Wigan v Liverpool, Premier League, March 8, 2010
“I feel that the group we have now is as strong as it has been all season, we have come a long, long way and probably now we are one result away from really finishing the season strong. We are in the middle of a period where a couple of big decisions went against us and we couldn’t really react to that. But it is the time to focus on ourselves and make sure that we affect the games so we get those decisions going our way.” – Roberto Martinez.
You have to start to worry about whether the Wigan boss really believes what his is saying. Heading into Monday night’s crucial fixture with Liverpool, with the Latics perched just above the drop-zone and riding a miserable wave of nine games without a victory including two defeats in their last two matches, there seems to be little basis for optimism at the DW Stadium.
Time for a damning stat.
Wigan have thrown away 16 points this season after surrendering leads, indicating that the team’s problems are mental rather than tactical. The memory of that 9-1 defeat at Spurs and the way that Wigan folded that day does not indicate that they have the stomach for the relegation battle they are now facing. And while Martinez’s soundbites give supporters straws to clutch at, the time for big talking is most definitely long over.
According to reports, Wigan are preparing to hand Victor Moses his first start since his winter transfer from cash-strapped Crystal Palace after the much-hyped striker has impressed after receiving four appearances off the subs bench. Impressive performances though are one thing, while netting goals is another, and Moses still awaits his first Premier League goal for a Latics’ side who have failed to find the net in their last three outings.
Hugo Rodallega remains the club’s leading scorer with seven goals, but the Ecuadorian forward is also experiencing a goal-drought at just the wrong time having not scored since netting in a 1-all with Blackburn at the end of 2009.
With their strikers off the boil, arguably Wigan’s star of the season has been winger Charles N’Zogbia. The young Frenchman has shown that he can score spectacular goals this season (N’Zogbia has bagged six goals in 2009/2010), as well as injecting that extra spark of magic in the centre of the park.
Contrasting the steady decline of Wigan’s season, Liverpool are a team on the up. And the Meseysiders could reclaim fourth place in the Premier League with victory at struggling Wigan as Manchester City, TottenhamÂ and Aston Villa are all without a game in the league this weekend as two of the threeÂ continue their respective quests for the FA Cup.
Despite losing Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio to foot and thigh injuries respectively, Benitez’s attacking options have improved significantly thanks to Fernando Torres’s recovery from hernia and knee problems plus Yossi Benayoun’s return from a broken rib. With Steven Gerrard’s form also improving by the game, and Glen Johnson in contention for his first appearance of 2010 at the DW Stadium, the Reds appear to have the luxury of an almost fully fit squad who are fresher than their opponents as the season approachesÂ the crucial final stages.
Special mention also needs to be made for Dirk Kuyt, who has been as important as any member in the Spanish waiter’s squad in single-handedly keeping Liverpool in the race for fourth spot with his 10 goals and three assists this season. The Dutchman is something of an unsung hero, and his record of five goals in five league starts against Wigan makes him a likely goalscorer again this weekend.
With Liverpool lording nine wins and two draws in 11 competitive matches over Wigan, history suggests that the Latics will struggle to claim three points this weekend again. The Merseysiders have been well off their best for large chunks of the season, but a narrow victory under the floodlights (1.67 to be under 2.5 goals, 1.99 to be over) on Monday would keep the Scousers on course to maintain their top four status.
101gg predicts: Wigan 0 – Liverpool 1 (6.23)
Full match odds here.