On such an historic occasion for Wigan Athletic it seemed in a strange way inappropriate to focus on lineups, tactics and the XI that turned out to represent the club in its first ever FA Cup final.
But it is the biggest game in the club’s history, so we decided to write this up as an add-on. If you haven’t already, please do give our preview a read. In the meantime, here is the traditional match preview.
While defending champions Manchester City were busy resting their eight of their starting XI during their 1-0 victory over West Brom — a team Wigan had spectacularly, but only just, beaten three days prior – Wigan suffered yet another season-ending injury. Ronnie Stam had only been on the pitch for a matter of seconds, before apparently breaking his leg.
The list of defenders unavailable to Roberto Martinez is now five strong: Ivan Ramis, Antolin Alcaraz, Maynor Figueroa, Jean Beausejour, Ronnie Stam. If Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastajic, Gael Glichy and Alexander Kolarov were injured and missing, it is arguable that Manchester City would be a bit worried too.
But for a club of Wigan’s resources, the situation is disastrous — thus the defensive errors of the last two matches.
The good news is that the attack has been magnificent. Without creating that many chances, Wigan have managed seven top quality strikes in the past three matches, with scorers in each of the defensive, midfield and attacking lines.
The biggest question ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup final must surely be who will play? Should Roberto field his strongest team, whatever that currently is given the injury crisis? Or should he reserve players for the crucial survival fixtures three and seven days later against Arsenal and Aston Villa?
One player whose presence will please most Latics supporters is Ali Al-Habsi. Given Martinez’s pattern of playing the current league reserve goalkeeper in cup fixtures it looks like the big Omani will return. The twist here is that it will be intriguing to see if Al-Habsi — something of a talisman to Wigan supporters — can perform well enough to keep his place for the final two league fixtures. Joel Robles is a really exciting prospect and talented young keeper, despite for his horrendous mistake against Tottenham.
It will be interesting to see if Martinez continues with Ben Watson in that hybrid role of part holding midfield player, part central defender. Martinez has done much for Latics in the realm of tactical innovation, but the stats show that in the last three matches, using that new system, they have let in seven goals. However, given the lack of defenders available to him, Martinez might have to use it again.
Wigan fans will pray that Antolin Alcaraz will return from injury in time for Saturday, although it appears unlikely. Gary Caldwell was vulnerable against Swansea and is likely to struggle against City’s speedy forwards. Roger Espinoza was used on the left of defence against the Welsh team and looked like a fish out of water. If he is to play on the left he will need the support of a strong central defence.
It therefore appears that Martinez has two choices for his defensive lineup – persevere with his recent tactical plan or revert to a system with a back three and wing backs.
One thing he can be sure of is that, if he plays, Gary Caldwell’s commitment will be second to none. Last year’s player of the season has been fighting against a chronic hip injury, with tremendous courage, having to take injections to even play. It would be a wonderful tribute to the skipper if he makes the starting lineup. Without him Latics would not have been in the Premier League this season.
The back three will most likely be Roman Golobart, Gary Caldwell and Paul Scharner, with Emmerson Boyce and Roger Espinoza at wing back. Alternatively he could play Caldwell at right wing back, putting the more pacy Boyce in the middle. City do not normally play with a left winger, although Caldwell would have to cope with an overlapping full back, Clichy or Kolarov.
Maybe Martinez will surprise us with another new tactical innovation. But no matter who is playing where, Wigan will need to keep things tight, keeping possession, not giving away suicidal goals.
Just over three weeks ago Wigan Athletic gave an excellent account of themselves at Eastlands, being pipped by a spectacular late goal from Carlos Tevez. If they can play like that tomorrow and get a little bit of luck, then an upset remains on the cards.