Manchester City 0-1 Wigan: The Tactical Tale of 2 Robertos

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMay 11, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Manager Roberto Martinez of Wigan Athletic is thrown into the air by his players following their team's 1-0 victory during the FA Cup with Budweiser Final between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on May 11, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Wigan Athletic completed their fairy tale FA Cup journey by shocking Manchester City 1-0 at Wembley on Saturday.

Ben Watson put his name in the history books when he headed in the last-minute winner, and the Latics held on for the final three minutes to lift the trophy.

Let's take a look at the tactical battle that took place between two Robertos: Martinez and Mancini.



Manchester City played their customary narrow 4-2-3-1 with Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry in holding midfield. Wigan Athletic started in a 3-4-3 formation with James McCarthy as an emergency right-wing-back.

Antolin Alcaraz was rushed back from injury into the starting XI at the expense of Gary Caldwell.


Arouna Kone: Workhorse

The opening three minutes was all City, and initial fears of a walkover began to well up inside neutral spectators.

Wigan needed relief from early pressure and found it in Kone, who played a sideline-to-sideline target-man role initially to help his side grab a foothold in the game.

The Ivorian has been a fantastic signing for Roberto Martinez and has made a name for himself as a complete forward. All of his skills were on show on Saturday, as he worked hard to ensure his side didn't fall under the cosh.

He dropped down out of the reach of the centre-backs, drifted wide and double-teamed the full-backs and manipulated the channels well, which allowed Wigan to get their foot on the ball and calm the nerves.


City's Lack of Width

The problem that has haunted City for more than two seasons arose yet again: a genuine lack of width.

Mancini's narrow 4-2-3-1 formation thrives on using three No. 10s who start narrow and then dart wide in an effort to find space. On paper, the advantage is twofold: Meet the full-back square on and allow the double-team with the corresponding full-back.

Unfortunately, as we've seen many times, it just leads to immense traffic in the middle of the pitch.

City passed the ball horizontally across the 18-yard box but rarely found the opportunity to play a penetrating through-ball. This central congestion played right into the hands of Wigan, who used three centre-backs to close out the area. They fed the ball quickly to their wing-backs, who were free.

Tevez is playing as a 10, Nasri and Silva cut inside, Touré makes runs from deep, Zabaleta makes diagonal runs.

— Nikos Overheul (@noverheul) May 11, 2013

Even Pablo Zabaleta, who ventures forward and makes diagonal runs inside rather than out adds to the issues that cloud City's effectiveness in the final third in this respect, despite his obvious ability.

Perhaps worst of all, the presence of eight or so players in a 10-yard space rendered Yaya Toure ineffective.


Wigan's Superb Width

None of the issues above applies to Wigan, which maintained the breadth of the field superbly through two players.

Callum McManaman stayed touchline wide on the right in an advanced area, while Roger Espinoza did the same from left-wing-back.

They stretched the pitch so wide that City's narrow formation could do nothing about the first pass out of Wigan's defence (usually to the wing-back), and it immediately left them on the back foot.

The clever movement of Shaun Maloney and Kone allowed McManaman space to run, and the young Englishman gave Gael Clichy a difficult time.


Introducing James Milner

It didn't take long for Roberto Mancini to flinch. The score was 0-0 at halftime, but Wigan were obviously the better side and Mancini prepared James Milner to come on at the interval.

Seven minutes in, the Englishman was on the field at the expense of Samir Nasri (who was useless), and his brief was to maintain the width on the right side.

Width, we thought. Balance, it seems.

Wrong. Unfortunately, Milner's first involvement was to lose the ball and expose his side to the counter, and his play didn't get any better. Espinoza, as far as makeshift left-wing-backs go, was excellent in cancelling him out.


Scrabble for Power

The last 15 minutes represented tactical chaos as both Robertos vied for control.

Jack Rodwell replaced Carlos Tevez, freeing up Yaya Toure to go further forward. He received more space to work in, but Martinez responded instantly.

He switched from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2, installing a three-man midfield wall to stop Toure getting closer than 25 yards from goal. Ben Watson was brought on to play the deepest role, and McCarthy and James McArthur switched positions.

After Zabaleta's red card, Martinez switched again. He chose 4-3-3 (with McArthur now an orthodox right-back) and freed his midfield to go forward and dominate in the opposition's half.

The last-minute goal was a just reward for the better side.



Manchester City were very disappointing, but take nothing away from Wigan.

This was a tactical victory for Martinez, and his players appeared to be comfortable with his frequent changes. Props to him for having them so well-drilled.

Congratulations to Wigan Athletic and all their fans—a magnificent performance landed the right result on the day.



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