Old Trafford, Manchester
Saturday, September 15, 14:00 GMT
The international break is over and the Barclays Premier League will return this weekend to the relief of fans all over the globe. Manchester United host Wigan Athletic at the Theatre of Dreams, a venue which has usually been the stuff of nightmares for the Latics. Nevertheless, Roberto Martinez masterminded a famous win against the Red Devils in the last encounter between these two sides which ultimately cost the Old Trafford club the coveted league crown.
Manchester United have flattered to deceive so far and must count their lucky stars to have six points and two wins on board even though their performances were hardly those of potential champions. Robin Van Persie has been instrumental and saved the manager’s blushes so far, but now United might have to do without him. The midweek Champions League fixture against Galatasaray could serve as mild distraction especially after last season’s debacle in Europe. Sir Alex Ferguson has a lot on his plate when it comes to team selection and getting the balance right in view of the injury crisis engulfing the club with a lot of high profile absentees. Also, Wigan’s unconventional formation with the three man central defense could further spice up things if Fergie decides to alter his team selection to combat the Latics.
Roberto Martinez’s Wigan always carry that aura of unpredictability and mystery, sometimes to the extent that even their own supporters aren’t sure which side will turn up. Nevertheless, their heroic run at the fag end of last campaign must reassure supporters that the club is headed in the right direction. Wigan already have an away win in their kitty this season and the new signings seem to have reinvigorated the side. But the optimism could be put on hold this weekend at Old Trafford; Wigan’s past performances at Old Trafford have been rather abysmal and at times bordering on pathetic win seven defeats in seven at the home of the Red Devils.
Team News & Tactical Brief
Sir Alex Ferguson has a few injury problems to deal with after the international break. Shinji Kagawa, who had to withdraw from Japan’s qualifier against Iraq due to a back injury, is set to miss the game despite allaying fears of a serious problem. Star man Robin van Persie is also a doubt due to a thigh injury suffered during Holland’s victory over Hungary. Rooney continues his recovery from the gash suffered on his thigh against Fulham while Ashley Young has also not recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of United’s Southampton game. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are still out leaving the United manager short of defensive options. However, the good news for the Scot is the recovery of Jonny Evans who played in both Northern Ireland’s qualifiers.
Although the Dutch manager has played down injury fears of van Persie stating it to be not too serious, yet Fergie might opt to rest the striker keeping the Champions League fixture in midweek and the huge game at Anfield next weekend in mind. If that is the case, Chicharito, who had an impressive cameo against Southampton and also a goal scoring return for his country, is set for his first start of the season. The Mexican will be leading the line for the home side and will be paired alongside Danny Welbeck. The two strikers will be sharing the responsibilities of pressing hard on the Wigan defenders who like to pass it from the back.
The midfielders, in the absence of Rooney and Kagawa, will have a much tougher task on their hands as both players dropped off brilliantly to form the bridge between the midfield and attack. It will be interesting to see as to who is deployed by Sir Alex in central midfield as he would like to have Scholes and Giggs fresh for the two tough fixtures coming up. Having said that, both of them have had a long rest due to their lack of international participation and it won’t be surprising if one of them is used as a central midfielder with the other making the bench. Carrick though, is a certainty to start as the deep lying playmaker; however, he will be expected to improve on his performance against Southampton just before the international break.
The wing players are likely to be Valencia and Nani with the former expected to hug the touchline as he always does while Nani could be seen cutting inside from time to time and also interchanging places with Danny Welbeck. Also, if Giggs is deployed in central midfield, it will mean a much fluent attacking formation for the Red Devils as the Welshman likes to go down his preferred left hand side from time to time.
The defenders are likely to be the same that played against the Saints. The back four did not have a good outing at the St. Mary’s, but the manager has always talked about having a stable back line and might be keen to give them an extended run, especially the center back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand. However, Ferguson might opt to give out of form Patrice Evra a much needed break which would mean that new signing Alexander Buttner will have his first start for the home side.
Probable Starting Line-up (4-4-2): De Gea/Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Carrick, Giggs, Valencia; Welbeck, Chicharito
Unlike his counterpart, Roberto Martinez does not have too many injury worries to deal with.In fact, the Wigan manager has just one player unavailable for the match at the Theatre of Dreams. Jean Beausejour, who tore a hamstring against Stoke and missed the qualifiers for Chile in the process, is still recovering and hasn’t been set a return date as well. However, the Latics are pleased with his progress and are hopeful about his return to actions sooner rather than later.
Martinez is set to continue with a 3-5-2 formation that was so successful for his team during the fag end of last season’s campaign including against Manchester United, as the Latics overcame the Red Devils at the DW stadium. Alcaraz, Caldwell and Ramis are likely to be the three at the back for the visitors who, apart from protecting their goal, will be taking the responsibilities of building the attacks from the back as the philosophy of their manager seldom allows them to take a safe approach by kicking the ball high up the field. The strategy will be greatly beneficial for the Latics at it will prevent United from applying the relentless pressure that they are used to doing at Old Trafford.
The midfield will be consisting of James McCarthy and James McArthur as the two pivot men. These two will be taking turns to collect the ball from the back line and distributing it up-field to their attacking players. They will be well supported by Shaun Maloney who will be playing much further up the pitch. The former Celtic man also likes to drift to the left side from time to time and then cut inside the right back to allow his left wing back space to go down the touch line. This strategy has often caused problems for the opposition and much the same could be on show on Saturday. Figueroa and Boyce are expected to be the two wing-backs for the Latics and perhaps the most crucial men for Martinez’s formation as they help the team switch from a five man midfield to five at the back instantaneously and thus outnumbering the opposition in both departments.
Kone and Di Santo are set to lead the line for the visitors and will be expected to pick-up from where they left off before the international break. The former Chelsea man found his goal scoring form at the end of last season and has continued that at the start of this campaign, while the new signing from Levante has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and is expected to cause problems to the United defence.
Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Al Habsi; Alcaraz, Caldwell, Ramis; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Maloney, Figueroa; Di Santo, Kone
- Manchester United have won 14 out of their 15 games against Wigan.
- United have conceded the most (3) headed goals in the league this season.
- The Red Devils have won two out of their three games from losing positions having failed to do so even once for the whole of last season.
- Wigan have lost just 2 of their last 9 games in the Premier League.
- The Latics have got 3 players sent off in their last 2 games at the Theatre of Dreams.
Player To Watch Out For
Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
With the potential absence of key players such as Rooney, Kagawa and Robin van Persie, the onus upon the Ecuadorian will be even more than what it has been for the past few months. United’s player of last season has had a good beginning to this season’s campaign and will be having an added incentive of doing well against his former club. Valencia is likely to be the focal point of United’s attack as he will be looking to get behind Wigan’s back three on every available opportunity. His telepathic understanding with Rafael has also been a cause for trouble for the opponents and if that is the case again on Satruday, the Latics are in for a hard time.
Manchester United 2-1 Wigan Athletic
It will be an entertaining game with the away side looking to take the game to the Red Devils through their incisive passing and good ball retention. They will cause some trouble to an out of sorts United defence but in the end, the quality of Ferguson’s side backed by the home support will be enough to get them over the line and make it three wins out of four.