Having negotiated the dreaded international break with no serious casualties, fans can breathe a sigh of relief. However, they cannot relax as the Red Devils must guard against a combination of complacency and tiredness when they welcome Wigan to Old Trafford. Last time these teams met, of course, the Latics dealt a stinging blow to United’s title aspirations, and Roberto Martinez will be looking to take advantage of a defence that has already leaked 5 goals in 3 games.
Wigan started the season brightly, playing well against a strong Chelsea team despite losing 2-0. They recovered to dispatch Southampton comfortably 2-0 at St. Mary’s with goals from Koné and Di Santo and scrapped to a 2-2 draw at home to Stoke, despite claiming an astonishing 69% of possession. Beausejour and Alcaraz could potentially miss out for the visiting team, however key central midfielder James McArthur should start. For United, it is a case of balancing the importance this game with the opening Champion’s League game against Galatasaray on Tuesday. Ferguson will be wary of slipping up and will most likely shy away from whole scale changes. However, with various players sustaining niggling injuries and many travelling long distances during International week, there will no doubt be some rotation taking place. Cleverley and Kagawa could both be rested after tough weeks, along with Columbian winger Antonio Valencia, after he spent the past week in South America. Despite impressing SAF after his introduction against Southampton, Hernández could find himself once again on the bench after lining up for Mexico against Costa Rica on Tuesday, getting on the score sheet in the process. As a result, Scholes could make his 600th league appearance alongside Carrick in centre midfield, whilst Rio Ferdinand will make his 400th appearance for United in centre defence. There is other exciting news as both new signing Buttner and the returning Darren Fletcher could be among the match day squad.
Inspired by their last victory against United, we will see an adventurous team line up against United for Wigan. Martinez’s men are good with the ball, shown by 69% possession against Stoke last time out. Having pioneered the 5-4-1 formation, the players now seem to be accustomed to their manager’s unusual formation. The most important parts of this are the two attacking full-backs, Figueroa and Boyce, who recorded average positions higher up the pitch than the two centre midfielders against Stoke, reflecting their role in the overall tactics of the team. However, at times Wigan seem to be lining up with something more like a 5-2-3 formation, with Koné, Maloney and Di Santo forming an interchangeable and dynamic front three. Despite the fluid movement, there is a definite preference for left sided attacking, with 56%, 47% and 43% of their attacks coming down the left against Stoke, Southampton and Chelsea respectively; and it could be a challenging afternoon for Rafael, as he looks to assert his defending talents. Width is key for Wigan and, as with most visiting teams at Old Trafford; they will look to spring on the counter attack. With Scholes a likely candidate to start for United, McCarthy and McArthur in the Wigan centre midfield will have to be at their very best to track down the diminutive maestro. However, they won’t shirk the battle and will fight for everything. Whilst neither has the physical attributes of the departed Mohamed Diame, they will be up for a midfield tussle and this could hamper the ginger magician’s expansive passing game. For United, they will look to exploit the gaps behind the Wigan fullbacks to provide ammunition for Dutch marksman Robin van Persie. As a result, lots of expectation will fall on the shoulders of dynamic Portuguese winger Nani, especially after the press has been rife with rumours of potential moves and unhappiness. If Kagawa is indeed rested, Danny Welbeck will play a key role in linking with midfield and, most importantly, new strike partner RVP. However, as ever with Sir Alex Ferguson, it is so difficult to predict who will line up where for the home team!
Whilst this game probably won’t be the steamrollering many fans have to come to expect when Wigan turn up to Old Trafford in past years, it should be fairly straightforward. The fire power coming from United’s strikers and flanks should spark enough goal scoring opportunities, whilst the composure of Scholes and Carrick and the return of the Rio-Vidic partnership should promote a more balanced and controlled display from Sir Alex’s men. A 3-0 win with Nani putting in a sparkling performance.