What is the point of tonight’s match at the Etihad Stadium? Is there anything Wigan Athletic can gain from it, other than a share of gate revenue?
The League Cup meeting between Wigan Athletic and Manchester City was being built up as a repeat of the FA Cup final. Could David once again kill Goliath?
The media have now come to their senses. They now realize that Latics will be playing their third game in six days, let alone having been hit by injuries to both of their mainline central strikers and their playmaker.
The Citizens’ fan site Vital Manchester City reckons that Nick Powell will be the man to watch in the Latics side. The reality is that of all the players who might make the lineup tonight, Powell is one of the least likely. He played a full match against Ipswich on Sunday after playing for 83 minutes on his debut in Bruges last Thursday. To be fair to the fan site they do qualify their comments by stating that Powell “will need some shackling, if selected”.
Owen Coyle has rightly criticized the powers that be for their scheduling of the match. He has also said he will have to make “umpteen” changes, with a chance for some of the young players from the fringes of his squad.
In terms of the senior players, Coyle will not want to risk injuries with a difficult Championship fixture at Watford coming up on Saturday. On the other hand he will not want to run the risk of annihilation by putting out a team too short on experience.
His best option will be to look at putting in senior players who have not played major roles in the last two games. That rules out Scott Carson, Ryan Shotton, James Perch, James McArthur, James McClean, Nick Powell and Callum McManaman.
Even then Coyle will need to take a look at other players who made the lineup on Sunday, having to make a decision whether he is willing to risk them for another match only two days later. Emmerson Boyce was given a partial rest on Sunday, coming on as a substitute after 75 minutes. Ben Watson came on after 66 minutes in Belgium and played a full game on Sunday.
Senior players who clearly stand a chance of making the starting lineup include Stephen Crainey, Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie, Jordi Gomez and Chris McCann. Juan Carlos Garcia is still adapting to his move from Honduras, but could be thrust in tonight at either left or centre back.
The names of “youngsters” Lee Nicholls, Adam Buxton and Nouha Dicko have already been mentioned as possibilities for the lineup tonight. Nicholls is likely to replace Scott Carson in goal, with Buxton coming in at right back. Given the likely absence of other challengers Dicko could even end up in the centre forward position, where he has played before for the under-21 team.
Rob Kiernan is a promising young central defender, but Coyle might not want to expose him to dealing with the outstanding strikers that City can field. Jordan Mustoe deserves a chance at full back, as does Danny Redmond in midfield.
The emergence of the talented 19 year old Ross Barkley at Everton has had journalists praising Roberto Martinez for giving youth a chance. However, that was not always the case while he was at Wigan. The “youngsters” mentioned above are 21 to 22 years old. Their appearances with the senior side have been confined to cup matches against lower league opposition.
Coyle has a difficult task in putting together a team that can give Manchester City a contest tonight. At least three of the senior players he puts in the starting lineup are likely to be replaced in the second half, providing he does not have to make substitutions earlier due to injuries.
In the grander scheme of things the result of tonight’s match is of minor importance to Latics. The priorities are to get promotion out of the Championship and to put up a good show in the Europa League. However, Coyle will not want a whitewash that might damage morale within the club.
The most positive aspect is that opportunities will be given to young players – at long last!