The Latics recorded a famous FA Cup triumph owing to a mix of sound execution of tactics, poor showing from their opponents and the final script playing out like clockwork...
By Harsh Shah
Wigan Athletic Football Club are the FA Cup champions. Let that sink in. What an occasion it was, that too to come up and play like that against a team of Manchester City's standard; a side who are set to finish this season's Premier League second placed and who also were champions of England last time out. No mean feat by any stretch of imagination, to get the better of an outfit that cost close to 15 times its own collective price to assemble!
But if given the audacity to say this, right from the minute Roberto Martinez announced his Wigan lineup for the final and in what way they were to organize themselves, one could sense that this game was somewhere being played between equals.
Yes, Wigan do find themselves on the wrong end of the league table with relegation staring them in the eye. Also, they do not have the depth in squad to compete against a City side who boasted of that very same element in multitude. Hell, prior to this fixture, they hadn't recorded a single goal against the Citizens in their previous 7 encounters, leaving the question of a victory for the Latics in those outings out of the equation. But all these factors went right out the window when Martinez made clear his statement of intent with the formation that he had set his side out with to face Manchester City in the final.
And so having said that, to negate all those critics who would've commented on the final outcome without actually knowing the nature of affairs that panned out at Wembley last evening, let's make it very clear to such critics that Wigan had never assumed the tag of underdogs as far as they were concerned. They were definitely not out there to make the numbers; rather they were hungrier, more inventive and unarguably more effective in their approach of unsettling their counterparts. And at the end of the day, most of the credit needs to go down to two men. First up, Roberto Martinez, to have the courage to use a 3-man defence against City and supervise its accurate functionality over the period of 90 minutes while juggling between a 3-4-3 and 5-4-1 and also drive his men on to outclass City's in almost all areas of the pitch; and secondly to the club owner Dave Whelan for holding his trust in the former despite the string of results going against his beloved side all throughout this campaign. It all paid off at the right time.
|The Other Roberto | Martinez was absolutely spot on in dismantling City with his accurate strategies|
Also, Wigan's stellar showing against a hapless City almost erased the fact from people's minds that they were actually suffering from an injury crisis. Gary Caldwell, Jean Beausejour and Ivan Ramis (all defensive players) were on the sidelines due to injury. Antolin Alcaraz who was previously on the list, surprisingly made it to the starting lineup. He along with Paul Scharner and Emerson Boyce did a great job at the back with some amazing tracking back from their wing support in Roger Espinoza and James Mcarthur providing some solid cover. Espinoza, the long haired Honduran, especially had a terrific game on the left, making run after run which led to some magnificent link up play with Shaun Maloney and Arouna Kone in advanced positions.
The wings were truly Wigan's trumpcards with Callum Mcmanaman arguably putting in a man-of-the-match display on the right hand side. The Wigan academy product literally owned Gael Clichy, beating him with his pace on countless occasions; twisting, turning and not providing the Frenchman a moment's peace when he had the ball. It was good work by Mcmanaman on one of his umpteen runs towards the end of the 90 minutes that earned a corner which led to the proverbial goal by the substitute Ben Watson that clinched the trophy. His diagonal runs along with Maloney's and Kone's were a true thorn in City's defensive path atleast, with Vincent Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Pablo Zabaleta having a torrid day at the office.
Here is where Martinez's masterful strategy again worked like straight out of a dream. Knowing full well that Manchester City are a side that could bombard you down the middle and shred you to pieces like they did to Chelsea for most of the previous round, Martinez very skillfully shifted the whole focus of interest for his side to the wings. At every opportunity, you saw Wigan midfielders either making driving runs towards to flanks or spraying the ball out either directly or through short passes to the more than potent wingers. And if that too wouldn't work, the horizontal runs were always there in place by the advanced wingers which pulled City defenders along, leaving ample space for the overlapping covering flankers and make merry. Kone too, who looked like a lone striker upfront at times, dropped back well on a few occasions to make space behind him for the likes of Mcmanaman, Maloney and Mcarthur to run into.
|Story of their season so far | Manchester City yet again did not show up when it mattered most|
On the contrary, Manchester City's and especially Roberto Mancini's plan never took off. Having been shoved out of the driver's seat from the word go, City weren't allowed any way back into a position of ascendancy by the north-east club. On the few occasions when they managed to conjure up something good, Wigan's goalkeeper Joel Robles rose to the occasion to deny the Sky Blue attackers. When his trailing leg somehow tipped over Carlos Tevez's shot from point blank range in the first half, one got the feeling this was meant to be Wigan's day.
Neither Yaya Toure nor David Silva were anywhere close to their best, alongwith Sergio Aguero unusually misfiring alongwith Tevez. There was something really anticlimatic in the Wembley air from the start, one could claim.
But again, credit to Wigan Athletic, they stuck to their guns and held fort formidably. It was like their will and potential was much more than City's on the day. It was visible even in the demeanour and approach of both men on the touchline. While Martinez was continuously spurring his troops on from the first minute to the last, Mancini looked disinterested and dour in his dealings throughout. The substitutions too miraculously paid off for one and proved disappointingly disastrous for the other. While Martinez's decision of sending on the recuperating Ben Watson for the tiring Jordi Gomez resulted in the No. 8 scoring the winning goal, Mancini's ploy of sending on an injury prone Jack Rodwell for the misfiring yet lively Tevez backfired as the former Evertonian was culpable for allowing Watson to head home the winner in the closing stages. Remarkable to say the least; the turn of events.
To end matters on a bittersweet note for the Latics, they do not have much time to celebrate as a trip to the Emirates is up next for them. With their Premier League survival hanging in the balance, they need to carry on this spectacular momentum into the next two games of the season and seal their spot in next year's Premier League campaign. At the same time, the silver lining for them is that they get to compete in next season's Europa League, giving Martinez an opportunity to apply his style of play in Europe.
The possibilities are immense for Wigan if they treat every game like a cup final and play with the same attitude. To go with that, a bit of luck in keeping the squad fit could really mean a solid mid-table proposition atleast in coming seasons for the DW Stadium club. The potential is undoubtedly there now that they have proven it with the FA Cup campaign ending the way it did.
Still, the final twist in the story might just be Roberto Martinez moving to pastures new with vacancies like the ones next season at Everton being highly linked with the Spaniard already. Will he move? What will it mean to Wigan? All this and much more form the next part of the club's history following this fairytale chapter of 2013.
Wigan Athletic Football Club are the FA Cup Champions. Let that sink in.
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