While the world is busy lambasting the English League for having dropped its edge in Europe, the Europa League saw a plethora of English teams like Chelsea, Spurs and Newcastle reaching the semi-final stage of the competition. Though only one of these qualified through, the other 2 were equally part of the weary journey that started back in July.
Newcastle’s drop to 17th place of the EPL table is being blamed on the Europa League soaking out the team’s strength; and similarly Spurs’ ridiculous and sudden drop in form that saw them fall from 3rd to just 5th, is again seeing fingers being pointed at the 2nd tier of European Championships.
Although Chelsea’s survival through this stage can be broken down to the rich quality down to their bench, Spurs and Newcastle can in no terms be qualified as cash-strapped clubs with no resources to support their ambitious European endeavours.
While European competitions might certainly have affected the scene at the top of the table, another such distraction is set to affect the Premier League status of a relegation threatened team. Roberto Martinez over the past 2 seasons has gained a reputation of blossoming in the direst of conditions. The final day relegation battles cannot be complete without a miraculous Wigan escape, and this time around Wigan look weakly poised on 18th just 2 match days away from the end.
While the relegation battle seems set for an interesting finish even though the duo of Reading and QPR have already been chucked out, Wigan meanwhile look forward to add a glittering achievement to their club’s barely eye-catching history: a FA cup final at Wembley. For a team that has never reached this stage of the competition, the road to Wembley has been comparatively easier than some of the others. Bournemouth, Macclesfield Town, Huddersfield Town, Everton and Milwall have been the Latics’ rivals this season, but credulously for Martinez’s team they have conceded just 2 goals this campaign.
Their opponents Manchester City are travelling to a FA Cup final for the 10th time, already having won it 5 times previously. City are the perfect contrast for Wigan in the Premier League as being the richest while the Latics are the poorest; City’s attacking quartet alone is more expensive that Wigan’s entire setup. Another point of imbalance that is far more crucial at this point of time is the condition of both the squads. While Wigan have an incredibly high number of injury woes, City again lie superior with hardly a twisted toe.
Injuries to his squad is surely going to affect Martinez’s tactics; and the ‘3rd Roberto’ who has been hailed for his flexible changes in plenty during the game, will surely not have this luxury at Wembley. The defence has been depleted by the absence of Figueroa, Ramis and Alcaraz, and now reports of a possible leg break for Ronnie Stam have come in. In what could be the most important call, Martinez will have to test Jean Beausejour’s hamstring pull before the game.
Beausejour was replaced by Espinoza on the left against Swansea, and though Espinoza put in a spirited show in an attacking role down the flank, there is no doubt that Beausejour would be better in a defensive wing-back job against City on Sunday. The decision of playing the Chilean would completely display Roberto’s choice of either striving to make history for the club, rather than maintaining their elite status; although just showing up on Sunday would be making history for Wigan.
Wigan will surely have to defend much deeper against City and their central midfield pairing of McCarthy and McCarthur looks set to be restored. Both of them look in good goal scoring form with goals in both the previous league games, but it is going to be their defensive marking that comes into picture here. McCarthy has been used as a centre back earlier by Martinez and has indeed earned critical acclaim for his defensive midfield roles. Ben Watson’s presence at the back and his impressive outing against Swansea makes sure that he would be paired in the centre with Caldwell and Scharner on either side.
While the game on paper is all about City’s attack vs. Wigan’s defence and how Espinoza will deal with an in-form Nasri, Wigan’s front 3 of Kone, Maloney and McManaman are no loose bet. The Ivorian Kone’s rich goal scoring form has kept the influential Di Santo on the sidelines. The wide duo of McManaman and Maloney have earned rich reviews from their manager after their recent performances, especially the youngster Callum McManaman has stood out in the limelight he unfortunately created with that horrendous tackle on Haidara. Even though the front trio looks good for the Lactics, the pace of Kone and the trickery of Maloney do not seem to be threatening enough to beat Kompany and Nastasic.
For Wigan, it all comes down to the choice that Martinez makes for his team. Though their loss to Swansea left them languishing at 35 points and a -23 GD, similar performances by the other forerunners in relegation have left a window open for the Latics. These are the fixtures left for the relegation battle strugglers:
18. Wigan (Pts: 35, GD: -23)
Arsenal vs. Wigan
Wigan vs. Aston Villa
17. Newcastle (Pts: 38, GD: -23)
QPR vs. Newcastle
Newcastle vs. Arsenal
16. Norwich (Pts: 38, GD: -22)
Norwich vs. West Brom
Man City vs. Norwich
15. Sunderland (Pts: 38, GD: -12)
Sunderland vs. Southampton
Spurs vs. Sunderland
14. Southampton (Pts: 39, GD: -11)
Sunderland vs. Southampton
Southampton vs. Stoke
Martinez’s team selection on Sunday is definitely going to affect the away game at the Emirates on Tuesday. The scene gets all the more tense if any one of the teams on 38 points that is Newcastle, Sunderland or Norwich do not get all 3 points on Sunday. With Newcastle playing already relegated QPR and Norwich playing West Brom at home, the onus is on the Sunderland -Southampton match to light up things. Any result apart from a draw in this 3rd game would mean that either 1 of Sunderland or Southampton would remain on 38 or 39 points, which comes pretty close to Wigan’s range and hence allowing them an opportunity to get through to an interesting last day even with a draw against Arsenal on Tuesday.
Goal difference just spices up this equation a bit more.
With the pressure of this battle at its peak, Martinez‘s thoughts have been clouded even further now by reports flying about an impending offer for him from Everton. The Merseyside club would be a perfect fit for the eternally cash-strapped Martinez, but in the event that Roberto keeps Wigan in the EPL, it would become a huge ask for the Blues to buy-out Martinez from the Latics.Published 11 May 2013, 13:23 IST