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First off, from all of us at the Stretty Rant, we’d like to wish you a Happy New Year. Thanks for reading, and we hope you have a happy, safe and prosperous 2013.
Manchester United start 2013 with a trip to Wigan Athletic, hoping to extend an 8-game unbeaten run in the league (7 wins, 1 draw) which sees them enter the year seven points ahead of City at the top of the league. In this season’s reverse fixture, United comfortably beat the Latics at Old Trafford. 4-0 was the scoreline that day, our biggest margin of victory this season – Alex Büttner had a goal, an assist and a clean sheet on his début, and Nick Powell also scored in his first league appearance. In other news, Wigan look set to take young United forward Angelo Henriquez on loan until the end of the season.
Wigan find themselves in 16th position, with 18 points from 20 games. They seem to find themselves at the edge of the relegation zone every January, always managing to survive somehow, with last season’s switch to a 3-4-3 formation working wonders for Roberto Martinez’s side and seeing them finish comfortably in 15th place. They’ve largely stuck with that this campaign, varying at times to 3-4-2-1 or 5-4-1, with mixed success.
Reds won’t need reminding that United’s last trip to the DW Stadium in April ended in defeat – a defeat that initiated a catastrophic spiral of doom culminating in City slithering off with the Premier League trophy in May. Despite Wigan’s excellent home performance in last season’s game, their home form this season has been poor, with only 2 wins and 3 draws from 10 games.
View from the Opposition
We’re lucky to be joined by Wigan supporter Peter Walker of the This Is Northern Soul forum, who’s kindly given us his views of the Wigan team, Roberto Martinez, the club’s season so far, and tomorrow’s game. You can follow Peter on Twitter here.
How would you assess the season so far for Wigan?
Like the curate’s egg, good in parts, hopes were high after our excellent end to last season including our first ever victory over your good selves but injuries especially to our centre halves hit us badly. That and some questionable penalty decisions both for and against.
Where do you think you will finish?
We are always going to be battling down in the bottom half of the table. 17th will be good for the club although not for my blood pressure.
Roberto Martinez always seems like he is up against it. How would you assess his progress?
He’s one of the nicest guys in the game and has shown loyalty to the club that is rare in this game. Whether he has taken us as far as he can? Time will tell
Martinez once said that “English are more akin to Rugby but Spain to basketball”, trying to explain a possibility for Spain’s more technical approach to football over the physicality of English football. Do you like the style of football Wigan currently play?
You had asked me at Goodison on Tuesday I would have said no, it was in my opinion ( and there are many who will disagree with me) too slow and ponderous. If you had asked me when I was singing in the rain at Villa Park I would say yes, we played with a lot more pace and urgency and it was a delight to watch , very similar to the second half of last season.
How do you think you’ll line up against United?
3-4-3 is Bob’s preferred line up and with the retuning Caldwell and Ramis at the back we have more stability. Our usual problem is scoring, Kone is top scorer with six but he should be on double that and with him flying out to the ACN with the Ivory Coast he will be a big loss. McCarthy is the key for our survival
What have you made of United so far this season?
Not surprised that you are top of the league but surprised how many soft goals you have conceded. No doubt the return of Vidic will solve that.
If you could take one player from this current United side, who would it be?
I would take Valencia back in a flash, we lack the pace and creativity type of player . He was absolutely superb for us and a model professional.
What is our favourite memory from a Wigan vs. Manchester United fixtures?
Has to be last season’s victory, so many bad ones such as Chimbonda’s own goal in the last minute the week after you beat us in our only cup final( excluding the auto windscreen and freight rover victories…see, we do have a history!
Are you looking forward to seeing Angelo Henriquez play? What have you made of Tom Cleverley’s progress since he was at Wigan?
We need him to hit the ground running and he will be key to our survival. Tom is a great player and will be welcomed back at the DW with United.
Who is the greatest Wigan player of all time?
Fans choice over the last 30 odd years would be Aryan De Zeeuw, for me it would be a choice between Jason Roberts and Matt Jackson, both gents both off and on the pitch. Pre 1976, when I started watching my home town club, older fans would say Harry Lyon.
Lastly, what will the score be?
Heart says 1-1, head says a United win.
With defender Antolin Alcaraz doubtful for the match, it seems like Wigan will line up as follows: Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell, Figueroa; Beausejour, McCarthy, McArthur, Boyce; Maloney, di Santo, Kone.
Having four fit centre-backs (!!!) at his disposal, the United manager has a defensive selection problem of a more positive variety than he’s used to recently. Jonny Evans, our most consistent central defender this season, has played a lot of matches in December and could be rested. Vidic may return to the bench as he eases back into form and fitness. Judging by the defender’s performance against West Brom on Saturday, it looks like he’s rapidly regaining the dominant presence that characterised him prior to an injury-plagued last 14 months. This is pure guesswork, but we could see Rio and Smalling feature together, as they did against Sunderland last month.
According to Sir Alex, Rafael should be fit to return at right-back, and hopefully he can recover the excellent form he sustained before picking up his hamstring injury. Chris Smalling has deputised for him in the last two games, but by now it’s evident that Chris is more comfortable as a centre-back, both in terms of positioning and his responsibilities on the ball.
With Nani still having hamstring problems of his own, Valencia might be expected to continue on the right flank. Down the left-hand side, expect Evra and Young to continue their solid partnership, which started off well last season and has developed further recently.
In central midfield, I’m not sure what to expect. After the West Brom game, the boss noted that Michael Carrick was running on fumes near the end, and he could see some well-earned rest for this one. The only problem, of course, is deciding who comes in to replace him alongside Tom Cleverley. Anderson is injured, and Nick Powell might not be ready for a first team start just yet; Giggs has been more effective on the left than in the centre this season, and Darren Fletcher’s long path to recovery continues gradually. Maybe Scholes’ good showing in the reverse fixture will give him the edge here.
Up front, I’m hoping that Kagawa and Robin van Persie get a chance to work together. Shinji had a delightful 60 minute runout on Saturday, and Robin’s cameo was accompanied by a perfect curling finish to seal the points. With Wigan likely to deny United room to work in, the side could benefit from front players who can pick a pass in tight spaces, as the duo above most certainly can.
United will definitely want to continue their good run in the league, and to avenge last season’s momentum-killing defeat at the DW. In recent home games against Arsenal and City, Martinez has bravely gone with a 3-4-3 each time – meaning Beausejour starting wide left and Figueroa tucking in as a third CB. Wigan competed very well in both games, despite losing 0-1 and 0-2. In April’s win over United, the Latics’ left side – Beausejour, Maloney and (to a lesser extent) Figueroa – caused Jones and Valencia no end of problems with their good combination play, and it will be something Sir Alex will look out for as he chooses his team and approach. Despite United’s recent good results and Wigan’s indifferent December form, I’m expecting a tight match, with United coming away 3-2 winners.