Wigan vs. Manchester City: 5 Key Battles to Watch in FA Cup Final
The upcoming FA Cup final has a surprisingly broad array of storylines for a match between two teams separated by so much real estate in the Premier League table.
Wigan Athletic, seemingly headed for the Championship next season, can claim more than a modicum of redemption if they can put both hands on the trophy.
Indeed, for a team with a recent reputation for late-season surges to avoid relegation, this time around Wigan appears to be a magician with an empty hat.
Still, there's a battle ahead. A few, actually.
City's Back Four vs. Arouna Kone, Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo
Arouna Kone, Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo are Wigan's best hopes for goals against Manchester City.
Best of luck to them. City have conceded one goal in their last three Premier League contests. That goal was a comparatively meaningless marker by Andy Carroll in the fourth minute of second-half added time in a match City led 2-0 when Carroll scored.
For good measure, City's second-string defense just shut out West Bromwich Albion. All the better to rest Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic, Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy and ready them for the Cup final.
As for the Cup to this point, City have conceded exactly one goal in their five matches to this point. Demba Ba scored that goal for Chelsea.
None of Wigan's attacking players will ever be confused for Demba Ba.
Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez vs. Ali Al-Habsi
You may want to see this as a battle between City's strikers and Wigan's back line. But that is doubtful.
Their best defensive performance of the past month came, as it happens, against Manchester City. The Latics held City to one late Carlos Tevez strike.
Then again, they didn't score. And they lost.
With Wigan's shaky defense in front of him, keeper Ali Al-Habsi figures to be very busy. Tevez and Sergio Aguero will very probably have good chances to score.
Therefore, Al-Habsi will probably need to stand on his head for Wigan to have a reasonable chance to pull off the upset.
Yaya Toure vs. James McCarthy
This is not to suggest necessarily that James McCarthy is going to shadow Yaya Toure all day or vice versa.
The battle here is which of these two players, each of whom is effectively the fulcrum of his respective side, will do a better job controlling the middle of the pitch and playing two ways.
Yaya's credentials are so extensive as not to need another mention here. McCarthy, though, is making a name for himself in the Premier League this season.
The Independent lavished praise on the 22-year-old Irishman:
McCarthy is beautifully balanced, able to pass incisively with either foot and seemingly able to see through the holes of his ears.
He is also a ferocious worker, able to call every part of the pitch his own, and a great tracker and marker, as he showed against Tottenham's Gareth Bale last week.
As in-form as Bale has been, anyone who can even pretend to stay with him warrants watching in this final.
Wigan vs. the Click of the Guillotine
Chances are exceptionally good that if you are reading this, you have never heard the click of the guillotine before the blade falls.
But you may have been on a roller coaster as it slowly makes its way to the top. Usually, the last sound you hear before the coaster crests the first incline and plummets at high speed is a "CLICK."
Wigan's defeat to Swansea City, suffered as Manchester City were sneaking out of the Etihad with three points, dealt a possibly fatal blow to Wigan's hopes of avoiding relegation along with Queens Park Rangers and Reading.
Wigan is not down yet, but they have heard the figurative click warning of impending hazard.
The question, then, is whether Wigan can put the crushing weight of disappointment about its prospects of returning to the Premier League any time soon aside long enough to beat a demonstrably better team for a trophy.
That sounds like quite a bit to ask for.
Manchester City vs. the Weight of Expectation and the Fear of Failure
Manchester City will appear in their second FA Cup final match in three seasons against Wigan Athletic this season.
For a team that finds itself in the same position almost two years to the day later, so much is different now.
The Manchester City side that beat Stoke City for the FA Cup two seasons ago looks quite a bit like the one that will probably take the pitch against Wigan Athletic.
Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Carlos Tevez all started against Stoke that day. To a man, they figure to start against Wigan.
So there are a number of apparent constants. In truth, though, City's present situation is so different to that of its 2011 FA Cup champion team that it is almost unimaginable.
That prior team was trying to break a 35-year trophy drought for a snakebitten club that never seemed able to get out of its own way.
This City team, by contrast, won the Premier League crown last season and ended 44 years of seeing some other side awarded the title of best in the land.
As such, even though City are looking to win the FA Cup to redeem an uneven campaign, no one can pretend that doing so this time around will mean nearly as much to the Sky Blues.
Of course, losing would be an unmitigated disaster. Ladbrokes has City as a 4-11 favorite and Wigan as a 15-2 underdog.
You better bet City wants this game. If only to save some face.