Tomorrow afternoon, Roberto Martinez will return to the Liberty Stadium for the first time since departing some 28 months ago. He and fellow ex-Swan Jordi Gomez were met with a frosty reception when a good 3,000-strong troupe of Swansea fans travelled to the DW for a Carling Cup Fourth Round tie last October, so I shudder to think how bad it will be for them this weekend. I feel certain, however, that Martinez will keep his composure and exude much the same calm collectedness as he usually does, regardless of the occasion.
As expected, the tabloids carted out the tired old ‘first-day relegation six pointer’ following Latics’ 1-1 draw with Norwich. Variously described as ‘tepid’, ‘grating’ and ‘indicative of where the two teams will be come May 2012’, it’s fair to say the contest did not spark the interest of many mainstream journos. Who gives a monkey’s about them, though? To a man, they unanimously tipped Latics for the drop last season, and look how (in)correct that turned out to be. Forget the fact our fight went down to the very last day and one goal would potentially have doomed us, the fact remains that Wigan finished higher in the table than Wolves, who’ve been largely immune to the oft-demoralising relegation chatter this summer. Well, not entirely, but it seems Latics have once again been instated as favourites for the drop. Not that that means much to anyone with half a brain, mind.
It is true that our first home game of the 2011-12 Premier League campaign wasn’t the prettiest, but you can’t deny it was engaging and even exciting. But for some iffy finishing from Di Santo and Sammon and a referee seemingly oblivious to the existence of the penalty kick (it must be noted that the linesman gave the first, and that the referee flat out refused the second appeal despite being mere yards from the incident), Latics would have had a comfortable opening day win. You can definitely chalk it up as two points lost, but hey, things are still much rosier than this time last year. Heck, even Chelsea and Arsenal have struggled off the mark of late, so I think you can forgive little Wigan the odd slip-up.
Besides, three points on Swansea’s home patch would represent a very good afternoon’s work and put the Latics season well and truly back on track. It probably won’t silence the newspaper hacks, who rely largely on Sky Sports live matches for information on any team lower than fifth place in the table, but as I said, who cares about them anyway? I’ll shut up about them now, for this post is in danger of becoming a long rant.
The good news for Wigan is that, all being well, they will be back to full strength with Rodallega and Alcaraz returning to the starting line-up. Perhaps significantly, the former will resume his role as sole striker in the centre of the park, where he has more chance of scoring. At this moment in time, Hugo is the most likely of all our attackers to hit the back of the net, despite a little rustiness that prevented him from making the starting XI last week. He’s not a natural crosser, so I’d rather go without another left-winger and have Rodders waiting in the box for a Figueroa or Moses short pass. I’m not sure Martinez would agree entirely, but will again go with the loosely 4-5-1 midfield-heavy formation to which we’ve become so accustomed.
Swansea, too, will look to retain the ball, and in Leon Britton and ex-Latic Scott Sinclair have players that will pose a similar threat to James McCarthy and Victor Moses. It has been noted many times that both teams share the continental ethic pioneered by the likes of Arsene Wenger and, of course, Martinez himself while at Swansea. If this transpires to be the case tomorrow afternoon and we see two Arsenal-esque lineups take to the field, it could be an engrossing contest. All three results are possible –and let’s be honest, they always are where Wigan are concerned–, but I feel Latics can scrape a win.