Love it or hate it, the Spanish national team play a brand of football that brings results. Not only do they have a generation of outstanding players, but they dominate possession in such a way that the opposition is starved of the ball. At times in the second half in the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday night, watching Wigan was a bit like watching Spain. Stoke could not get hold of the ball, humble Wigan Athletic making a much more expensively assembled squad of players look ordinary. Tiki-taka, the modern day version of ‘total football’ was the order of the day, Wigan retaining possession through constant short passing and movement .
Roberto Martinez is a brave and innovative manager, if nothing else. He believes in playing stylish football, despite the precarious situations the club has been in during his tenure. There are fans who don’t like his footballing philosophy and would prefer the kind of football of the era of Steve Bruce and others before him. He is not easily swayed by public opinion, but bright and thoughtful in his approach. His achievement in keeping Wigan in the Premier League for the past three years on a relatively low budget – nevertheless playing good football – should not be underrated.
Good results against teams in the lower reaches of the table are vital if Wigan are to stay in the Premier League. Tomorrow’s game against Southampton is not ‘make or break’ but could have a major impact upon the remainder of the season. Only 3 points separate the teams and a win for Wigan would bring the Saints back into the relegation mire. Following a slow start to the season Southampton have picked up and they had lifted themselves out of the relegation zone by time Nigel Adkins was sacked. Adkins had done a wonderful job to take them so far and the ex-Latics goalkeeper had his team playing good football. Only time will tell if Southampton’s decision to replace Adkins with Mauricio Pocchetino will prove best for their club.
What kind of approach will Martinez use for this match? On paper the lineup he put forward against Stoke looked conservative, playing with just one mainline striker. For the first 50 minutes they were poor, giving away two soft goals and showing no bite in attack. Packing the midfield with an extra player, Roger Espinoza, had not produced results. Then all at once it clicked – the midfield players got further forward and Wigan scored two cracking goals. Espinoza had looked uncomfortable in the first half, but in the second period he was a revelation. He seemed to be everywhere, a midfield general, a catalyst making things happen.
Martinez will be tempted to stick with that same approach against Southampton. In order for it to work the midfield players have to go that extra yard and get into the box to support the central striker. If it were to be tried and proved successful against Southampton it might become the blueprint for not only survival, but also for the future. Martinez might be tempted to put in new signing Paul Scharner at right centre back in place of the inexperienced Roman Golobart.
Southampton come to their first ever competitive match in Wigan on the back of a fine performance at Old Trafford, where they really took the game to the home side, being unlucky to lose 2-1. Their talismanic striker, Rickie Lambert, has already scored 10 goals and will need careful watching. However, Wigan are certainly capable of beating them, as they did at St Mary’s in August. Prediction: a win for Latics.