Season Preview: Wigan

by Kevin Coleman

A club often criticised for the number of fans it attracts to its games and the bleak atmosphere in its home stadium, Wigan were lucky to escape from relegation last year – finishing just three points above the safety point. It was a narrow escape, and a situation they may find themselves in again this season. With the loss of a very key player in Charles N’Zogbia, Wigan go into the new season weakened with the loss of the versatile Frenchman – and they will pay the price for not strengthening this summer after last season’s miserable 16th place finish.

Wigan boasts some wonderfully talented footballers, and in the not too distant past have been able to attract the likes of Mauro Boselli, Antolin Alcaraz and the highly rated Irish midfielder James McCarthy. Arguably, Wigan have a better squad then the team they were promoted with back in 2005. As well as attracting some good players, Wigan are very much a selling club to the bigger Premier League teams – proven again this summer with the loss of Charles N’Zogbia for just £9.5million to Aston Villa, who replaced a £20million-rated Stewart Downing.

Last Season: 16th
Manager:
Roberto Martinez
Odds: 5000/1
In: Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton, £4m), David Jones (Wolves, free)
Out: Charles N’Zogbia (Aston Villa, £9.5m), Steven Caldwell (Birmingham, free), Daniel de Ridder, Jason Koumas, Daniel Lambert, Thomas Oakes, Mike Pollit, Abian Serrano, Callum Williams (all released)

Keys to the season

Wigan needs much more strength in depth to avoid a relegation battle, and at the minute their squad looks like it’ll really struggle this season. Without a replacement for Charles N’Zogbia, and James McCarthy in and out through injury, Wigan simply don’t have the quality to create in the necessary areas to benefit Rodallega up front. Although they tend to be quite easy on the eye, they struggle to create and score goals and that will become increasingly evident without the service that N’Zogbia offered from either flank.

Transfer funds were probably  non-existent, while chairman Dave Whelan has always been brutally honest about the position the club is in financially as well as the status of Roberto Martinez, who turned down the allure of Villa Park earlier this summer.

The Team

Wigan’s squad is bare in numbers, very weak in depth but has splashes of quality throughout the starting eleven. The recent acquisition of Ali Al-Habsi is a positive one. Although he tends to be a little bit inconsistent, he has shown glimpses of a top quality keeper. Antolin Alcaraz is an experienced international defender, but was hit and miss in his first season in the Premier League, while Maynor Figueroa is a consistent defensive option. Henry Thomas and Mohamed Diame are hard working midfielders, and probably the club’s most consistent pairing. Up front Hugo Rodallega is a great striking option but he needs to find the net more, while out wide neither Jordi Gomez or Victor Moses have impressed since moving up from the Championship.

Key Player

Since joining from Rayo Vallecano two years ago, Mohamed Diame has been an integral part of Wigan’s starting eleven. The hard working Senegalese defensive midfielder has performed consistently for Wigan, particularly last season. His all action displays earned him two call-ups to the Senegal national team, as well as interest from a couple of clubs abroad.

Opening Fixtures

Norwich (H), Swansea (A), QPR (H), Man City (A)

Strangely, Wigan face off against the three new promoted sides in their opening three games. The season opener against Norwich won’t be easy, and they may come up against some heated Norwich adrenaline. Realistically it’s a game they should be winning, but Norwich will want to prove themselves from the get go at the expense of Wigan. Swansea and QPR will be tough ties, both sides aren’t far behind in quality while Man City away could be a cricket score. The maximum I see Wigan getting is four, maybe five points.

Where will they finish?

I’m not very confident that Wigan can escape relegation this season. I’ve always been a fan of theirs, and am a huge admirer of the work of Roberto Martinez, but I don’t think they have the quality to avoid relegation when they could find themselves in a battle against Wolves, QPR, Swansea and Bolton. 19th.

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