x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Reds ready to usher in 2010

Five points behind Chelsea with a game in hand, United still have injuries to key defenders like Rio Ferdinand, but they will be much stronger tonight against Wigan.

The temperature was minus 3°C and their team were losing 3-0, but the 3,000 Manchester United fans at Fulham recently grew louder as their team got worse. United fans are often derided as fickle glory hunters or for hailing from anywhere but Manchester, but at Craven Cottage it was a northern effort. Their song, which continued for 25 minutes and became louder with each rendition, could not have been more Mancunian.

"This is how it feels to be City," they hollered, "This is how it feels to be small, this is how it feels when your team wins nothing at all." Adapted from a hit by Madchester (sic) favourites The Inspiral Carpets, it had little bearing on the game - though the mocking of United's blue neighbours did confuse thousands of Fulham fans. That day, City were in the process of dismissing their 14th manager since Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Old Trafford in 1986. On an otherwise terrible afternoon for United, their fans were gleeful and mocked their rivals whom they meet next week in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg.

January can't come soon enough for United, with December a poor month by their high standards. Two defeats in a week, the first at home to Aston Villa and second away to Fulham was uncharacteristic, especially for a side chasing a record fourth consecutive Premier League title. No team have previously won the Premier League having suffered five defeats in the first half of the season and United have already lost that number.

The champions have beaten struggling West Ham, Wolves and Hull City in December, victories which were not taken for granted given an injury list which, at times, left Patrice Evra as the only recognised defender. Five points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, United still have injuries to key defenders like Rio Ferdinand, but they will be much stronger tonight when they entertain Wigan Athletic and hope to be stronger still against City.

Wigan are 16th and will travel 20 miles east with just one win in their last eight games. At the turn of the year, the Latics were managed by Steve Bruce and were seventh with a reputation as obstinate opponents. Even then, their record was atrocious against United. They have failed to register a single point against United in any Premiership game and were thrashed 5-0 at home by United in August.

Wigan's record against other top teams is respectable and they have already defeated Aston Villa and Chelsea this season, though their 9-1 November hammering at Tottenham was so embarrassing that their vanquished players personally refunded their ticket price for the travelling fans. Their manager, Roberto Martinez, remains highly regarded, not least by Sir Alex Ferguson, and the pair shared a meal at an Italian restaurant in Manchester before Christmas.

The Catalan was a cult hero as a Wigan player when they rose through the leagues, lavished by hard-nosed sportswear millionaire Dave Whelan, who paid for their new stadium which opened in 1999. Whelan is a former professional player who does not suffer fools. He respects Martinez and has said that he will stick by the young manager even if Wigan were relegated. Yet Wigan, despite having the lowest average crowds in the division, are a club with a wage structure of a club who demand Premier League survival.

Whelan will see relegation as failure, though he will not be expecting too much at Old Trafford tonight. A win is imperative for United, though their fans will be singing about City and the forthcoming highly anticipated derby matches regardless. @Email:amitten@thenational.ae Manchester United v Wigan, KO midnight, Showsports 1