Has Roberto Martinez’s new Wigan formation been influenced by Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli?

After starting the season with their customary 4-3-3 formation, Wigan have now lined up in a 3-4-3 system ever since their 3-3 draw with Blackburn on November 19th. Roberto Martinez trialled the system in a 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa on October 1st, but then reverted back to his familiar 4-3-3 for their following game against Bolton. For the most part Martinez has used the same players, moving Maynor Figueroa from left-back to the left of a back-three, and pushing David Jones from central midfield to left wing-back.

In doing so, Wigan now mirror the shape of Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli, probably the most prominent club side currently playing with a back-three (excluding Barcelona’s experimentation). Below are rough diagrams of each team’s formation, with arrows depicting a player’s general movement during games.

                                 Wigan                                                               Napoli

The movement of the Wigan players closely reflects how Mazzarri sets up his Napoli team. Napoli’s width comes mainly from their wing-backs, especially Christian Maggio on the right. To provide cover, Hugo Campagnaro, the right-sided centre-back, often plays slightly wider than Salvatore Aronica, the left-sided centre-back, especially when Napoli line up against a lone striker. For Wigan, Jones, a natural midfielder, tends to play further forward than Ronnie Stam, a natural full-back. Behind Jones, Figueroa is accustomed to playing left-back and so tends to play wider than Alcaraz.

The front-three also have similarities. For Napoli, Marek Hamsik drops deep to help out in midfield, before breaking forward to link up with his strike partners. Ezequiel Lavezzi uses his pace to attack from the left channel, while Edison Cavani acts as a mobile target-man, bringing teammates into play and being the focal point of the attacks. For Wigan, Jordi Gomez drops deep without the ball to bolster the midfield, Victor Moses likes to attack at pace down the flanks and Connor Sammon (or Hugo Rodallega) looks to hold the ball up and get in the box for crosses.

Ultimately these intricacies give the respective formations a fluency that a standard 3-4-3 system would lack. The lateral movement of the defenders allows the team to take the shape of a back-four if necessary, while the withdrawal of one of the forwards prevents the midfield from being outnumbered against a side playing three in the middle. Equally the forwards perform distinctive roles, one as a playmaker, one resembles a winger and the central striker leads the line. For both managers to stumble across these details independently seems unlikely, and thus there is the suggestion that Martinez has taken some inspiration from Mazzarri’s system.

Wigan’s success with the 3-4-3 may depend on how their opponents deal with an unfamiliar system. Napoli’s success in Serie A is aided by the prevalence of narrow midfields and front-twos, whereas the Premier League has always been dominated by wingers and is now littered with single-striker formations, both of which provide problems for back-threes. Even so, early signs are positive – Wigan have got 10 points in the 9 games they have lined up 3-4-3 (including games against Man Utd, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal) compared to 5 points in 10 games playing 4-3-3.

Obviously, Wigan’s players lack the talent of their Napoli counterparts, but the similarities are interesting. Whether this extends to the style of play is less likely. Napoli are primarily a counter-attacking side, looking to defend deep and move the ball forward quickly when in possession. Roberto Martinez likes Wigan to keep possession with shorter, more patient passing. It would take a major shift in philosophy for Martinez to copy Mazzarri any further.

2011 – European Year in Review: Premier League, Primera Division, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga

The Theory

The league season may be the obvious way to track a club’s success, but a calendar year might be a better method to track a club’s progress.  Many teams begin a league season with a host of new players who naturally take time to integrate with the squad and adapt to the team’s style of play. Usually in the early months of a season, managers will gradually incorporate new signings into their existing side. If we accept that by the halfway point in a league season, most clubs will have a settled team and system, it may be true to say that a team in January will have more in common in terms of unity and ability with the team that begins the next campaign than the one that started the current one.

Similarly managerial dismissals are more common in the first half of the season than in the second half. Of the current Premier League managers, nine were hired between August and December compared to only five between January and May. Managers tend to get closer to completing a calendar year than they do a league season, and a change in manager is arguably the biggest catalyst to a dramatic change in form. Therefore, judging a team’s average points-per-game over a calendar year rather than a league season should offer a better guide to their progress as a club, rather than simply their performance in a given competition.

The Statistics

I recently posted an article that analysed the progress of current English Premier League clubs over the past two years using average points-per-game as an indicator of performance (http://footballspeak.com/post/2012/01/03/How-Premier-League-clubs-2011-form-compares.aspx), and some people suggested they would be interested in the statistics for other European leagues. I haven’t attempted to analyse the data as my knowledge of other leagues is limited, but the results are below.

The tables show the clubs’ average points-per-game (PPG) achieved in the league in the last two calendar years across the five biggest European leagues. The Change column represents the difference between a team’s ppg between 2010 and 2011, while the % Change column represents the percentage difference. A team with positive change will have improved in 2011 from the previous year, whereas a team with a negative change will have declined during the same period. Each league is ordered by the points-per-game earned in 2011, and so reflects how the league would look over the calendar year.

Naturally newly promoted sides have no comparison with 2010 unless they were relegated in the 09/10 season. To use their performances in the lower divisions would be flawed due to the obvious difference in quality. Their points-per-game for 2011 is still listed, but it should be noted this is only based on roughly the number of games played by the other teams. Similarly teams that were newly promoted in the 10/11 season have a smaller sample of games in 2010.

Premier League

 Primera Division

Serie A

Bundesliga

Ligue 1

 Observations

The most improved club across the five leagues is Monchengladbach who have increased their average points-per-game by a massive 110.7%. After a relegation battle in the 09/10 campaign and a miserable start to the 10/11 season they ended 2011 in 4th place in the Bundesliga. Honourable mentions go to Levante (65.6%), Atlanta (62.5%), Udinese (61.3%), Sporting Gijon (60.4%) and Malaga (53.9%), who have all improved by over 50% from 2010 to 2011.

No club has declined to the same extent, but some have given it a good go. Steve Kean will be pleased to know that his efforts have resulted in Blackburn achieving something – they are the worst performers across the five divisions when compared to their 2010 form. In 2011 Blackburn’s points-per-game average declined by a wretched 39.1%. Not far behind are Getafe (-36.7%), Freiburg (-35.6%), Bolton (-35.1%), Villarreal (-33.6%) and Stade Brest (-30.4%).  It will surprise nobody that both Freiburg and Villarreal have sacked their managers since the beginning of the season.  It will surprise everybody that Blackburn haven’t.

NB:

If anybody wishes to use these tables for an article, please message me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/nasher3230) and I will be happy to send you the Excel file.