McManaman and Wembley: A golden partnership

Wigan hit Wembley against Manchester City pinning their hopes on a winger whose namesake often excelled at the famous old venue.... Michael Cox investigates using the Stats Zone app

Only one player named McManaman has previously played in a Wembley cup final – but 22-year-old Wigan winger Callum McManaman has a great deal to live up to.

Steve McManaman won just two trophies during his nine-year spell at Liverpool: the 1992 FA Cup and the 1995 League Cup. He always put on a show, however, and was named man of the match in both finals – the first a 2-0 win over Sunderland, the second a 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers in which he scored both goals.

The FA Cup final of 1996 passed him by, but he was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 96 the next month, having played all five games at Wembley. In the final years of the old stadium, McManaman was one those players who saved his best performances for the big occasions.

Callum McManaman might be no relation, but he shares many qualities with his more famous namesake. They’re both skilful wingers, capable of a trick to get away from a defender, followed by a great surge of speed to get to the ball first.

McManaman wasn’t a regular at Wigan until March, but he’s started every FA Cup match this season – and has scored in the Fifth Round, Sixth Round and Semi-Final, against Huddersfield, Everton and Millwall respectively. “He seems like he's been playing at Wembley many, many times,” said Roberto Martinez after the semi-final: is this another Wembley specialist named McManaman?

The winger hit the headlines for his horrific tackle on Newcastle’s Massaido Haidara in March, but since that incident, he’s had a positive impact on Wigan’s attacking play, providing pace and directness down the right.

Those are important qualities for Wigan’s right-winger. Although their formation has changed between a 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3 in recent weeks, Wigan’s attacking trident plays in the same manner either way. Arouna Kone starts as the centre-forward and makes constant runs into the channels behind the opposition defence, while Scottish playmaker Shaun Maloney drifts inside from the left wing.

McManaman’s job is to stay wider, stretching the play. The difference between the zones he and Maloney receives the ball in is subtle, but crucial to Wigan’s play.

At this stage of his career, McManaman is a classic young, slightly naïve winger. He’s excellent at beating an opponent, but his final ball is frequently underwhelming. His battle against Ben Davies in Wigan’s 3-2 defeat to Swansea was very interesting – he dribbled past the Welsh left-back with a couple of clever tricks, but his crossing never found an opponent.

Wigan attempt to play a passing game, in order to dominate possession and spend the majority of the time in the opposition half. However, when Roberto Martinez’s side find themselves pinned back, McManaman finds it difficult to influence the game when he receives possession inside his own half.

In the recent 2-2 draw against Tottenham, for example, McManaman spent the game defending inside his own third, barely getting a chance to attack. His positional discipline without the ball is questionable, and although he has the skillset to become a good counter-attacking player, for now he thrives when his side are on the front foot.

This weekend, McManaman will be up against Gael Clichy, one of the Premier League’s finest left-backs. The most distinctive part of the Frenchman’s game is his tendency to intercept the ball before it’s played to an opposition winger – anticipating a pass, using his incredible acceleration to intercept the ball, and charging forward on the break.

He tries not to let his opponent get time and space on the ball to pick up speed and dribble past him – and therefore his battle with McManaman will be very exciting. The youngster must position himself intelligently to receive the ball, or he’ll have limited opportunities to take on Clichy.

Wigan are very much underdogs this weekend, but it’s a player like McManaman – young, fearless, and a direct dribbler – who might be their best chance of a rare FA Cup final shock.

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