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.