There was a bad joke being bandied about last summer that Pep Guardiola might be going to Stoke – after all he had been talking about taking a year out of football. Joking apart, a match against Stoke should not be taken lightly. Despite their emphasis on physicality they do have players who can play good football. Moreover the crowd noise at the Brittania Stadium places them at the peak of the league’s decibel table.
Wigan Athletic go into this match with relegation breathing down their backs. Is it a good time to go to Stoke? The Potters have had a torrid time recently, with only one win in the last 8 league matches. However, they have lost only a single home match this season, that one being largely influenced by Jon Walters’ two own goals and penalty miss in the 4-0 loss to Chelsea. The Potters are a level above Wigan in terms of financial outlay and their fans are getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of delivery of their more well paid players. Peter Crouch and Kenwyne Jones will compete for the centre forward position, alongside leading scorer Walters. Michael Owen scored a goal in the defeat at Swansea last week, after coming off the bench for the last 5 minutes. It was his fifth appearance as a substitute and he has not started a game all season. Neither Charlie Adam nor Matthew Etherington have been regulars in the team this season. Stoke’s game is built on a physical, but capable defence. They have conceded 27 goals so far this season, compared with Wigan’s 43. The giant Robert Huth forms a formidable centre of defence with Ryan Shawcross. Huth is 6ft 3in tall, but so are full backs, Ryan Shotton and Geoff Cameron.
Wigan are likely to approach this match cautiously with a conservative starting lineup containing only one mainline striker, Franco Di Santo. If Stoke’s defence does have a weakness it is probably at full back, but Wigan lack a genuine winger to take advantage, both Ryo Miyaichi and Albert Crusat out with long-term injuries. Following a good display in the cup tie at Macclesfield, Callum McManaman might well be introduced at some stage, but Martinez is likely to start with Jordi Gomez and Shaun Maloney behind lone centre forward, Di Santo. Given the strong possibility of an aerial bombardment by Stoke, Martinez will be looking at having height in his defence. Emmerson Boyce, Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa will most likely form the back three, with Ronnie Stam and Jean Beausejour at wing back. However, there remains an option of providing more height in defence by bringing in either Adrian Lopez or Roman Golobart at centre back, with Boyce at right wing back. The two Jimmy Macs will almost certainly anchor the centre of midfield, although Martinez may choose to deploy a third holding midfielder there – David Jones or Roger Espinoza – at the expense of Gomez.
Given the fixture list coming up, Wigan will be anxious to get at least a point out of this match. They are going to have to work hard physically if they are to keep Stoke at bay. At the same time, they will also want to stay free of red cards or further injuries, given the key game against Southampton coming up on Saturday. Let’s hope Roberto Martinez surprises us and puts forward a well balanced lineup, resisting the temptation to pass the initiative to Stoke by playing with only one mainline striker.