Wigan Athletic v Swansea City Preview

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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.

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Swansea City 2 Wigan Athletic 1: That sinking feeling

Without doing a terrible amount wrong, Wigan Athletic has found itself sinking into the all-too-familiar lower depths of the Premier League. We might be telling a very different tale if Arouna Koné’s headed equaliser had not been incorrectly disallowed for offside, but in the end those small margins told and it was another tight loss. There have been several of them in recent weeks against beatable teams — Fulham, Sunderland, and now Swansea — in which the side showed positives but failed to get the result. The good news is that fellow basement dwellers Southampton, Reading, Aston Villa, Norwich City and QPR look a weaker set of competition than last year’s pack.

Of the aforementioned strugglers, Norwich were the only team to secure three points this weekend with a shock 1-0 victory over Arsenal. Chris Hughton’s side deserve full credit for an excellent performance, but it is no coincidence they got the result following an international break. Like Swansea, Norwich looked fresh and full of zip — both squads have few internationals and benefitted from two weeks of focused training. Like Arsenal, a majority of Wigan’s starting XI had played two matches in the previous week, spread across the far corners of the world. Between Al-Habsi, Figueroa, Beausejour, Caldwell, McArthur, McCarthy and Koné (who admittedly did not play but had an eventful week nonetheless) — Latics players covered four continents and hundreds of thousands of miles before this fixture. Thank goodness Barbados wasn’t playing. Maynor Figueroa, whose Honduran national team secured qualification after thumping Canada 8-1, certainly looked like he was in a different time zone.

A detailed analysis of post-international results will follow next time there is an international break. But in the meantime, it seems fair to raise the question why Roberto is not leaning a little more heavily on his squad for these fixtures based on recent post-international break results?

The Good: 

Despite a sharp-looking home performance from Swansea, Latics kept them out in the first half, and looked the more incisive team on the counter. James McArthur showed some touches of real class and vision. Arouna Koné was very good, despite seeing relatively little of the ball. After Latics conceded and bodies were pushed forward, Shaun Maloney was excellent, getting on the ball, making things happen.

The Bad: 

Figueroa had a bad day. The marking for the second goal was non-existent — they appeared to stand still as Michu ran in to score. The team didn’t show real urgency or ambition until it was 2-0. All of which was a shame against a team that demonstrated their attacking threat but were defensively wobbly throughout. Opportunity lost.

Player Ratings: 

Ali Al-Habsi: 7 — Caught flat-footed on the first goal, but there was not much he could do about either. Made one or two decent saves before then.

Ivan Ramis: 6 — Solid until he lost sight of Michu for the second goal.

Gary Caldwell: 6 — Solid until Hernandez got the better of him for the first goal.

Maynor Figueroa: 5 — Not solid. Looked out of sorts, substituted to accomodate an attacking tactical change.

Emmerson Boyce: 6.5 — Brilliant improvised goal, but didn’t have an easy afternoon with Routledge in fine form.

Jean Beausejour: 7 — Cracking cross for Koné, which would have been the equaliser but for an errant offside call. Also played a delightful ball in for Koné, which the Ivorian couldn’t make the best of. Need him to get forward more often.

James McArthur: 7.5 — Some real quality from the Scot, who always puts the miles in defensively but rarely gets a chance to show his skill.

James McCarthy: 6 — Not his strongest performance.

Shaun Maloney: 7 — Always trying to make things happen. But his finishing should have been better with both a first half opportunity and a disappointing second half free-kick.

Franco Di Santo: 6 — Only got one chance and telegraphed it.

Arouna Koné: 7 — Strong performance that deserved a goal. His strength and pace are impressive, but he showed he can dribble and head the ball as well. The complete striker — just needs a bit more service and luck now. Took a heavy touch on a lovely Beausejour cross, mind.

Subs:

Ben Watson: N/A — His introduction saw a formation change, which resulted in more bodies forward and sustained pressure on the Swansea rearguard. It also left Latics’ defense a bit exposed.

Jordi Gomez: N/A — Went backwards too many times, to the support’s frustration. Played so well in the corresponding fixture last year, maybe he should have been brought on sooner — before goals were needed urgently. Urgency is not his strong suit.

Mauro Boselli: N/A — No service, barely touched the ball.