Antolin Alcaraz plays as aggressive outside defenders, often moving out of the back line to intercept passes and in the attacking phase. Figueroa in particular has the ability to bring the ball out of defence and retain possession. Lying in between these two is Gary Caldwell, who notably drops off and plays as a pseudo-sweeper, looking to clear Wigan's lines early so the ball stays well away from Al-Habsi.
It remains to be seen whether Martinez will break up this successful centre back combination, although the signing of Ivan Ramis from Mallorca suggests otherwise. Ramis is a strong, technical defender who has a proactive style of defending that would fit nicely into one of the outside centre back positions. He's currently overshadowed by an injury cloud, which should see Martinez retain the same selection that was so successful last season.
The centre of the park contains two similar centre midfielders in James McArthur and James McCarthy, but McArthur is the more proactive, often moving forward to press the opposition midfield, while McCarthy sits in behind and helps the side keep their shape. On the wings Beausejour and Boyce plays as wing-backs, and are vital to the system. They are required to not only assume defensive responsibilities but also move forward and support the attack through overlapping the wide players. Beausejour again on the left side is the more accomplished at this, having played a similar role for Chile at the 2010 World Cup.
However, his aggressive movements forward do leave space in behind, and with Chelsea looking to be more dangerous on the counter attack, Ramires' bursts on the break into that pocket could be crucial. Wigan will look to nullify this threat with Figueroa shuffling out to cover, although this will inevitably open up space in the back three.
The danger for Chelsea is the flexibility of the front men: Franco Di Santo plays as a static target and should not be too much of a threat for a full strength Chelsea backline, although his tireless attempts to press the opposition should not be disregarded. If David Luiz plays, he'll need to be cautious about being caught when bringing the ball out of the backs in trademark David-Luiz style. More danger lies on the flanks, where Martinez like his players to constantly switch wings and adding to the fluidity of the side by make drifting runs in front and behind the defence. Arsenal was especially culpable to the dynamic movement of Victor Moses in the spaces behind Bacary Sagna at the Emirates last season, and new signing Kone has the ability to perform a similar role, having done so for Levante especially well at the beginning of last season's campaign, where the Spanish side, for a few weeks at least, upset the natural order at the top of the La Liga table. On the other wing will likely be Shaun Maloney, who plays as more of a playmaker, drifting into central positions to get on the ball, and play incisive passes.
A final overarching concern going into the game is pressing. Chelsea need to be wary of how they approach the defensive phase, as they don't want to be caught in 2 v 1 situations on the flanks as Newcastle were away at the DW Stadium last year. This means that on goal kicks, Chelsea will need to either commit to pressing high up the pitch (and pushing the defensive line high as a result, running the risk of being exposed to clever balls in behind), or sitting back and allowing Wigan to play the ball out. If Chelsea does take the more conservative option, then the side will need to be far more disciplined when keeping its shape than they were against Manchester City.