Wigan 1–3 Real Zaragoza: Not such a Gay old time

Zaragoza warmup, DW Stadium, 4 August 2010

The La Liga outfit were certainly well drilled

Ins and outs, friendly bouts, international call-ups and dressing room bust ups. Well, maybe not so much of the last one (yet), but football is certainly back in Wigan with a vengeance for 2010.

Yesterday’s friendly at the DW Stadium kicked operations back into full swing for the no doubt gut-wrenching season of ecstasy and agony (hopefully less of the latter) to come, with a decent Wednesday night crowd of 3,500 out in force to sample the continental talent on offer.

This predicted test of Latics’ strongly European-flavoured lineup proved to be just that, a real trial for regulars and new boys alike. Though a bit rusty in parts, particularly the passing department in the first 45, Zaragoza’s finishing was clinical — at least, more clinical than Wigan’s — and once things had settled down they exhibited some of the confidence and assuredness Martinez aspires to.

But they weren’t that good. In fact, had the result of this game actually mattered, many will have walked away from the DW decidedly disappointed that Wigan just couldn’t create the shots on target or exorcise their defensive demons.

Jermaine Pennant @ DW Stadium 4 August 2010

The East Stand 'warmed' to ex-Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant

Speaking of which, there was definitely an experimental feel about the Latics back line. In the absence of Caldwell, Martinez went first with Gohouri, Alcaraz, Figueroa and Boyce at the back – not exactly the strongest of line ups, but it would have to do for now. It would become even more experimental later on, with Ronnie Stam, Roman Golobart and triallist Sekou ‘Onion’ Baradji all seeing action at some point in the ninety minutes.

Of the backs, Alcaraz looked the most assured, but certainly not yet at the level we’ve seen at this year’s World Cup. Of course, this is to be expected in a friendly, but you’d think things would have to pick up for the start of the Premier League campaign. Same goes for Gohouri, who, while not outstanding, did an average job defending the Latics goalmouth.

By and large, the new guys struggled to cope and have some developing in the reserve team for a month or two before they are quite ready to take on the Premier League’s finest. This was somewhat expected, however, and once Caldwell returns you’d think some stability will be achieved in the centre of defence.

As for the midfield area, Diame was definitely the stand-out man over the two halves, enjoying plenty of possession and filling the boots of Scharner with some success. He might have to work a bit on his crossing though, as will one or two of the other guys with aspirations of a first team place. Surprisingly, Jordi Gomez, whilst having a so-so game, put in Latics’ best two balls of the latter half. Following the second of these, Boselli could so easily have headed past Leo Franco in the Zaragoza goal, but only managed to find the Argentine’s welcoming arms.

Chris Kirkland @ DW Stadium 4 August 2010

Kirkland made one good save, but didn't have much else to do

James McArthur showed the most promise, making a couple of decent runs and neat touches that may hand him a place in the starting XI for Wigan’s final pre-season game with Dundee on Sunday. His countryman and virtual namesake James McCarthy also featured for the full 90 minutes and exhibited solid stuff as usual, but didn’t make any real impact to speak of.

Charles N’Zogbia, who was today called up to the French national squad, threatened in the forty five minutes he appeared, but it seemed the Zaragoza left back had the measure of him on most occasions.

You get the feeling Charlie could have made more progress had he played in the second half, and once he’s up and running he’ll be an important element of this Latics side for 2010. After a good passing move with Watson, he found himself in the right place at the right time to score last night. As long as he does that enough in the forthcoming season, we’ll have half a chance of some success.

Hugo Rodallega had an almost equally golden opportunity some ten minutes earlier, but only succeeded in slipping the ball narrowly past Leo Franco’s left post to complete silence from the North Stand.

Real Zaragoza players havin' a laugh

The Zaragoza players enjoyed their English holiday

Then again, though, it wasn’t even open. Zaragoza’s die hard fans, who numbered upwards of twenty,  positioned themselves just to the left hand side of Martinez and co. on the Wigan bench in the Springfield Stand.

The Blanquillo faithful were quite vociferous in leading the celebrations when their side had the ball in the net, and weren’t afraid to offer the odd word of encouragement. I wish I knew what they were saying, though. I think at one point they attempted to get the attention of manager Jose Aurelio Gay, who completely ignored them and went about directing his side in a typically cool Spanish fashion.

Ronnie Stam @ DW Stadium, 4 August 2010

On your marks: Ronnie Stam made a surprise appearance

If you had asked a Latics fan who they would most like to see on the evening, I’m pretty sure they would have cited Mauro Boselli, or the Ten Million Dollar Man as I like to call him. He didn’t quite live up to that billing yesterday, but looked smart and, at times, skilful. Bos only had a couple of chances, both of which he spurned, but looked busy and got another 90 minutes of football on English soil under his belt at the very least.

It was Zaragoza’s Gabriel Fernandez who stole the show, however, with his fantastic 84th minute long range strike that left Chris Kirkland with absolutely no chance and put the game’s result beyond doubt. Earlier, Jorge Lopez had converted a penalty to put the visitors ahead on 35 minutes, and Braulio slotted it past Kirkland on 75 to make it 2–1 just when it seemed Latics were heading for yet another pre-season draw.

The result will not be too much to worry about, but one or two tactical decisions may well be. Latics’ insistence on putting eleven men in the penalty area for each defensive corner doesn’t exactly fill a side with attacking confidence, and this rigid 4-5-1 formation seems to be a throwback to the bad old days. I think you know what I’m talking about.

And, as previously alluded to, that defence isn’t exactly as watertight as we would like it to be. Still, much to consider, and I don’t know about you, but I’m itching for the new campaign to get underway.

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