Wigan Athletic (15th) take on Manchester United (1st) at the JJB stadium on Saturday in a game which is key to both their seasons.
Wigan are slipping
Wigan seem to have continued their poor form from the end of last season, with only 1 win to their name in 7 matches so far. The losses include an ignomious defeat at the hands of Crewe in the Carling Cup, and right now Wigan’s only saving grace is that there are 5 more teams worse off than them in the Premiership (although 3 of them are tied with Wigan on 5 points).
Paul Jewell showed himself to be a good coach last year, but losing Jimmy Bullard and signing Emile Heskey are not signs of a progressive team. Yes, Heskey has two goals to his name this season, but the former Liverpool and England striker has limited abilities and his blunted talents will only make it harder for Wigan to score in crunch situations.
Add to that the fact that the Premiership is much more competitive this year (what with Everton, Portsmouth and Aston Villa joining Bolton, Tottenham and Newcastle as 5th place contenders) and Wigan will face an uphill task to even make it into the top 10.
Manchester United need to improve
It’s strange, but this is the first time in several seasons that Manchester United are still topping the table in mid-October. This has as much to do with their ability to scrap through wins as it has to do with the poor form of their traditional rivals. As such, the team and the manager are acutely aware that this is their best chance yet to mount a strong challenge for the Premiership title – Liverpool have left their charge a bit late again while Arsenal have the ability to fumble a couple of times in a season.
United came second last year despite playing horribly, and they’ll know that if they are to catch Chelsea this time they’ll need to win games like these. Manchester United will treat this game with respect especially after the Reading draw, and their focus will be on getting a goal as early as possible in order to calm nerves and allow Rooney and Carrick to play themselves in to top form.
There’s a chance that Ryan Giggs will return, although keeping the Copenhagen and Liverpool games in mind Ferguson could decide to rest him and play Ronaldo and Fletcher on the wings instead. Fletcher has done a decent job (given his past performances) and if he keeps improving at this rate the calls for dropping him will finally subside. He still needs to stop giving the ball away, but apart from that he’s turning into a decent squad player.
With Chelsea taking on Reading (and expecting a win), Manchester United will know that this is a must win game. Wigan don’t have the firepower to trouble United, and United are one of the few teams that can mix it up physically with the best of them, so that approach won’t work either. Paul Jewell will try to make his team play disciplined, tidy football, but expect Saha or Rooney to blast a goal through and keep United at the top, at least till next weekend.
Wigan 0-1 Manchester United