“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.