Many people look forward to Christmas Day, what with all of the presents and the food and the family time. Now, that’s all very, very nice, but I look forward more to the day after Christmas, even if it’s not a holiday in my little corner of the world.
Boxing Day means football, football, football, and for Manchester United, Boxing Day traditionally means success. That should once again be the case today, as in-form United, looking for a fifth straight Premier League win and to extend their unbeaten league run to nine matches, host Wigan Athletic.
United were victorious in their two meetings against Wigan last season, winning 2-0 at Old Trafford in November and then notching a 4-0 win in the corresponding fixture in February. Chicharito netted three times in two matches against the Latics, and the two matches also saw rare goals for Patrice Evra (his first Premier League goal since 2006) and Fabio (his first Premier League goal).
Overall, United have completely dominated Wigan since they came into the Premier League. Along with a 4-0 win in the 2006 Carling Cup Final, United are a perfect 12 for 12 in league matches against Wigan, and in those 12 matches, United have scored 37 goals and conceded only four. At Old Trafford, United have won six in six, scoring 19 and conceding only once, a late, meaningless penalty by Leighton Baines in a 3-1 win on Boxing Day in 2006.
After escaping the drop by the hair on their chinny chin chins last season, Wigan appear destined for another such battle this season.
After a three-match unbeaten run to start the season, Wigan lost their next eight league matches, getting outscored 19-4 in the process. However, their form has been on an upswing as of late, which is good news for Roberto Martinez’s job security. In their last six matches, they’ve lost only once, a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Arsenal at home. They’ve picked up wins in their last two away matches, defeating Sunderland and West Brom, and they come into this match off the heels of back-to-back home draws against Chelsea and Liverpool.
It isn’t enough to take them out of the bottom three, as they currently sit 18th, with 14 points from 17 matches, one point behind Wolves, but it is enough to give them a needed boost of confidence heading towards the second half of the season.
With the exception of the Arsenal defeat, Wigan have defended much better lately, and their clean sheet against Liverpool was their first since a 2-0 win over QPR in late August. They’ve also shown a great deal of resilience in their recent run, having come back from early deficits in their wins at Sunderland and West Brom and netting a late equalizer in their draw against Chelsea.
However, even though they‘ve fared better in front of goal recently, they are still statistically the league’s worst attacking team, with only 15 goals thus far. Their leading scorers are midfielder Jordi Gomez and striker Franco Di Santo, who have both notched four goals, but they haven’t gotten a single goal from star striker Hugo Rodallega, who has yet to score this season after scoring nine league goals last season and ten the season before that.
In spite of the fact that a new name gets added to the injury list almost every week, United are once again thriving.
Since that disastrous night in Basel, United have produced three dominant performances, and they’ve been rewarded with three wins. Wolves were tossed aside 4-1, QPR should have been dispatched by more than a 2-0 scoreline, and when last we saw United, they had their way with Fulham from start to finish in a 5-0 win at Craven Cottage last Wednesday.
United hadn’t been receiving the expected contributions from the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nani for a while, but both have been key in this run, and praise also has to be reserved for Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia, who are both in fine form, and Ryan Giggs, who turned back the clock against Fulham, picking up two assists and a goal. Giggsy’s now scored in every Premier League season, and he could be set to extend that amazing record.
Unfortunately, injuries continue to be an issue, and the latest casualty is Ashley Young, who is set to be out for at least the next couple of weeks after suffering a knee injury at Fulham. However, his absence is tempered by the recent form of Valencia, who has definitively reclaimed his starting spot on the right wing.
Rio Ferdinand will also miss out today due to a foot injury, but he’ll be back for Saturday’s visit from Blackburn. But on the positive side, Phil Jones will be available today after his face was on the receiving end of a Clint Dempsey elbow early on in the win at Craven Cottage. It was initially feared that he’d be out for several weeks due to a facial injury, but quite fortunately, that won’t be the case. To his credit, Jonesy soldiered on as long as he could against the Cottagers, and while you don’t want someone to endanger their well-being, it sums up the fact that he’s as much a Manchester United player as anyone before or after.
The recent flurry of goals has allowed United to close the gap on City on goal difference, with United’s now at +28 (it was +18 prior to the Wolves’ match a little over two weeks ago) and City’s now at +38 (it was +35 prior to their defeat at Chelsea in that same round of fixtures). With United’s next two matches at home and City’s next two matches away from home (at West Brom and Sunderland), the opportunity could be there to help their cause even more in that department…and perhaps in the points department as well.
However, United have to take care of business on their end first and foremost, and while United have been dominant against Wigan, the Latics have provided a great deal of resistance on several occasions and could do so today. That being said, if United produce the same kind of performance today as they have been recently, Wigan’s attempts at resistance will be futile, the goals will continue to flow, and it’ll be a fifth straight league win for United.
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