Who will play?

267WembleyStadium_pic3

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.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Everton v Wigan Athletic – Nothing to Lose

fa_cup

Only the brightest of optimists could expect a second string Wigan Athletic team to go to Goodison Park tomorrow and get a good result. The Wigan team will be largely composed of players who have spent most of their time on the bench or on the treatment table in recent months. In contrast Everton are likely to put out a strong lineup.

Everton are a formidable team at Goodison, where they have lost only one of 14 league games this year. It is going to be a tall order for Wigan, but who knows what might happen?

There are players in the Wigan squad who will be anxious to impress in this game, none more so than ex-Everton youth player, Callum McManaman. The 21 year old forward has excelled in cup matches this year and has been unlucky not to have appeared more in the Premier League. He will be joined up front by either Angelo Henqriquez or Nouha Dicko, although Ryo Miyaichi is fit again and will probably appear at some stage during the game. Jordi Gomez will be charged with the creative role for the strikers.

Fraser Fyvie, a 19 year old with more than 50 senior games prior experience under his belt for Aberdeen, is another who has waited patiently for his chance. He is likely to lineup in the centre of midfield alongside the committed American/Honduran, Roger Espinoza, who continues to adapt to the pace of English football.

Roman Golobart, at 20 years of age, is another fine prospect. He made his debut in the starting lineup in the Premier League game against Stoke in January. His extra height in the centre of defence will be useful against an Everton side which always poses a strong aerial threat. He will almost certainly be joined by Antolin Alcaraz, back from long term injury. Adrian Lopez is also back to fitness and will probably take up Gary Caldwell’s position in the centre of defence.

Ronnie Stam will take the right wing back position, but Martinez might have to throw in Maynor Figueroa or Jean Beausejour on the left. With David Jones and Jordan Mustoe out on loan he lacks alternatives in that position. Young Spanish goalkeeper, Joel Robles, faces an acid test where he will have the chance to show that he can compete with Ali Al Habsi for the first team spot.

Likely starting lineup: Robles – Alcaraz, Lopez, Golobart – Stam, Fyvie, Espinoza, Figueroa or Beausejour – Gomez, McManaman, Henriquez or Dicko.

However, in previous rounds Martinez has surprised us by including a smattering of first choice players. At this stage of the season he is less likely to do so. If he were to choose between the FA Cup and Premier League survival, the latter would be his most likely option.

A second string Wigan Athletic is still strong enough to give Everton a run for their money – they have nothing to lose!

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Huddersfield Town 1 Wigan Athletic 4 – A Difference in Class

McManaman

A mixed Wigan Athletic team was far too strong for a mediocre home side and the scoreline reflected the difference in class between the two sides.

Despite the importance of next week’s game at Reading, Roberto Martinez decided to risk putting in a handful of his first choice players. Latics started with a flat back four, with Arouna Kone in the lone centre forward role and Callum McManaman on the left wing. The  central midfield players – Fyvie, McArthur, Espinoza and Gomez – were the key to dominating possession and putting Huddersfield under pressure from the get-go.

Despite a pitch churned up by a rugby match between teams from the same towns the previous day, Wigan were still able to display their usual brand of possession football. The directness and pace of Callum McManaman provided a cutting edge and he took his chance brilliantly when put through by James McArthur in the 31st minute. The young winger tormented the Terriers defence, particularly in the first hour.  It was no surprise when Kone added a second after 40 minutes, after McManaman had put in a low cross for Gomez’s blocked shot. In the 56th minute he was to combine with James McArthur, for the Scot to hit the target with a screamer from the edge of the box.

Huddersfield’s main form of attack was to pump high balls into the box, but Wigan’s two tallest central defenders – Roman Golobart and Paul Scharner – held firm. However, the ploy worked when substitute Lee Novak managed to outjump Maynor Figueroa to put the home team back in the game after 62 minutes.

Arouna Kone’s opportunist goal in the closing minutes, following a defensive mix up from the home side, put extra gloss on the scoreline for Wigan.

The Good

This result means that Wigan Athletic have made the last eight of the FA Cup for the second time in their history. However, an away trip in the next round to Everton or Oldham, is not going to be easy, particularly if it is to Merseyside.

Roberto Martinez made a brave move by putting in a higher proportion of first team regulars than expected. He had to make a conscious decision whether to risk his mainline players with a key relegation match looming. However, the positive scoreline from this match will surely help boost morale at a key time within the club. The  tactic of packing the midfield worked in this match.

The Bad

Huddersfield’s churned-up pitch – a reminder of what can happen when you share a ground with the local rugby team.

Interestingly the attendance for the Giants-Warriors rugby encounter was 8,023 and that for the FA Cup match was 12,117.

Player Ratings

Joel Robles: 6 – looked comfortable. Although he was rarely called into action,  he made a good save early in the second half  as Huddersfield threatened.

Ronnie Stam: 6 – one of his better games in an orthodox right back position. Has clearly been working hard on the defensive side of his game.

Roman Golobart: 7 – teamed up well with Scharner in the centre of defence.

Paul Scharner: 7 – calm and composed in the centre of defence.

Maynor Figueroa: 6 – captain for the day. Still clearly enjoys the left back position, which allows him the chance to go forward. Needs to work on challenging for aerial balls in the penalty box – it is not the first time this season he has been outjumped for a goal.

Fraser Fyvie: 7 – looked the part. Hardworking and did not waste the ball.

James McArthur: 8 – looked a class above his Huddersfield counterparts. His rocket shot for the third goal is one to be remembered.

Roger Espinoza: 6 –worked as hard as always, until taken off after 57 minutes.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – put in a useful stint, proving a link between midfield and attack.

Arouna Kone: 6 – worked hard as usual. His first goal was scored from an offside position, but he took his second goal well, blasting the ball past the keeper from just inside the box.

Callum McManaman: 8 – dangerous throughout. Took his goal really well and looked the part on the left wing. How much longer can he fail to make the starting lineup in the Premier League?

Substitutes:

Shaun Maloney – a capable replacement for Espinoza early in the second half.  Was his usual effervescent self, working hard, putting through nice passes.

Jean Beausejour – came on for Gomez after 74 minutes. Solid.

James McCarthy – came on in the last minute.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

FA Cup Fifth Round: Huddersfield Town v Wigan Athletic

John Smith's Stadium,  Huddersfield

John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield

Wigan Athletic have reached the  6th round of the FA Cup only once before. That was in the 1986-1987 season, when they were unluckily beaten by Leeds United on a bitterly cold and blustery afternoon at  Springfield Park. On Sunday they will be hoping to get there again when they travel to meet a Huddersfield Town team that pulled off a surprise 2-1 victory at high flying Championship rivals Leicester on Tuesday.

The last time Wigan played Huddersfield in the FA Cup was in 1973, when Latics were a non-league side and the Terriers were in Division 3. The result at the old Leeds Road stadium was a 2-0 win for the home team. Huddersfield moved to their new ground, now known as the John Smiths Stadium, in 1994. Not surprisingly there have been some concerns about the state of the pitch, since Town share the ground with the local rugby league club.  There has been  debate among Town supporters as to what has caused the  recent  problems. Some say it has been churned up by having rugby matches played on it;  others say it is been because of the bad weather and the need for undersoil heating.  A familiar debate well known to Wigan fans. Let’s hope the issue does not rear its ugly head again in the matches remaining this season at the DW Stadium.

Given their current predicament  in the relegation zone of the Premier League,  Wigan will be reluctant to risk first choice players for this game. However, a few are likely to be drafted in to provide balance. There appears to be an outside chance that Emmerson Boyce will make  a return, following his recent hamstring injury. However, Martinez will probably play safe and play Ronnie Stam at right wing back, saving the senior professional for the Reading game.

The big Spanish goalkeeper Joel Robles will have the opportunity to stake a claim for a  first team place. He is likely to see much more action against a Championship side than he did against Conference side Macclesfield in the last round. Roman Golobart is likely to step into central defence, with Adrian Lopez alongside him, if fit. The third central defensive position would go to a senior player, although the return of Antolin Alcaraz is still in doubt. Jordan Mustoe staked a claim at left wing back in the Macclesfield game in the previous round, but it could also be taken by Maynor Figueroa or Jean Beausejour.

David Jones  will surely start in the centre of midfield, but Fraser Fyvie is injured, so Roger Espinoza will probably step in. Jordi Gomez will surely start in the front three, together with two of Callum McManaman,  Angelo Henriquez and Nouha Dicko. Given that he has not had much football in recent weeks we can expect Arouna Kone to feature at some time during the game.

This will be a stern test for the second string. Huddersfield currently lie 18th in the Championship table, but they have only lost 4 matches out of 16 at home. All teams in the Championship are competitive and this Huddersfield side is likely to stretch a Wigan lineup that only plays together in cup matches. However, the second string has already shown this season that it can take its chances clinically and grind out results. A good result at the John Smith’s Stadium would lift the spirits of all at the club.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.

Macclesfield Town 0 Wigan Athletic 1 – Professional display sees off non-leaguers

Jordi Gomez puts Wigan 1-0 up.

Jordi Gomez puts Wigan 1-0 up.

Wigan Athletic’s second string put them into the  5th round of the FA Cup for only the second time since the club was formed in 1932. A professional performance saw them grind out a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Jordi Gomez penalty after Callum McManaman had been clumsily scythed down in the box.

The crowd of 5,849 packed Macclesfield’s small Moss Rose ground to the rafters, reminiscent of a bygone era when the clubs were adversaries in the Cheshire League. How times have changed since those epic tussles between those two well-matched clubs in the 1960s. Curiously the football played by the non-league side yesterday more than matched that of Premier League opponents, ranked 82 places above them. Wigan had to hang in there with resolute defending as the Silkmen launched their second half assault.

The second string have been fascinating to watch in cup matches this season. On previous occasions they have been reinforced with a smattering of first choice players, but only Maynor Figueroa was in the starting lineup this time around. The  pragmatic approach of the second string has contrasted sharply with that of the Premier League XI. In this match there was an absence of the flowing football that characterises the senior team. Although it made for a drab spectacle Wigan looked defensively strong and resolutely defended their lead for 83 minutes after the penalty had put them in front.

This time they did not have Mauro Boselli to score goals for them, the Argentinian seemingly going on another loan move to Italy. He was replaced by Nouha Dicko who almost scored in the second half, after being put through by an incisive pass by Gomez, the goalkeeper making a good save.

A word of mention for Maynor Figueroa. The admirable Honduran has not had a rest from football for some 18 months. He played with his national  team in the Olympics over the summer and has started in all but one of Wigan’s Premier League games this season. It was no surprise that he was the senior professional who stepped forward to lend a hand in this match.  Captain for the night, he looked a class above anyone else on the pitch.

The Good

A win is a win, albeit against non-league opponents. This match was a potential banana skin, but the players worked hard to make sure the unthinkable did not happen.

Roberto Martinez views cup matches as an opportunity for players to stake a claim in the senior squad. Once again Callum McManaman looked the part. Although he rarely plays more than a few minutes as a substitute in the Premier League he has recently signed a new three year contract. One wonders when Martinez will jump in at the deep end and start the young forward in a league match. Roman Golobart teamed up well with Maynor Figueroa in the centre of defence and looks a powerful presence. If Martinez does not get an experienced central defender in what remains of the transfer window then Golobart will push for a first team spot, together with Adrian Lopez who made a welcome return from injury.

Fraser Fyvie is gradually making his mark, after being given a settling in period. The 19 year old is not without experience, having played 58 games  in the SPL for Aberdeen prior to joining Wigan in summer.  It was a pity an injury caused him to go off after 53 minutes. Roger Espinoza made a promising Premier League debut against Sunderland last weekend, but was unable to really stamp his mark on this match. It was good to take a first look at the big Spanish goalkeeper, Joel Robles, on-loan from Atletico Madrid.

 The Bad

More injuries for Wigan with Fraser Fyvie and Nouha Dicko going off in the second half.

 Player Ratings 

Joel Robles: 6 – looked comfortable, though Macc’s poor finishing rarely tested him.

Ronnie Stam: 6 – clearly worked hard on the defensive side of his game, following recent criticism.

Roman Golobart: 7 – teamed up well with Figueroa in the centre of defence.

Maynor Figueroa: 8 – a captain’s display.

Jordan Mustoe: 5 – a rare start for the young defender. Was kept busy by attackers on his side of the pitch, but hung in there.

Fraser Fyvie: 6 – starting to look like the player who had so much hype in Scotland. Clearly one for the future.

Roger Espinoza: 5 – disappointing after his exciting first team debut last week.

Jordi Gomez: 6 – put through the pass that led to the early penalty that he converted. Nicely set up Dicko at the beginning of the second half.

Nouha Dicko: 6 – looked lively. A pity he had to go off injured when he was establishing himself in the game.

Angelo Henriquez: 6 – showed some nice touches, but must have learned how hard it can be being the lone centre forward in the Martinez system.

Callum McManaman: 7 – looked dangerous in the first half.

Substitutes:

David Jones – a capable replacement for Fyvie after 53 minutes.

Adrian Lopez – made a welcome from injury, coming on for  Dicko after 66 minutes.

Like us on Facebook, or follow us on twitter here.