Category: Match Previews Written by Jakarta Jack
It was billed as the grand finale to a topsy turvy season for Wigan Athletic. The home match with fellow strugglers, Aston Villa, was to be crucial in determining Latics’ future in the Premier League. But sometimes things just don’t work out as you hope they will.
Wigan Athletic go into their last match at the end of a remarkable eight year stay in the Premier League. They come out of it stronger than when they went in. Latics now have a strong identity, a sound infrastructure and a much increased fan base. The wonderful cup final victory has gained them millions of admirers all over the world, not just through the result, but by the style with which they played.
The encounter with Aston Villa allows the opportunity for fans to celebrate those eight years and to savour the incredible achievement of winning the FA Cup. The match also gives Roberto Martinez the opportunity to blood young players outside the pressure-cooker atmosphere that has prevented him doing so in these past years of fighting relegation.
Despite looking a poor side for most of the season, Villa have maintained their Premier League status through an end of season rally. Much of that upturn in results was down to goals from the striking partnership of Gabriel Agbonlahor and big Belgian striker, Christian Benteke, who has netted a remarkable 19 goals in his first season in England’s top league. Moreover Agbonlahor's pace has often proved a thorn in the side for Wigan - he has scored 5 goals against them in previous encounters.
Benteke will not be lining up at the DW Stadium on Sunday due to a red card received in the home loss to Chelsea. However, Villa do have Darren Bent ready to step in. Bent has been frozen out by Paul Lambert, making only seven starts all season, scoring two goals.
Like Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa are making every effort to keep a balanced budget and it looks like Bent – who reportedly earns £65,000 a week - could be playing his last match for the club. Villa’s problem is that he still has a couple of years left on his contract. Other high wage earners, Stephen Ireland and Shay Given, also remain under contract and will be difficult to budge.
Aston Villa have a fine record at the DW Stadium having won four matches and drawn two over the previous six seasons. Latics will be keen to break this pattern.
The pressure is off for both teams in Sunday’s encounter. It promises to be a good match, with either team capable of winning. Reports suggest that Jean Beausejour will make a welcome return from a hamstring injury and that Adrian Lopez has a chance of making the game after an injury plagued season. Lopez could well become an important player in the Championship next year and Martinez might be tempted to give him a run out.
It is conceivable that up to a half of the players who play for Wigan Athletic on Sunday will not be with the club next season. In terms of team selection Martinez faces the dilemma of whether to stick with the nucleus of his cup winning team or to look to the future. The match provides a great opportunity to give youth a chance.
thanks to www.threeamigoswigan.com
Category: Match Previews Written by NRP
Category: Match Previews Written by BarStaff
When you watch it again on television, it is hard to tell that Ben Watson's FA Cup winning header actually happened in slow motion. But from my bright red Wembley seat about 15 yards away, I can assure you that the world stopped for a magical 10 seconds as the ball sat up, suspended in mid-air, spinning. Then the world moved forward again, in freeze-frame snapshots. Joe Hart's acrobatic leap and disbelieving eyes. Arouna Koné's realization. My wife and brother-in-law, wearing moustaches and sombreros, shaking me with unbridled joy. A child on his father's shoulders taking in a moment he is unlikely to forget. The passion -- the release -- in Callum McManaman's celebrations. A supporter wearing the 2005 shirt from the club's promotion season, the same one my Grandad had received autographed by the first team and subsequently passed on to me. Sheer euphoria.
My love of Wigan Athletic goes beyond my considerable love of the game. It is a personal and emotional connection to my roots; a source of pride, of enjoyment; a sporting fairy tale that I love sharing with people. It is the source of friendships, a topic of conversation, a hobby. As I took in the moments after the final whistle, I found myself wishing I knew the stories of all these singing and dancing men, women and children around me. I thought of my mother and father waking up the neighbours at 2:00 a.m. in Indonesia, my brother-in-law John who had flown over for the semi-final from Germany, friends watching from all corners of the world, neutrals hatching an interest for a club they previously knew little about. I saw a section of Omani supporters singing an Ali Al-Habsi-themed song in chorus with a group of Wiganers. Roger Espinoza receiving an Honduran flag from the crowd. It was a magical moment at Wembley. Football may just be a game, but its power to unite people and form lasting friendships -- and memories -- is unquestionable.
From a sporting perspective, this result was the equivalent of Honduras winning the World Cup -- something I would also enjoy. Plenty of newspapers have since mapped out the financial mismatch between the finalists, the consensus being that Wigan's entire starting XI had been assembled for less money than the average cost of a single player in Manchester City's starting XI. Bookmakers were offering 10-1 odds for a Wigan Athletic victory before kick-off. Manchester City supporters on the London Tube appeared to be in town for a victory celebration rather than a football match, and indeed sang about off-the-pitch matters rather than supporting their players for the task at hand. Meanwhile, Wigan had played three games in 10 days, were missing five defenders to injury, and had a crucial match at Arsenal in the league three days after to keep in mind.
And yet it was Wigan that looked fresher, hungrier, that looked the better team. Save for a couple first half scares -- most notably a superb save by keeper Joel Robles from a Sergio Aguero effort -- Latics created more and probably should have been awarded a couple penalties before Pablo Zabaleta's sending off and Ben Watson's winner. It was a performance on par with any I can recall against such strong opposition, and worthy of the title. Aside from the eye-catching performance of McManaman, it was a true team performance where individuals did not stand-out. It put the magic back into the FA Cup.
There is, of course, no time to celebrate as two disastrous results in the Premier League on Sunday meant Wigan must beat Arsenal away and Aston Villa at home in order to achieve their other aim of staying in the Premier League. The daunting Arsenal fixture is due to take place only three days after the superhuman effort the players put in at Wembley, which is plain unfair.
But Wigan supporters will be relatively at ease. The FA Cup victory is an achievement on so many levels, not least in that most of the victories on the road to Wembley were achieved using squad and youth players. Indeed, the player of the tournament, McManaman, wasn't even in contention for a spot on the bench in the league at the beginning of the season. Even if some certain were to leave the club in a relegation scenario, the squad is deep. They made easy work of Huddersfield and Millwall -- admittedly both strugglers in the Championship, but fired up for the Cup ties. Players such as Shaun Maloney and Koné have voiced their commitment to the club. It is doubtful that Martinez would leave if the club were to be relegated. Plus, there would be Europa League action to look forward to next season, something most of the club's players will be eager to experience for the first time in their careers.
What's more, the FA Cup victory proves a real winning mentality at the club. Martinez has not been successful just because of his results -- it's the manner in which they have been achieved. They're no longer scared of anyone. Most of Manchester City's opponents on a budget like Wigan's would have parked the team bus and hoped for a lucky goal or penalties. Martinez attacked City, played them evenly ending the game with the same number of shots. The difference in budgets may have told over the course of the full season, where Wigan have struggled to replace departed or injured players and dropped points as a result -- but in the FA Cup final, his cheaply assembled XI were better than City's.
What's more, the trophy establishes Wigan in football's elite. It will help with recruiting talented players. It puts the club on the map. It will bring the club new fans. It puts the club in Europe next season, regardless of the outcome in the relegation battle. Whether Martinez manages the impossible with another great escape or not, Wigan is now in the big leagues to stay. It's another step in the rapid progression the club has made, another rung on the ladder.
But it's not over yet. Wigan has two more finals, and two more opportunities to defy the odds. Their best work seems to happen just when success appears impossible -- this is certainly the most difficult league Premier League situation yet. They'll certainly need that winning mentality on Tuesday, not to mention several pain-killing injections before the match. But anyone who witnessed the magic at Wembley on Saturday -- and there were 30,000 of us there, three eighths of the town's population -- knows that regardless of the outcome, our proud little club just got bigger.
thanks to Ned from www.threeamigoswigan.com
Category: Match Previews Written by BarStaff
But it is the biggest game in the club's history, so we decided to write this up as an add-on. If you haven't already, please do give our preview a read. In the meantime, here is the traditional match preview.
While defending champions Manchester City were busy resting their eight of their starting XI during their 1-0 victory over West Brom -- a team Wigan had spectacularly, but only just, beaten three days prior - Wigan suffered yet another season-ending injury. Ronnie Stam had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds, before apparently breaking his leg.
The list of defenders unavailable to Roberto Martinez is now five strong: Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa, Jean Beausejour, Ronnie Stam. If Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastajic, Gael Glichy and Alexander Kolarov were injured and missing, it is arguable that Manchester City would be a bit worried too.
But for a club of Wigan's resources, the situation is disastrous -- thus the defensive errors of the last two matches.
The good news is that the attack has been magnificent. Without creating that many chances, Wigan have managed seven top quality strikes in the past three matches, with scorers in each of the defensive, midfield and attacking lines.
The biggest question ahead of tomorrow's FA Cup final must surely be who will play? Should Roberto field his strongest team, whatever that currently is given the injury crisis? Or should he reserve players for the crucial survival fixtures three and seven days later against Arsenal and Aston Villa?
One player whose presence will please most Latics supporters is Ali Al-Habsi. Given Martinez's pattern of playing the current league reserve goalkeeper in cup fixtures it looks like the big Omani will return. The twist here is that it will be intriguing to see if Al-Habsi -- something of a talisman to Wigan supporters -- can perform well enough to keep his place for the final two league fixtures. Joel Robles is a really exciting prospect and talented young keeper, despite for his horrendous mistake against Tottenham.
It will be interesting to see if Martinez continues with Ben Watson in that hybrid role of part holding midfield player, part central defender. Martinez has done much for Latics in the realm of tactical innovation, but the stats show that in the last three matches, using that new system, they have let in seven goals. However, given the lack of defenders available to him, Martinez might have to use it again.
Wigan fans will pray that Antolin Alcaraz will return from injury in time for Saturday, although it appears unlikely. Gary Caldwell was vulnerable against Swansea and is likely to struggle against City's speedy forwards. Roger Espinoza was used on the left of defence against the Welsh team and looked like a fish out of water. If he is to play on the left he will need the support of a strong central defence.
It therefore appears that Martinez has two choices for his defensive lineup - persevere with his recent tactical plan or revert to a system with a back three and wing backs.
One thing he can be sure of is that, if he plays, Gary Caldwell's commitment will be second to none. Last year's player of the season has been fighting against a chronic hip injury, with tremendous courage, having to take injections to even play. It would be a wonderful tribute to the skipper if he makes the starting lineup. Without him Latics would not have been in the Premier League this season.
The back three will most likely be Roman Golobart, Gary Caldwell and Paul Scharner, with Emmerson Boyce and Roger Espinoza at wing back. Alternatively he could play Caldwell at right wing back, putting the more pacy Boyce in the middle. City do not normally play with a left winger, although Caldwell would have to cope with an overlapping full back, Clichy or Kolarov.
Maybe Martinez will surprise us with another new tactical innovation. But no matter who is playing where, Wigan will need to keep things tight, keeping possession, not giving away suicidal goals.
Just over three weeks ago Wigan Athletic gave an excellent account of themselves at Eastlands, being pipped by a spectacular late goal from Carlos Tevez. If they can play like that tomorrow and get a little bit of luck, then an upset remains on the cards.
thanks to Ned from www.threeamigoswigan.com
Category: Match Previews Written by Jakarta Jack
Following a nail-biting win at West Bromwich, Wigan Athletic entertain Swansea City at the DW Stadium on Tuesday evening. Since the Welsh team’s return to the top flight, Latics have been unable to beat them. The Swans won their last match at the DW with two beautifully taken goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson in March 2012.
Wigan desperately need to win this game, but can expect to meet resistance from a stubborn Swansea outfit. Michael Laudrup has kept up the good work of Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez at the Welsh club. They continue to play that silky kind of football the Latics boss put in place there, but under Laudrup they can also play with a more pragmatic and direct approach.
The Swans have had some difficult recent fixtures against top teams and have not won for the last seven league matches. However, they still remain in 9th place and will be hungry to get a good result.
Both Latics and Swansea go into this game without key players due to hamstring injuries. Jean Beausejour is a major loss for Wigan, an unsung player who covers huge distances each game, covering his defence and stretching the opposition defences by receiving the ball wide. He has provided an amazing 7 assists this year, putting him on a par with attacking midfield players like David Silva and Santi Cazorla.
Miguel Perez, better known as Michu, is unavailable for the visitors, probably for the remainder of the season. Previously a midfield player, Swansea have converted him into a striker to such effect that he has scored 17 league goals in his first season in England.
Latics fans will be hoping that Antolin Alcaraz will be able to make his return following the hamstring injury he picked up at West Ham. He has been badly missed in the Latics rearguard over the past couple of weeks.
Roberto Martinez’ dilemma will be who to play on the left of his defence. With both Maynor Figueroa and Jean Beausejour unavailable, he does not have a natural replacement. Roger Espinoza substituted for Beausejour in that position on Saturday. Espinoza is always brimming with enthusiasm and he has no mean level of skill, but the left of defence is not his forte.
One wonders if David Jones might be available to take over now that his loan spell with Blackburn has been completed? Jones has played in the position before and his height can be useful when defending set pieces.
Given the absence of an orthodox left back, Martinez will probably opt for a back three and wing backs. If Alcaraz is back he will join Paul Scharner, plus one other in central defence. Young Roman Golobart came on in the second half at West Bromwich, although he looked nervous in that pressure cooker atmosphere. Emmerson Boyce could play in the centre of defence, allowing Ronnie Stam to return as right wing back. Stam continues to promise as an attacker, but his defensive work can leave much to be desired.
Gary Caldwell should not be forgotten. Although said to be continuing to struggle with his hip injury, the captain made a return at West Ham, only to be consigned to the bench for the past couple of games. He might well be back before the end of the season, but one wonders if he will be risked against a pacey Swansea side.
Given the congested fixture list coming up, Martinez might use more of his squad players. Ben Watson made a return on Saturday, following the broken leg he suffered in November. Martinez used him in a hybrid role, part holding midfield and part central defender. Watson did not do badly, but his lack of pace was exposed when the midlanders broke away for their first goal.
If Martinez does opt to play someone in that position he might go with the more speedy James McCarthy. Moreover he might not want to risk Watson for a second game in three days, following his long lay-off.
Martinez will be wary of burnout for young Callum McManaman and it can be expected that Franco Di Santo will either start or come on at a key stage in the match.
Robert Martinez is hopeful of winning his 150th Premier League game at Wigan on Tuesday. His challenge will be in finding the right lineup and in getting the best out of his players with Wembley coming up on Saturday.
This is not an easy match and the nerves will be jangling. The support and patience of the home crowd will be crucial. It could go down to the wire.
thanks to http://threeamigoswigan.com
Category: Match Previews Written by Jakarta Jack
"I don't think they'll get an easy game here. Not too many teams come to the Hawthorns and get an easy game, and I don't think that will be the case this weekend.”
The words of West Bromwich manager, Steve Clarke, when discussing Saturday’s visit of Wigan Athletic.
Clarke had also previously stated his preference for Aston Villa to maintain their Premier League status. Somehow he seems to think having the old enemy in the same division would help his players. Strange logic indeed.
In December of last season Wigan picked up a 2-1 win at the Hawthorns with Victor Moses scoring his first league goal for a year and Jordi Gomez netting a penalty. That result was to lift Latics out of the bottom three, albeit temporarily. A win for Wigan on Saturday would not have the same immediate effect, but would give them a real chance of getting out of that drop-zone by the end of the season.
The loss of Maynor Figueroa for the rest of the season is a huge blow for Latics. His ability to be able to play in the centre of defence or on the left flank has given his team tactical flexibility.
Roberto Martinez has been able to switch from a formation with three centre halves and two wing backs to a flat back four. Moving Figueroa to the left back position has given Wigan a more attacking option, releasing Jean Beausejour to play as an orthodox winger.
Figueroa will be sadly missed, and if rumours are true, he could be off to West Ham at the end of the season. So how will Martinez manage for the rest of the season without the services of his only experienced, specialist left back and two quality central defenders in Antolin Alcaraz and Ivan Ramis?
When Figueroa left the field against Tottenham, Ronnie Stam came in on the right of defence with Emmerson Boyce moved to centre back. The prospect of Stam and Beausejour seemingly pushed into orthodox full back positions would have sent shivers up the spines of home fans. Although each player can be effective as a wing back, neither has enough defensive quality to play as a full back.
However, Martinez’ experiment of playing James McCarthy in a hybrid role between the centre of defence and holding midfield was to prove successful. When Spurs attacked McCarthy was able to drop back, effectively as the third central defender, in turn relieving the pressure on Stam and Beausejour.
Martinez might well choose to play that same formation at the Hawthorns. The Baggies have quality forwards at their disposal in Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku, not to mention Peter Odemwingie and Marc-Antoine Fortune in reserve. A firm defence is therefore essential. Another option for Martinez is to bring back Gary Caldwell to join Boyce and Scharner in a back three.
Wigan continue to be cruelly hit by injuries and sheer bad luck. They face a confident West Bromwich team that has reached 48 points, the most they have achieved in any Premier League season. Steve Clarke has done a good job since taking over in summer, his team currently standing in 8th place. His comments indicate his desire for his team to inflict defeat on Latics.
However, in recent encounters with top teams - like Manchester City and Tottenham - Wigan have shown that they can perform at a high level. If they can reach those same levels on Saturday then three points is a definite possibility. All that would be required is that little bit of luck that has deserted them during most of this difficult, injury-plagued season.