Manchester United entertain Roberto Martinez’s Wigan on Saturday, looking to record a third straight win in the league, and keep pace with early league leaders Chelsea.
It was only Robin Van Persie’s excellence that allowed United to notch up a second win of the season at Southampton two weeks ago, after trailing 2-1 to Nigel Adkins’ men with three minutes remaining.
The summer signing from Arsenal and last season’s top scorer, had missed a penalty, before making up for it with a scrambled finish, followed by a deft, yet powerful header, to send Sir Alex home happy in his 1000th league game in charge for the Reds.
In previous seasons, United against Wigan was a foregone conclusion, with the Red Devils winning every single one of their games against the Latics. However, that changed last season at the DW Stadium, as a solitary Shaun Maloney goal was enough to see United leave Wigan empty handed. The result also put a dent in the title charge, giving City hope that they could somehow catch the Reds.
Wigan will go into the game at Old Trafford full of confidence, after making a steady, yet impressive start to the season. Despite a dreadful opening six minutes at home to Chelsea, they matched Roberto Di Matteo’s side for large spells, and had chances to score themselves.
The Latics then comfortably disposed of Southampton at St Marys, doing something which United could not in keeping a clean sheet, before battling for a hard earned point against a organised Stoke team. Martinez has his side playing some excellent football, and they won’t be overawed on Saturday.
However, Sir Alex will instil into his players the significance of three points in this game, and with Liverpool away on the horizon, it is imperative to maintain a winning run.
Team Selection Thoughts
When Edwin van der Sar was at United there were never any doubts as to who would start in goal. And when he left to be replaced by David de Gea, it seemed as though certainty between the sticks would continue. However last season there was a lack of continuity, with both de Gea and Anders Lindegaard swapping places on a regular basis. And the same thing happened against Southampton two weeks ago, following Fulham’s second goal at Old Trafford. Sir Alex has insisted that it’s just a learning curve for de Gea and that he will be reinstated for the Wigan game, but changing goalkeepers regularly is not beneficial. Yes he needs to learn after making errors, but he isn’t going to be able to atone for his mistakes if he’s sitting on the bench. Hopefully he will have a trouble free game against Wigan, and build up an understanding with the captain, Nemanja Vidic.
In defence, Rio Ferdinand is set to continue alongside Vidic, after returning to first team action against Southampton. The back four looked shaky at times on the south coast, but the more they play together, the better the understanding they will create, and the Reds can look to try and keep a first clean sheet of the season. Rafael should keep his place at right back, despite being out jumped by Rickie Lambert for Southampton’s first goal, and Patrice Evra will probably continue on the left side, although Alexander Buttner could make his United debut, allowing Evra to remain fresh for the Champions League opener against Galatasaray.
Shinji Kagawa is a slight doubt after sustaining a back injury while on international duty for Japan, although he has insisted it is nothing serious. He could link up with Paul Scholes who made a telling contribution when coming off the bench at St Marys in United’s comeback win. The evergreen playmaker was praised by hat trick hero van Persie, who claimed that it was only his introduction which sparked the Reds into life. If Scholes starts he is likely to be partnered by Michael Carrick with Tom Cleverley dropping to the bench. Cleverley has been an ever present for Great Britain, United and England since July, so a rest maybe needed as the football schedule enters a busy period. Antonio Valencia will continue on the right wing against his former club, and Nani could be recalled on the left hand side. Ashley Young remains doubtful with a knee injury, while an appearance for Ryan Giggs would mark his 600th in the Premier League.
Robin van Persie is fit for United despite only lasting 45 minutes for Holland in midweek. The news comes as big boost for the Red Devils, considering Wayne Rooney’s absence, and the fact that the prolific Dutchman has four league goals already. Without him two weeks ago, United wouldn’t have emerged with three points, and already he looks like repaying that £24 million. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez will probably start on the bench and could be vital if United struggle to break Wigan down.
Here, at Stretford End Arising we spoke to members of Vital Wigan and asked their thoughts on the upcoming game and more:
Martinez is likely to select a fluid 3-2-2-1-2-ish (switching to 3-5-1-1, 3-5-2, 3-2-2-3, 5-3-1-1 as and when needed). If Jean Beausagour is fit he will play, otherwise expect the same team that played at Southampton: Al Habsi in goal, Ramis, Caldwell & Alcaraz in defence and Boyce & Figueroa as wingbacks. McCarthy-McArthur will occupy the central midfield area with Maloney just behind the main strikers Di Santo and Kone.
If Sir Alex opts for a variation on 4-4-2 we’ll give United a good game. Martinez’s change in philosophy/formation during the latter stages of last season has the knack of undermining the 4-4-2 formation.
The mental hoodoo United held over Wigan has dissipated following the 1-0 win in April; we’re quietly optimistic that we may nick a point.
We’re hoping for mid to top half finish without the slightest hint of a relegation struggle, if we can maintain the form shown from March until now then that expectation shouldn’t have any problems being met.
Summer Transfer Window
We’re generally happy with Wigan’s signings this summer. Ramis comes with a good reputation but it will take him time to settle. Kone and Miyaichi are impressive signings and Fyvie is one for the future. We are disappointed Moses wanted to leave for Chelsea; he’s possibly made a mistake as we believe he requires another year or two of development.
Roberto Martinez is a great guy and has the potential to be a world class manager. He wants to play the right way and knows the game well. He changed Swansea’s style of play over the years and has attempted to do the same with us – it has taken him a little of time to change the philosophy, but now we’re starting to see the rewards. He’s revolutionised our club from top to bottom. He’s a top coach, forward thinking, very professional and he actually cares about Wigan Athletic, the club and the fans.
We have a feeling he will leave in the summer. We really hope he doesn’t, but he is ambitious and surely a big club will come calling after we have a barnstorming season…
Three Key Battles
Antonio Valencia vs. Maynor Figueroa
The scintillating right winger has been one of United’s most consistent performers when fit, and will be looking to impress against his former club. Figueroa will know all about his game having played with him during the 2008/2009 season, however at times Valencia is unplayable, and after setting up Van Persie’s first against Southampton, he will be looking to add to his assist tally. If United can get the ball out to him early they will create plenty of chances.
Robin van Persie vs. Gary Caldwell
The prolific striker has hit the ground running for United and has settled in immediately, with four goals in three games. Caldwell is Wigan’s most experienced defender and he will be charged with the task of subduing Van Persie; something not many defenders can seem to do. If he gets chances both inside and outside the box he will punish Wigan, and Martinez will impress upon his players the importance of not giving him space.
Franco Di Santo vs. Nemanja Vidic
Di Santo has two goals in his last two games, and looks well on the way to eclipse the seven he scored last season, so he is not to be underestimated. Vidic will have to ensure he doesn’t get any space inside the box, as two accomplished finishes in his last two games will show you. He’s not the most prolific of strikers, but with the likes of Shaun Maloney providing him with ammunition, there is every chance he could hurt United.
In previous seasons Saturday’s game would be a foregone conclusion, but after Wigan’s 1-0 win over the Reds last term, there will be added confidence amongst the visitors. Add to that their promising start to the campaign and it could prove a tricky fixture for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. Having said that though United have scored 24 goals and conceded just one at home to Wigan in their last seven games at Old Trafford, and if they perform, they should make it three league wins on the bounce. Wigan are a good passing side, but with the likes of van Persie, Valencia and Kagawa, United should have too much attacking power for the Latics and record a second successive home win.
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