6 Things Manchester United Must Do to Avoid Losing to Wigan Athletic
Remember the last time Manchester United and Wigan Athletic squared off? Red Devils fans do. It's the match they keep pointing to as the reason cross-town rivals Manchester City were able to snatch the Premier League trophy right out of their hands.
It was April 11th and the boys of Old Trafford had secured a spot in next season's Champions League. They were visiting the DW Stadium to face a Wigan Athletic side that was in the relegation zone.
Easy win, right?
Hubris (and poor refereeing) got the better of Manchester United. The Latics held their own, limiting the Red Devils to just one shot on goal. Wigan Athletic? They had three shots and midfielder Shaun Maloney let his only one of the night count—curling a beautiful ball in the upper right-hand corner just minutes into the second half.
Now, just three matches into the 2012-13 season, Manchester United has six points and sits at fifth-place in the league table. A third straight win is expected by many at Old Trafford, but will it happen?
Join me as I present to you what the Red Devils must do to avoid a second straight loss to Wigan Athletic in as many contests.
Start Javier Hernandez...
Hong Wu/Getty Images
I never thought I'd say this, but manager Sir Alex Ferguson needs Hernandez in the starting lineup like Arsene Wenger needs to let go of his comb-over.
I know that Hernandez has been rumored on his way out of Old Trafford, but his quick-strike ability will put Wigan on the defensive early. That means anxious defenders and impatient strikers. With Victor Moses gone, no one will slot home a long-distance Hail Mary of a shot.
...Play Two Strikers...
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
I don't like this 4-2-3-1 formation Ferguson's got going.
Sure, Manchester United has averaged two goals per match in three contests this season, but it doesn't allow for the dominance of possession in midfield that wears opponents down and will help bring down the 1.67 goals against average the Red Devils have amassed this season.
Averaging a goal differential of just +0.33 goals per match won't win titles.
Play a 4-4-2—two strikers, one attacking midfielder in Ashley Young—beef up the midfield and you'll see the Red Devils tear away from the pack.
...and Leave Danny Welbeck on the Bus
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Granted, Welbeck had a sensational end to the 2011-12 season, scoring two goals and assisting on two others in the month of April alone, but he's unnecessary this season thanks, in part, to Robin van Persie's arrival.
Van Persie needs a partner, not a revolving door for strikers. Until Wayne Rooney comes back, Ferguson needs to pick one of his strikers—I think it should be Hernandez—and go with him until Rooney comes back from that gruesome leg injury he suffered against Fulham.
Keep Centre-Backs Grounded...
Michael Regan/Getty Images
The reason Southampton went up on and nearly defeated Manchester United two weekends ago was, in part, because the centre-backs didn't stay grounded to their zones. Instead, they took several opportunities to cheat up and support the midfield.
This wouldn't be so bad except Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra have been of particularly poor quality lately.
Ferguson needs to do whatever it takes to keep the centre-backs at home—threaten them, tie them to a stake in the ground, anything!
...but Hold Rafael Da Silva to the Sideline
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
If you missed the last match against Southampton, you weren't privy to one of the worst individual performances in Rafael da Silva's career.
Da Silva was poor, both in physical and technical play. He was completely out-muscled by Ricky Lambert on Southampton’s first goal in the 16th minute and turned around several times in the second half by Saints striker James Puncheon.
Keep in Mind, It's Wigan Athletic
Gareth Copley/Getty Images
The last thing the Red Devils need to do is play tight. They're at home, they're on a winning streak having defeated their last two opponents and they're playing a Wigan Athletic side who, whether their supporters would like to admit it or not, will be facing relegation in May.