United face Wigan at the DW today in a game that if past results are anything to go by should be an absolute banker for Sir Alex’s men.
United have beaten Wigan in all eleven of their Premier League encounters plus the league cup final five years ago.
In fact United’s record against Wigan in the Premier League is played eleven won eleven scored 33 conceded four, which must make dire reading if you’re a pie eater.
The old adage ‘records are made to be broken’ needs to be remembered here and it’s not just me being pessimistic. Let’s not forget that until last season Wigan had never defeated any of the top four and they subsequently managed to beat Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Another factor which makes me wary of the ‘never have’ type statistics is that eventually you’d expect that record to be broken and the longer United and Wigan are in the same division the more likely it is that someday it will happen.
Sorry to add a pessimistic air to this match preview it’s just with our only league defeat coming against lowly Wolves and the sheer ineptitude on display against Marseille I’m more than a tad concerned that this may not be the easy three points it should be.
Let’s not get carried away though as despite my reservations there’s enough to suggest that United can overcome our -sort of- neighbours from up the M61, although it’s worth remembering that our away form has been much maligned in the media and by our own fans, it’s the nature of many of the points dropped rather than the actual tally.
Don’t get wrong eight away draws is poor and 17 points is less than City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs have gotten on their travels but it’s far from a disaster. The reason it’s so disappointing is that in the games against Fulham, Everton and Birmingham it was last-minute equalisers that prevented United from taking all the points. Away trips to Villa, Bolton and Wolves saw a standard of performance that is simply unacceptable for any United side, while in the games at Sunderland Spurs and City it was almost as if United decided to settle for a point well before the game had ended.
Even the away wins at Stoke, West Brom and Blackpool left a lot to be desired in terms of performance and gave the fans more than a few frustrating moments.
That all may sound like a grossly negative preview although it cannot have escaped many United fans just how poor the side has been at times away from Old Trafford this season, hence the reason despite the historically one sided nature of these contests, I’m more than a little apprehensive.
With three wins and six draws out of 14 home games Wigan’s form is hardly enough to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents and despite United’s somewhat erratic away form, regardless of past fixtures the Reds will go into the game as heavy favourites.
Although Rio Ferdinand is still out, the superb performances of Chris Smalling of late have made his absence seem far less damaging, there still has to be a slight concern over set-pieces though as no ones better at organising the defence than the England captain.
United will also be without Anderson, Hargreaves- naturally- Valencia, Park and Jonny Evans. Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs return to the squad though following lay-offs.
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Ones to watch/ Head to Head
With seven goals this season the Colombian striker is always going to be a handful and despite initially playing more on the wing has grown to become Wigan’s main forward and their joint top all time Premier League top scorer. Rodallega has scored some impressive goals in his Wigan career and seems to go from strength to strength. Rodallega’s quick, strong and good in the air, but so is Chris Smalling, who if he produces a similar performance to the ones against City and Marseille should be able to handle him.
Rodallega may have a point to prove after getting himself sent off at Old Trafford for a needless two footed lunge.
N’Zogbia is a player who’s blossomed at Wigan, going from a seemingly average winger at Newcastle to one of the brightest and more dangerous players in the lower reaches of the Premier League. There’s been a lot of talk of the Frenchman leaving the DW at the end of the season and with all due respect to Wigan it’s not too hard to see why.
N’Zogbia is primarily employed on the left side of midfield but can link up well with Rodallega to form a partnership of sorts that is often dangerous on the counter attack as neither player is short of pace. Should Martinez start N’Zogbia on the left he may well be up against Rafael Da Silva, as the Brazilian’s been rested of late and Sir Alex may decide the game against Wigan is the perfect chance for him to get reacquainted with the first team. If John O’Shea starts then as long he recreates his Man City performance United will be laughing.
Should N’Zogbia find no change down the left he may wander inside or even over to the right and it’s imperative that whoever’s sitting in front of the defence keeps a close watch on him.
The 20 year-old midfielder made an impressive return to the first team recently after sustaining an injury in October. He bagged a brace in Wigan’s 4-3 home win against Blackburn and has been touted as a future star. Many clubs were reportedly interested in the former Hamilton Academicals man- including Liverpool who saw him as a possible successor to Steven Gerrard- he decided to sign for Wigan though, no doubt due to the prospect of immediate first-team action.
McCarthy may be one for the future but he’s more than capable of doing a job in the present and United shouldn’t let his relative inexperience fool us, the lad’s a bit special and needs to be closely monitored.
Despite Wigan’s good run of form- they’ve won one and drawn two of three EPL games, this is the sort of game where if United fail to win the title race will be blown wide open- least of all in the media. Wigan will miss Tom Cleverley, who’s obviously ineligible but still have the aforementioned trio to keep United’s defence busy.
All pessimism aside, United have to win this game, particularly following their last away outing and even though a cricket score has been the norm in the past, I’ll settle for a one-nil which is what I’m predicting. Michael Owen to remind us all he exists with the winner.
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