DW Stadium, Wigan
1 January, 15:00 GMT
Manchester United, seven points ahead at the top of the table, make the short trip to the DW Stadium on New Year’s Day to take on Roberto Martinez’s Wigan side. While United have been in fine form, Wigan have been largely unimpressive and are yet again in a relegation dog fight. This game is pivotal for both the clubs as United can hardly afford to relax with City and Chelsea looking to pounce, while the Latics too need all the points they can gather to inch closer to safety.
Wigan Athletic are a strange outfit and perennial relegation contenders. This season though, much was expected off the side but once again the Latics have flattered to deceive. Injuries have derailed Martinez’s side’s progress and the squad has been unable to cope with injuries to major players. Also, the club has surely missed Mohamed Diame’s presence at the heart of their midfield who was rather strangely released by Wigan at the start of the season. Nevertheless, the win against fellow strugglers Aston Villa must boost the squad confidence and raise spirits, especially with the comprehensive manner in which it was achieved. The likes of James McCarthy have been phenomenal throughout Wigan’s campaign, and despite the side’s poor points return, they are capable of causing trouble to the visitors.
Man United gathered maximum points from the last two home games to make it a happy festive period so far and a victory on their trip to Wigan would indeed make it a Happy New Year. Last season’s corresponding fixture sealed United’s fate in the title run in and Ferguson would make sure that a repeat is avoided. United’s starting eleven is all but certain to go under major changes, as fatigue is a crucial factor during this hectic period. All eyes would again be on the majestic Dutchman RVP to guide the United ship to calmer shores as he did during the win against West Brom.
Team News & Tactics
Roberto Martinez is going through a torrid time as far as injuries to his key players are concerned, however, there are no fresh ones to deal with. Albert Crusat, Antonio Lopez, Ryo Miyaichi and Ben Watson are all missing and are not expected to return soon while Antolin Alcaraz, who is on his way to recovery, will not be available before the FA cup tie on the weekend. The good news for the manager is that defender Ivan Ramis came through unscathed after playing the full match against Villa at the weekend.
The Spanish manager is likely to field the same starting eleven that did the job for him at Villa Park. While the Villains’ back three formation was exposed, the visitors excelled with their three at the back setup and are likely to continue the same at home against the league leaders on Tuesday. Ramis, Caldwell and Figueroa will be the three defenders for the home side with Caldwell playing the deepest of the three men. The defenders are not only expected to keep the United attack at bay, Martinez will also be expecting them to build the attacks from the back by passing it to the midfielders rather than launching it high up the pitch.
The midfield will be marshaled by James McCarthy and David Jones, who have both done an excellent job in central midfield for the Latics. The two talented youngsters work brilliantly in tandem and keep the ball ticking for their team. They will be flanked by Beausejour and Boyce who will have the double responsibility of creating the opportunities for the hosts as well as keep the United wingers and full-backs in check.
Shaun Maloney will be playing just in front of the central midfielders and will be the biggest attacking threat for United to deal with. Most Wigan attacks are likely to go through him as he will be the one taking the ball from McCarthy and Jones and spreading it out to either of the wingers or in front to Kone or Di Santo, who will be leading the line for the home side. The strike pair has done well for Martinez this season and have developed a very good understanding between them. The pair will be hoping to take advantage of a leaky United defence as the pace and strength of Kone combined with the skill and trickery of Di Santo could prove to be troublesome for the visitors.
Probable Starting Lineup (3-4-1-2): Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, Jones, McCarthy, Beausejour; Di Santo, Kone
The injury worries that occurred at the start of the festive period seem to be easing off which is a good sign for the manager with some crucial fixtures coming up. Shinji Kagawa made a successful return in the last game and is in line to make another appearance on New Year’s Day. Also, Ashley Young returned to the starting line-up after missing the Boxing day fixture against the Magpies. Although Rooney still remains injured, Phil Jones and Rafael are ready and available for selection which is welcome news for the manager. Anderson is still out as is Nani, who is expected to return by mid-January.
Vidic might be rested again as Sir Alex will try and resist the temptation of giving his captain two games in four days. Ferdinand is likely to return to the starting line-up after being benched against the Baggies and is likely to take his place alongside Jonny Evans in central defence. Rafael, who was sensational before his injury, is also set to return to the starting line-up while the ever present Evra will be the left-back. In midfield, Michael Carrick could be given a break as the Englishman looked very tired at the end of the West Brom game. Darren Fletcher could replace him as the defensive midfielder and provide some fresh legs for the visitors as the Scot has hardly played in the festive period. Tom Cleverley, who did very well while on loan at Wigan, is going to provide the creative spark from midfield and his slick give and go passing and movement has caused trouble to a lot of teams this season.
Antonio Valencia could also be given a rest as the Ecuadorian has played in all three games during the last week and hence Ashley Young could be used on the right-wing. In that case, Shinji Kagawa could be moved over to the left wing, but the Japanese will be seen cutting inside to help the attack from central areas while one of the strikers drift wide to swap places with him regularly. Up front, the strike combination of Hernandez and van Persie that sank the Magpies is set to be reinstated. While the Mexican will play on the shoulder of the last man, van Persie will be playing behind him and also drifting wide on the odd occasion to give the defenders a different problem to deal with.
Last season, United were troubled a lot by the three man Wigan midfield who was supported very well by their wing backs. This time though, they might be seen pressuring the home side’s back three a lot more in order to stop them from passing to their midfielders and instead force them into playing long balls to their strikers. Also, they will try to make use of their full-backs as much as possible in order to develop a two on one situations against their wing backs.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Young, Cleverley, Fletcher, Kagawa; van Persie; Hernandez
- Manchester United have won 15 of the 16 games against Wigan in all competitions. Wigan’s only win came in the corresponding fixture last season.
- United have scored 50 goals while conceded just 5 in all the meetings between the two sides.
- Wigan have won just once at home since the last week of October.
- The Latics have conceded first in 13 games this season losing 12 of those.
Player To Watch Out For
Robin van Persie (Man United)
The mercurial Dutchman is certain to return to the starting line-up after being benched for the game against West Brom. However, RvP had to come on as a substitute to seal the game for United with a blistering strike in the dying stages of the game. With Rooney out injured, the fans are once again counting on their top scorer to deliver and they have hardly been disappointed this season.
Wigan 1-3 Man United
It will be an entertaining game as the home side will be trying to replicate their last season’s performance against United. However, it will be harder for the Latics this time around with so many injuries to key players. There will be goals for both teams in this game, but in the end the depleted Wigan defence will find it difficult to stop the best attack in the league this season.