How times have changed.
Less than a year ago Wigan Athletic were entertaining Chelsea in the opening match of last season’s Premier League campaign. On Saturday they travel to Barnsley to open their Championship season.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that encounter with the London giants. Wigan’s eighth Premier League season was constantly punctuated by injuries to key players and the impact was a very tospy-turvy season. The finale came in a bizarre last week of the season with them winning the FA Cup, but getting relegated just three days later.
Maybe winning the FA Cup was the defining factor in Roberto Martinez’s decision to seek new pastures. It was the highest of highs in Wigan Athletic’s history and has left an indelible mark on the club. But the reality is that now Latics face the challenge of getting back into the Premier League.
The visit to Oakwell is the first of many challenges that Owen Coyle’s new side will face this year. Coyle has done a wonderful job in bringing in nine new players to complement the strong backbone of a squad left behind by Martinez. His challenge will be to keep what was good from Martinez’s legacy, but to motivate a competitive squad of players to combine flair with the ability to slug it out over a really long season.
Barnsley finished one point above the relegation zone last year, having stayed up the previous year due to Portsmouth being docked points through having to go into administration. However, they will be keen to start the new season on a positive note and Latics can expect a stern physical tussle at Oakwell, which has been Barnsley’s home since 1888.
Wigan’s lineup is likely to be close to that which started the Dundee United game last weekend. The main questions will be who will line up next to James Perch in the centre of defence and whether Callum McManaman will be fit enough to start.
If Thomas Royne recovers from the back injury sustained in the match with the Tangerines he will most likely partner Perch. If not then Coyle has the option of throwing his brand-new signing Leon Barnett into the fray.
McManaman did not feature prominently in the pre-season and there are doubts as to whether he has fully overcome the ankle injury received at the end of last season. If he is unavailable then Coyle has the option of bringing in Jean Beausejour on the left or fielding twin strikers in Grant Holt and Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Latics will be hoping for a good start to the season. Providing they can match Barnsley physically, their technical superiority should be sufficient to get a result. Owen Coyle’s revolution is in progress and we will see its fruits over these coming months.