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The Big Match Tactical View: Man City v Wigan

Roberto Martinez's strategy at Wembley will be positive

"Watson could be forced into a couple of cynical fouls to break up City breaks."
Back Watson to be shown a card at 4.67/2.

Michael Cox previews the Wembley tactical battle between Roberto Mancini and Roberto Martinez.

Manchester City v Wigan, Saturday 5:15, ITV1 and ESPN.

Match Odds: Man City 1.351/3, Wigan 10.5n/a, The Draw 6.05/1.

It may be a competition famed for its giantkillings, but the FA Cup has been won almost exclusively by big clubs over the past quarter of a century. This season's top seven - Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham - have won 24 of the last 25 FA Cup finals, with Portsmouth's victory in 2008 the only exception, and even that was a victory for an odds-on side against a Cardiff team in the second tier of English football.

Wimbledon's triumph over Liverpool in 1988 was the last genuine shock in an FA Cup final - and even the Dons finished sixth that season. A Wigan victory this weekend would be something even more unexpected - they've available at 6.05/1 to lift the trophy.

Tactically, the key decision rests with Roberto Martinez. Although Wigan have played a back three for the majority of the campaign, in recent weeks he's switched to a strange hybrid of a back three and a back four. Without the ball it's a four-man defence, but the full-backs push extremely high up the pitch when in possession, leaving one of the midfielders to drop very deep into a covering position ahead of the two centre-backs - in Tuesday night's defeat to Swansea, it was Ben Watson who played that role.

It's essentially a way for Martinez to keep a familiar shape without the resources to play the usual back three - Ronnie Stam, Maynor Figueroa and Ivan Ramis are all out, while Antolin Alcaraz is doubtful. It can leave Wigan badly exposed at defensive transitions, however, and while they may enjoy a decent amount of possession in this game, they might be caught out on the counter-attack. 

Watson could be forced into a couple of cynical fouls to break up City breaks - although his caution against Swansea was his first of the campaign, I think the nature of the role means he'll need to make tackles, and I'll back him to be shown a card at 4.67/2.

Wigan will look to their two wide players for attacking thrust. They play very different roles - on the right, Callum McManaman is a young, tricky winger that will be involved in a direct battle with City left-back Gael Clichy. The Frenchman likes to nip in ahead of his opponents to win the ball before the winger has a chance to pick up speed and dribble, and McManaman will need to position himself intelligently.

On the other flank, Shaun Maloney will move inside into central playmaking positions. Pablo Zabaleta's usual approach against players in that mould is to stick very tight, tracking them across the pitch. Expect something similar here, which means James Milner will be fielded on the right to track the runs of left-back Roger Espinoza - or, if fit, Jean Beausejour. Aroune Kone will attempt to run into the channels behind the City back four.

As always, while Milner will play on the right and David Silva is another sure starter, it's difficult to predict who Roberto Mancini will play in his attacking four. He could field two forwards - Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero - with Silva wide, or use Samir Nasri on the left, Silva as a number 10, and just one Argentine upfront. The latter seems the more obvious option, with City needing numbers in the centre of the pitch to help dominate possession - Aguero might be the better bet upfront, as his pace would trouble Gary Caldwell, but Carlos Tevez has often got the nod in big games.

Amongst all the potential battles in the final third, the midfield zone might not be overly important to the match. Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure will be up against James McCarthy and James McArthur - but the job of the midfielders will be to spread the play wide, and feed the attackers. The possession battle isn't particularly important, with both sides capable of striking on the break.

The other issue to consider is the size of the squads - Wigan have significant injury problems, while City have tremendous strength in depth. Therefore, while City look a little short to triumph in 90 minutes at 1.351/3, I like the look of them winning in Extra Time at 14.013/1, when they'd be able to throw on the likes of Aguero and Edin Dzeko, both excellent super subs.

Recommended bets:
Back Watson to be shown a card at 4.67/2.
Back Manchester City to win in Extra Time at 14.013/1

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