DW Stadium, Wigan
March 2, 2013; 17:30 GMT
It is that time of the season where Wigan Atheltic step on the pedal. As is happening since the last four years, the Latics are once again in a zone where they have to fight harder than have the entire season to ensure survival for the next term. You’d think that the battle for struggle is nothing but a trend that would come to an end. But each time you think Wigan is going to take the fall, they surprise everyone with heroic comebacks, filled with a strong sense of grit and determination.
When Roberto Martinez walks his side out this weekend against Liverpool, he knows that the mood is set. All his team must do now is step up to the cause and deliver at the back of a convincing 0-3 away victory at Reading last weekend.
This fixture is no doubt going to be a tough one for Liverpool to deal with. The Reds are listed amongst a host of other top quality teams who haven’t rarely walked away with their head held high from the DW stadium in the recent past. Adding to that, their narrow but hard-fought exit from the Europa League at the hands of Zenit St.Petersburg last week leaves Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers in a difficult situation.
While each win from here on will take them closer to a European spot next season, anything less than three points will ebb them away from being contenders for either of the European competitions. For a club like Liverpool, an European presence is said to be a given, but going by the way things stand, it looks like Wigan and Liverpool are right now two sides of the same coin, one fighting to survive the top flight while the other fighting to survive on a bigger stage, outside of home.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Two key players for Wigan continue staying absent – Ben Watson picked up a horrific injury earlier this season against Liverpool when he went in for a harmless challenge on young Raheem Sterling. The midfielder has recovered much earlier than expected but is unlikely to feature till the last few games of this season.
Maynor Figueroa is a doubtful for the Liverpool fixture as well, having been at the receiving end of a bad tackle from Pavel Pogrebnyak last weekend at the Madjeski stadium. Besides Watson and Figueroa, Wigan will also be without the services of Ivan Ramis, Ryo Miyaichi and Albert Crusat for Saturday’s clash.
At this point of the season, Wigan are usually more aggressive and direct in their style of play. They play hard to get into the lead but it doesn’t end there – Martinez is a preacher of the attacking style and will get behind his team to see the opposition out. So expect a fast-paced game from Wigan’s end, with the pace of Kone and the cleverness of Di Santo being key to Latics drawing first blood.
Given that Liverpool’s possession-styled threat is getting stronger by the week, Wigan will look to capitalize on every opportunity they can get to break on the counter. The likes of Beausejour and Maloney will be key here to get ahead of the Liverpool midfield and give the Reds’ defense a hard time. If Figueroa does not make it to the team sheet on Saturday evening, then Beausejour is likely to take his place at left-back while Jordi Gomez will take his place in the five-man midfield.
Up front, the duo of Kone and Di Santo will continue to provide the attacking prowess for Wigan. Kone looked sharp in the reverse fixture back in November and will definitely look forward to deepen the dent that Liverpool are feared to face come end of the season.
But Wigan cannot just rely on the duo ahead to dominate such a fixture. The presence of Emmerson Boyce in midfield will be key to breaking Liverpool’s possession game. The defender (playing the midfield role) will be responsible for making his presence felt on the likes of Gerrard and Lucas, something to keep in mind if Wigan are to walk away with three points.
Probable Starting Line-Up (3-5-2): Al Habsi; Scharner, Caldwell, Beausejour; Boyce, McCarthy, Maloney, McArthur, Gomez; Kone, Di Santo
Brendan Rodgers had to make do without the services of Coutinho and Sturridge through his Europa League run this campaign. While he will be breathing a sigh of relief on the availability of Coutinho against Wigan, he cannot do the same for Sturridge. Liverpool’s first winter signing is doubtful for this clash after he picked up a knock during training midweek.
The Reds will also be without the services of Fabio Borini after the Italian suffered a dislocated shoulder in Liverpool’s 5-0 thrashing of Swansea at Anfield two weeks back. Second choice keeper Brad Jones and right-back Martin Kelly are currently the long term absentees for the Merseyside club.
Raheem Sterling had a great game against the Latics when these two sides met in November. So Rodgers is likely to hand him a start this weekend again. New arrival Coutinho is more likely to start in place of the injured Daniel Sturridge to give the Reds that cutting edge and creativity on the pitch; which means Stewart Downing would make the bench. Joe Allen had a good game in Liverpool’s loss against Zenit, scoring a goal to his name as well. This probably gives him the green over Jordan Henderson in midfield this weekend.
More than anything else, it is the fighting spirit from the Zenit game that Rodgers would want to tap for the team talk ahead of this fixture. A four-goal comeback would have been heroic and recorded right up there with the 2005 Champions League and 2006 FA Cup comebacks, but more importantly, the players can now carry the belief that they can come out strong against any opposition and under any circumstances.
As has been the case with every League fixture this season, Gerrard will be the key to linking defense and attack while Lucas will be handed the responsibility to shut the supply line to Kone and Di Santo. Joe Allen will have to work hard to close the gaps and utilize any opportunity that allows the ball to fall to Sterling, Suarez or Coutinho. The trio upfront has the talent to bring a wave of creativity and smooth movement to Liverpool’s game and this is what the supporters would want to see.
Probably Starting Line-Up (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Lucas, Allen; Sterling, Suarez, Coutinho
- Wigan have lost only one of their last six Barclays Premier League games against Liverpool after losing seven of the opening nine against them.
- Six of the seven Premier League games between Wigan and Liverpool at the DW Stadium have gone under 2.5 goals.
- Wigan have conceded in all of their 13 home games in the Premier League this season.
- Luis Suarez is one of just three players from Europe’s top five leagues to fire in more than 100 shots (excluding blocked) so far this season (along with Messi and Ronaldo).
- Liverpool (13), Wigan and Tottenham (11 each) have scored more goals in the 15 minutes immediately after half-time than any other team in the Premier League this season.
Player to Watch Out For
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
For someone who has had a mixed bag of experiences since stepping foot in the Premier League, Luis Suarez has shined way better than what most expected. The Uruguayan has been nominated for the PFA Player of the Season award and has the full backing of his Liverpool teammates and manager. This can only serve as a confidence booster for the No.7, who even scored twice against Wigan in the reverse fixture in November. Expect more of those nutmegs and trickery around the Wigan box this weekend.
Wigan 0 – 2 Liverpool
Liverpool have been on the rise if you put their style of play and performance levels in focus. However, as we have said this time and again this season, results are not being supportive of the philosophy Rodgers is trying to bring at Liverpool. As mentioned before, this is as much a testing period for Liverpool as it is for Wigan. If the Reds can bounce back from the Europa exit like they did after the Oldham fixture, it is safe to say that hopes are alive. We see this fixture going Liverpool’s way.