The FourFourTwo Preview: Man City vs Wigan
Having already humiliated them in the League Cup, City can complete their cup retribution on the side who defied the odds at Wembley last May.
One down, three to go for Manchester City, screamed all the battle-cry headlines in Monday’s tabloids following their League Cup success over Sunderland. ‘THAT'S 4 STARTERS! PELLEGRINI: QUAD STILL ON’ yelled The Star. 'WE CAN WIN IT ALL, SAYS CUP FINAL HERO NASRI' shouted The Mail.
MAN CITY FORM
- Man City 3-1 S'land (LC)
- Man City 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Man City 0-2 Barcelona (CL)
- Man City 2-0 Chelsea (FAC)
- Norwich 0-0 Man City (Prem)
- N Forest 1-4 Wigan (Ch'ship)
- Brighton 1-2 Wigan (Ch'ship)
- Wigan 2-0 Barnsley (Ch'ship)
- Cardiff 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Sheffield Wed 0-3 Wigan (Ch'ship)
Of course, Barcelona will no doubt have a major say in matters when City arrive at Camp Nou already two goals down in their Champions League tie next Wednesday, while Manuel Pellegrini's men have a tricky run of away games coming up in the Premier League as they try and play catch-up with Chelsea – but Wigan? Relegated Wigan, whose cup-winning manager took three key players with him as he jumped ship to Everton, before his predecessor was sacked less than six months into the job?
Much has changed at the North West club since the most famous day in the club's history, but despite the departures of Roberto Martinez, James McCarthy, Arouna Kone and Antolin Alcaraz to Goodison Park, new manager Uwe Rosler has got them right back on track in the Championship after a turbulent time under Owen Coyle.
Having won seven of their last nine in all competitions, the Latics are the form side in the second tier, currently sitting in a play-off spot as the season approaches the business end. What's more, they've won their last four away games in all competitions, at Sheffield Wednesday, Cardiff, Brighton and Nottingham Forest.
But continuing that impressive run on Sunday will be an even bigger shock than their Wembley final win – a result which saw Roberto Mancini swiftly sacked as City boss. While relegation forced Wigan to sell some of their top players, City have undoubtedly moved forward, with Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas adding an extra dimension to their attack, and Fernandinho bringing some much-needed steel to the midfield alongside the roaming Yaya Toure.
If all this isn’t enough reason for Rosler's charges to fear the worst, there’s the small matter of the 5-0 reverse they suffered in the League Cup in September. But much like that game, you can guarantee the away end (even if there's not many of them) won't stop crowing on about Ben Watson’s winner last May. Wigan are one club who certainly can't be accused of letting league ambitions prevent them from giving everything in the cup.
City keeper Costel Pantilimon is set to start again between the sticks ahead of Joe Hart, with Pellegrini keen to play the giant Romanian in all domestic cup ties, as he did at Wembley last week. Stevan Jovetic (hamstring) and Matija Nastasic (knee) missed the League Cup triumph and are unlikely to feature against Wigan. Sergio Aguero is now fit after being badly missed throughout all of February, but with tougher battles ahead Pellegrini might start with his star striker on the bench.
Wigan's Wembley hero Watson is likely to miss the rest of the season after suffering a double leg break against Barnsley three weeks ago, but Rosler has no other major injury concerns. Leicester loanee Martyn Waghorn, who starred in the 4-1 win at Forest last weekend, is cup-tied.
Player to watch: Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan)
After sitting out the fairytale FA Cup final win with a shoulder injury, the Omani goalkeeper will be more desperate than anyone for an unlikely Wembley return, but he'll need to be at his absolute best if the 16/1 shots with the bookmakers are to have any chance of progressing to the semis. Although prone to the odd clanger – including one memorable one at the Etihad three years ago – the Premier League is a poorer place without Al-Habsi's all-action displays, which regularly inspired his team to pick up vital points.
Since returning to action ahead of Scott Carson following Coyle's sacking, Al-Habsi has excelled. He let in a solitary goal in his first four league games, and his fine form has coincided with the Latics putting together a charge into the play-off places. The recent win at in-form Brighton demonstrated his importance to the side, with Al-Habsi's man-of-the match display seeing Wigan to a 2-1 victory, despite the dominance of the Seagulls, who had 23 shots to Wigan's 7. And yes, even at the age of 32, the keeper with the easy smile is still ringing up former City stopper John Burridge for advice. "I speak to him all the time, he’s like a dad to me,” he says.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- City 5-0 Wigan (LC, Sep 13)
- City 0-1 Wigan (FAC, May 13)
- City 1-0 Wigan (Prem, Apr 13)
- Wigan 0-2 City (Prem, Nov 12)
- Wigan 0-1 City (Prem, Jan 12)
Following all the pessimism that prevailed under Coyle, Rosler took little time to win over the DW faithful, and as a former cult-hero at City from his playing days, the German will be afforded a very warm welcome from both ends on Sunday. Speaking after the trouncing of Forest, he said: “Now I can enjoy myself at Manchester City. Even though we are the FA Cup holders, it is the highlight for everyone involved with the club again. It gives us a chance to measure ourselves against probably the best team in the world at the moment. It will be a great day for the supporters, players and for me.”
The former Brentford boss has been a manager for 10 years now, but he's a relative novice compared to Pellegrini, who first took to the dugout in 1988. The League Cup success may not be top of his priorities this season, but the Chilean, who’s been desperately unlucky in cup competitions in recent years, is right to acknowledge its importance. "This will give us a lot of confidence now,” he said. “If you try to win a title and don’t do it, your mind does not work the same way. But with important players, you can never be satisfied with one trophy and if we beat Wigan next week, we will be back at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final. We have all due respect for Wigan after what happened last season in the FA Cup Final, but we are going to try to do it.”
It's been more than two years since Wigan lost an FA Cup tie (to Swindon at the County Ground), but after 11 games unbeaten in the competition there'll be no trip to Wembley this time around. 3-0.