James McCarthy and Wigan’s Fluid 3-4-3
One of the more worrying aspects of Manchester City’s exit in this year’s Champions League was their porous defending. City conceded six goals against Ajax Amsterdam-one in each leg- as they crashed out of Europe’s prime competition for the second consecutive year. On one particular night in Amsterdam, Micah Richards had the audacity to blame Roberto Mancini’s switch to 3-5-2 for their 3-1 defeat. He said:
“It’s a hard system because we’re not used to it but I think the players prefer a 4-4-2 but he’s the manager and we do what he says”.
His remarks astonished me. For me, the burden of blame lay on the players’ inability to adapt, which restricted the manager’s options. Of course the manager has to try and iron out any kinks in training, but a professional footballer should possess the capabilities of switching formations even in the midst of a match.
Martinez’s Tactical Fluidity
Watching Wigan play their football is stimulating. When hosting Arsenal at the DW, Sky had them listed as a 3-4-3. James McCarthy, the future Arsenal target, nestled in between Maynor Figueroa and Emmerson Boyce.
At times, when Arsenal infuriatingly decided not to pressure Wigan, McCarthy broke from his position and joined the midfield. Forcing the 3-4-3 into a 2-5-3 which overloaded the flanks and gave the likes of Stam and Beausejour space to operate in-prompting the befuddled commentators to laud the ‘depth and strength of the English Premier League’, which saw it’s weaker teams attack with only two halfbacks as insurance.
The proceeding sequences of play were amusing, as the Sky commentators wrestled with Wigan’s shape. When Arsenal had possession, McCarthy moved into midfield-an attempt to shackle Cazorla. Figueroa and Boyce then pinched in and wingbacks Stam and Beausejour became fullbacks.
Conclusions on McCarthy
On the day, McCarthy was Wigan’s best player. He wasn’t afforded the license to attack until the last few minutes when Wigan were desperately searching for an equalizer. For most of the game he followed his manager’s exact instructions. Cazorla came to the DW in sizzling form after recording his first Premier League hat-trick vs Reading. McCarthy effectively marked the magical Spaniard off of the pitch.
On the ball, the Irish international assumed a considered role, mainly conserving possession through sweeping cross-field balls and simple passes between Arsenal’s defensive lines. Were McCarthy to come to North London, he would play with, or in place of, Mikel Arteta. His tactical discipline is rigid, his passing is accurate, he is young, he has sell-on value-put simply, James McCarthy ticks all the boxes.
Match Comp vs Tottenham
For more of a feel of James McCarthy as a player, you can watch his performance vs. Tottenham here (credit: Culann Davies)