What a sensational night that was. It had all the hallmarks of a standard away loss in Europe. Plenty of possession, missing good chances, opposition not getting into their groove. I was awaiting, at any moment, a deflected goal for Milan or something, that we wouldn’t manage to recover from, despite valiant efforts. Nah. It was an unbelievably confident performance to weather the early storm from Milan, grow into the game and control and dominate the rest of the ninety minutes, and getting the required goals at a crucial stage of the match. I wasn’t sure if the players would recover mentally from getting knocked out of another competition, after a bad week in the league, but thankfully we won’t have to find out. That should be a win that inspires this team, that gives them the belief that they can go on and win things this season. Forget United’s inevitable title win due to the inexperience of our squad, we can win the league, and after last night there’s no reason why we can’t get to the latter stages of the Champions League either. Most of this squad managed it a couple of years ago, why not again?
Anyway, from the San Siro to the JJB Stadium. We have to win on Sunday. It’s pretty simple. A third game in a row without a win and United will probably take first place and not give it back. We only play four matches in the rest of this month, with a week between each, against Wigan, Middlesbrough, Chelsea and Bolton. We’ve got to be looking to take ten points from March. If we beat Wigan, we go four points clear of United and ten points clear of Chelsea, as both sides are involved in the FA Cup this weekend. That puts some pressure back on United, and takes it off us a bit, after a couple of poor results. We definitely need to win the next two, so that we’re not going to Stamford Bridge under massive pressure and in desperate need of a result.
Thanks to Newcastle, United have an extra point in the title race because of their goal difference. However, United definitely have the harder run in, if they’re to overtake us in the league race. Their next two league games are against Derby and Bolton, but after that they take on Liverpool, Villa, Middlesbrough, Arsenal, Blackburn, Chelsea and West Ham. The big four all have to play each other, but other than that, Everton are the only side that should, in theory, cause us problems, whereas United have three that could be very difficult. Although every game can throw up different challenges in the league this season. If you’d told me in August that we’d be at this stage of the season having only lost one league game, I wouldn’t have guessed that Middlesbrough would have been the culprits.
We’ve played Wigan seven times in recent years, winning every game apart from the away tie of the Carling Cup semi final in 2006, which we went on to lose on away goals. Steve Bruce has done a fairly decent job since taking charge of Wigan. While they’re not exactly fighting for a UEFA Cup spot, he’s dragged them from, I think, one of the relegation spots, and they’re now 14th. They’re not exactly clear of the relegation fight, only four points separates 12th from 18th, but, after watching their performance against City last weekend, I’d say they’re one of the sides with a better shout of surviving the fight this season. Of their last seven games, they’ve won three, drawn one and lost three, but they’re at least managing to pick up some points.
As usual, injuries will dictate our starting line up. We have a mere four fit midfield players, after it was revealed that Diaby, Denilson and Walcott are all injured, on top of Eboue’s suspension. Van Persie could be back in the starting line up, assuming he didn’t suffer another five month injury while celebrating on Tuesday night, although I’d expect him to be on the bench again. After all Arsene’s talk of not rushing him back, let’s, er, not rush him back. Half an hour against Wigan, start him against Middlesbrough, and then he’s ready to be unleashed against Chelsea. No word is really available on how long we’re still expecting Rosicky to be out for, he definitely misses this game but he must be in the squad soon. It’s over five weeks since he was substituted off against Newcastle. Toure is also still unavailable, although I think we may see him in the squad next weekend.
On a pitch as ridiculous as Wigan’s, and considering the players we have available, I expect we’ll go 4-4-2 with Adebayor and Bendtner up front, and hit crosses and long balls at them. There’s no chance of any team playing anything resembling football on a ploughed field like Wigan’s pitch, so we’ll have to out long ball them and want it more than them.
Subs: Lehmann, Hoyte, Traore, Djourou, van Persie.Wigan Athletic They have no significant injury problems, they’ll be at full strength.