Manchester City face Wigan coming off a big win against Chelsea.
Manchester City's ill-fated Premier League campaign draws closer to its conclusion Wednesday, as they play host to Wigan Athletic at the Etihad Stadium. This match was originally scheduled for March 9, but was rescheduled due to the two clubs' participation in FA Cup quarterfinal ties on that same day.
Both teams would win those matches—Wigan ran out 3-0 winners against Everton, while City thrashed Championship side Barnsley by a 5-0 scoreline. Millwall and Chelsea were the two sides' respective victims in semifinal clashes last weekend.
As such, this league battle serves as a preview of sorts for the showpiece event set to take place at Wembley Stadium in less than four weeks' time. In that light, what follows will be a preview to the preview.
Here, we will examine some of the key personnel battles that will take place on the Eastlands pitch on Wednesday.
Roberto Martinez is looking to save Wigan's top-flight status—again.
Perhaps the most intriguing battle taking place won't actually be occurring on the pitch, but in the technical areas outside the lines. The two Robertos—managers Mancini of City and Martinez of Wigan—love to mess around with the tactics of their squads.
Mancini's City are known for having a trio of world-class striking options in Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko. Whether he opts to play a system with one just behind another or a lone striker with David Silva pulling the strings "in the hole" is anyone's guess.
They love to dominate the ball to allow the diminutive Spaniard to control the game. Yaya Toure can bomb forward from his midfield spot to cause the opposition trouble. Meanwhile, Gareth Barry hangs back and shields his solid back four effectively.
The midfield battle is one Martinez's side will have a say in. The Catalan manager's 3-4-3 system—described in great detail on this very site earlier this season—can cause some real nightmares for top sides.
Jordi Gomez takes the more creative route while James McCarthy is more reserved. Wingbacks Jean Beausejour and Emmerson Boyce move forward at will, and the back three sticks together. Up top, Arouna Kone is grouped with versatile wingers like Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman.
The creative movement of these attacking players could give City's back group fits, especially if they've not fully recovered from the Chelsea clash. This raises a good question, though: how will the Robertos rotate their squads?
City may be inclined to rest some players who featured prominently at Wembley, looking forward to this weekend's match against Tottenham. But Wigan might have to go for broke with their top talents to try to snatch a vital point in their fight against the drop, and they have an extra day of rest compared to City.
Callum McManaman could give City's defense fits.
As described in the last slide, Roberto Martinez's use of versatile wingers in his tricky 3-4-3 system can create major problems for opposing defenses. Combined with the attack-happy wing-backs, these players could go on to dominate the outer portions of the pitch.
Callum McManaman and Shaun Maloney were fantastic in Saturday's match against Millwall, as they each notched a goal in the 2-0 victory in London. Roberto Mancini is surely wary of this fact, and will have to plan accordingly.
Pablo Zabaleta has been one of the real revelations of the season for the Italian, and will surely feature at right-back. The other flank will likely be manned by Gael Clichy, a more solid defensive option than attack-minded Aleks Kolarov.
These outside defenders will surely have license to come forward to aid City's passing game, which is great. But if they lose the ball, they'll need to be sure to get back to their primary duties quickly to prevent Wigan from getting into a rhythm of their own.
Yaya Toure embarks on one of his trademark rampaging runs.
Where would Manchester City be without Yaya Toure? Not where they are now, that's for sure. After all, he scored the club's only goals in the last two rounds of the 2010/11 version of this competition as his side lifted the trophy.
The towering Ivorian is one of City's most important players, as he provides so many fantastic qualities. He can terrorize defenses just by running at them. He's got a good eye for goal. He can pick a pass well. And he's hard to knock off the ball with his size.
With David Silva unlikely to feature in this match as he recovers from a hamstring issue, Toure might have to pick up a bit of the slack in terms of dictating play from behind the front line. But that's not a problem either, since he's still a matchup nightmare.
His opposite number against Wigan will likely come in the form of James McCarthy. The Republic of Ireland international is the more reserved of the central midfield duo, playing alongside Gomez. But he has a tall—literally—task in front of him at Eastlands.
If his teammates are roving around the pitch finding space to attack, it's likely that City's attacking forces are lying in wait for a change of possession. Once that happens, it's up to McCarthy to snuff out the danger before it develops and threatens the back line.
Gareth Barry out-dueled Eden Hazard at Wembley.
Key to Wigan's passing attack is Martinez's Catalan compatriot, Jordi Gomez. The Espanyol product can take over a game with his style—observe the giant "Jordi Gomez" plastered in this graphic detailing player influences in Wigan's win over QPR in their last league match.
With so many players running wild around him, it's hard for Gomez not to have a player to pick out. He's been killer in the last couple of rounds of this competition. He laid on the assist for McManaman's goal against Millwall, and added a goal and a helper at Goodison Park.
As such, it's up to City's defensive midfield play to corral the influential playmaker. These duties will largely fall to dependable England international Gareth Barry. If he's not rested in favor of Javi Garcia after starting on Sunday, that is.
Barry has had a standout season, even if much of his work goes unnoticed. But that was surely not the case at Wembley, where he helped completely stifle the normally potent Chelsea attacking force. Plus, he chipped in with an assist to boot.
He's done it to Eden Hazard, Oscar and the like. Now he just has to do it to Jordi Gomez. No sweat, right? We'll just have to wait and see.
Maynor Figueroa has proven his worth to Wigan.
The pass-first, free-moving system Wigan utilize tends to leave the back three sort of in the periphery of the action. They do their job well, as they have three to mark two if they face a 4-4-2 system. The third can mark a playmaker or winger or help double-mark if needed.
The wing-backs have defensive responsibilities, too. If caught too high up the pitch, the extra space down the flanks can easily be exploited. This puts added pressure on the central defense to do that extra work.
Wigan's triumvirate, which lined up as (left-to-right) Maynor Figueroa, Antolin Alcaraz and Paul Scharner against QPR, have plenty of work to do if they're to stop the likes of Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez. The Argentine duo may not boast Aguero's 30 goals of last season, but they're no less dangerous.
The only thing preventing them from doing their thing on Wednesday is Mancini—he may want to rest one or both and give Edin Dzeko a run out. After all, they do face a huge match against Tottenham this weekend.
All three boast great qualities sure to give the Latics back line fits. Aguero's pace, Tevez's movement, Dzeko's physical strength. Oh, and all three are great at putting the ball in the net when they need to.
But if they can stay strong, Wigan can limit the damage. Their own attacking play will be an important defensive instrument. After all, the other team can't score if they don't have the ball. Usually.