Whilst hardly a mouth-watering affair for the neutral, nor a crucial fixture in an unexpectedly dire league campaign, the FA Cup visit of Bournemouth has brought about a swell of interest and anticipation in the Wigan Athletic community.
Not only have two players been signed since the United match just a few days ago, Nouha Dicko and Rob Kiernan have been recalled from their loans, and Arouna Koné’s departure for the African Cup of Nations has raised all manner of debate about who will fill his shoes — and how. Further transfer rumours suggest the loan arrival of Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Joel is imminent to give Ali Al-Habsi some much needed competition.
While the senior XI looked badly in need of a rest at times during the United loss, the substitutes provided much cause for optimism. Jordi Gomez looked sharp and lively, while Ronnie Stam’s drive down the right resulted in a couple half chances in his short time on the pitch, and Callum McManaman showed some nice touches and offers what only Shaun Maloney seems willing to try — dynamism and dribbling.
Al-Habsi tends to start these matches and his confidence could certainly use an injection of positivity if things go to plan. The centre of defence in front of him should be strong — Gary Caldwell and Ivan Ramis should be given the bulk of the match as they work on their fitness post-injuries, while it is possible Antolin Alcaraz could make his first appearance in a long, long time. What a welcome sight that would be. More likely, though, is a game for Roman Golobart or the recalled Kiernan in place of Maynor Figueroa, who has more than earned a rest.
Roger Espinoza has been officially presented as a Latics player and could make his bow. Though his best work has come as a central midfielder, his left foot and versatility may see him given a chance in the Jean Beausejour left wing-back role. The Chilean’s form has not been as good as last season’s and competition would be welcome. Angelo Henriquez, his countryman, will hope to make his bow up front at some stage, although it’s anyone’s guess who he might play alongside. Franco Di Santo has been used sparingly and doesn’t exactly need a rest — in fact what he needs is a goal. Callum McManaman is almost sure to start, the question is where. And Ryo Miyaichi is back from injury — will he start over Ronnie Stam as a wingback or in a more advanced role.
And what of Mauro Boselli, so excellent in the League Cup earlier this season, but let down by poor service in his single league start of the season in the flat performance at Norwich. Where in the pecking order is he?
At this stage last season, Shaun Maloney had played no part to speak of, and look how important he turned out to be. By the end of 90 minutes tomorrow, we should have a much clearer picture of life without Arouna Koné, and who will be challenging to make that kind of impact this time around.