x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Man United v Wigan clash is as one-sided as it can be

The last six seasons have contained 12 games. A dozen United wins have brought 37 goals at one end, four at the other.

United are looking for a 12th successive league win over Wigan today at the DW Stadium. Andrew Yates / AFP
United are looking for a 12th successive league win over Wigan today at the DW Stadium. Andrew Yates / AFP

So this is the bad news for any other sides with aspirations of winning the title: statistically this is the greatest mismatch of any encounter involving the league leaders.

No club have as bad a record against Manchester United as does Wigan. None have played as many matches without procuring a solitary point. None are as unlikely to do Arsenal or Manchester City a favour.

Six seasons have contained 11 league games. A dozen United wins overall have brought 37 goals at one end, four at the other. Roberto Martinez's reign has been notable for feats of derring-do against the other contenders, with Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham all defeated last season, but Wigan are yet to earn a result against United.

An inferiority complex may no longer be apparent against others, but it seems to remain when Sir Alex Ferguson's side are involved. And as one of Wigan's more gifted performers, the on-loan Tom Cleverley, is ineligible to face his parent club, their task appears all the harder. There was a hint of diplomacy, then, when Ferguson said: "It's a difficult game."

While a week that contains trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield may define United's season, this seems the soft landing at the start. Wigan's inability to get capacity crowds ensures it can almost become a home game for United; their fans are granted the North Stand, but a proximity to Wigan means it is easy for United supporters to get tickets in other parts of the DW Stadium.

Its reputation as a home away from home is reinforced by past trips; the title was clinched there in 2008 and all but ensured 12 months later.

With a chance to take a seven-point lead by the time Arsenal return to Premier League action next Saturday, there is the opportunity for a hat-trick of sorts. Wigan's advantage lies only in the fixture calendar: they have gone 10 days without a game while United's programme is particularly busy at a time when injuries have depleted Ferguson's squad.

"Nothing much has changed on the injury front," the United manager said. "We're trying to get Ryan Giggs fit for the Wigan game and Michael Owen is back in training."

Others, however, will not return just yet. "Rio [Ferdinand] and Jonny Evans should both be back for Liverpool next Sunday," Ferguson said.

Park Ji-sung, Anderson and Antonio Valencia all remain absent from a midfield where, if Paul Scholes's appearances are rationed, Wigan may be the beneficiaries.

Yet Wigan are preparing a surface that, unlike its predecessors, may suit Scholes.

Since the 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Bolton, a sandy, bumpy pitch has been relaid.

Although Wigan play a passing game, that may not be the cleverest piece of timing if the newer and smoother turf is of greater benefit to the visitors.

"Wigan are a team who play fantastic football, but this time of season they're all difficult," Ferguson said.

His selection will provide a test of his words: away from home against teams the United manager fears, he opts for the insurance policy of a third central midfielder, meaning either Dimitar Berbatov is consigned to the bench or Wayne Rooney starts on the left. Including other strikers presents further problems, but he is predicting a player whose first United goal came against Wigan could play a pivotal part in the remainder of the campaign.

"Michael Owen has never let me down and is a phenomenal player around the box," Ferguson said. "I sense he is going to be a key man between now and the end of the season."

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THE MATCH-UP

Key Battle

Ben Watson v Darren Fletcher
Wigan will need to starve their opponents of the ball and it will be vital that through Watson they dominate in midfield. Fletcher, pictured below, has been one of United’s most consistent players this season, and his incisive passing will be important today.

Tactics
Despite topping the league, United have failed to fire away from home, winning only three of 12 games. Usually Ferguson has played with only one of his strike pairing of Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov on their travels, but he may be more attacking today.

Previous meetings
Manchester United have triumphed in all 11 of their past league games with Wigan, including their meeting this season at Old Trafford in November, which they won with a 2-0 scoreline. Wigan have only scored once against United in their last seven encounters.

Probable line-ups
Wigan (4-5-1) Al Habsi; Caldwell, Gohouri, Figueroa, Alcaraz; Watson, N’Zogbia, Diame, Moses; McCarthy; Rodallega
Man Utd (4-4-2) Van der Sar; Rafael, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Nani, Fletcher, Carrick, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov

Facts
• If he starts today, Edwin van der Sar will make his 250th appearance in goal for Manchester United.
• If Wigan avoid defeat today they will be four games unbeaten which will be their best run of form this season.