Perennial favourites for relegation, Wigan Athletic are playing their eighth consecutive season in the Premier League and have once again been tipped by many as one of the favourites to be relegated this season.
Roberto Martinez’s side have put in two solid performances in their opening two games, picking up 3 points this weekend with a 2-0 victory at Southampton having lost by the same scoreline at home to Chelsea last Sunday.
Their squad on paper has never looked very strong under their Spanish manager and I myself had expected the Latics to have been relegated in previous seasons. This season however, I think they’ve got enough to keep themselves above the drop zone.
In Ali Al-Habsi, Wigan have a top goalkeeper. The Oman goalkeeper made 6 saves at St Mary’s to keep his first clean sheet of the season on Saturday. Wigan Athletic kept 8 clean sheets last season and only 3 goalkeepers made more saves than Al-Habsi in the Premier League last season (Wayne Hennessey, John Ruddy and Michel Vorm).
Protecting their goalkeeper, Wigan Athletic have lined up with Ivan Ramis, Gary Caldwell and Antolin Alcaraz as a central three, with Emmerson Boyce and Maynor Figueroa as wing backs. This formation worked successfully at the end of last season as Wigan won 7 of their last 9 games to avoid relegation. Ivan Ramis made a shocking start to life at the DW Stadium, allowing Eden Hazard to setup Chelsea’s opener, and then bringing the Belgian down for the penalty, all inside 7 minutes. He kept a clean sheet in his second game. At the heart of the defence is Gary Caldwell who looked really good at the end of last season. Both Boyce and Figueroa provide a number of crosses per game from the wing, with the former even scoring a couple of goals from the right flank at the end of last season.
Shaun Maloney is the playmaker in this Wigan midfield. After failing at Aston Villa in his first spell in the Premier League, the Scottish international came good at the end of last season, notably scoring the winner against Manchester United. Jordi Gomez has yet to start a game this season, but the Spanish midfield also creates chances in midfield and also finds himself in goalscoring positions, making runs into the box. He wasted two good chances against Chelsea, but as soon as the number 14 finds his shooting boots he will be a threat. Has a good left-footed shot from long range too. Defensively, James McArthur and James McCarthy are the ball-winning midfielders.
Franco Di Santo had been one of the worst strikers in Premier League history until the end of last season. The Argentine striker failed to score in 8 substitute appearances for Chelsea and then only 1 in 22 league games at Blackburn. Wigan made a £2 million investment in signing Di Santo, who scored just 1 goal in his first season at the DW (25 appearances). 2 deflected goals against Queens Park Rangers early last season was most of what he had to show for before scoring 3 in his last 5. This included a cracking goal against Newcastle in a shock 4-0 victory. Arouna Kone will score goals for Wigan too. I thought he fouled Jose Fonte in the build up to his goal at the weekend, but it was a calm, composed finish in front of goal to seal the 3 points. Was a failure at Sevilla, but apart from that he has scored goals throughout his career, including 15 goals for lowly Levante last season.
The newly-promoted sides have been difficult to judge so far. Southampton play good football, have a good finisher in Rickie Lambert, play some good football and put up a respectable performance in a 3-2 defeat at Manchester City. Then lost 2-0 at home to Wigan.
Reading relied on a late penalty to grab a point at home to Stoke and then blew a 2-1 lead at Chelsea to lose 4-2. I actually think the Royals will go down, but in Jobi McAnuff and Danny Guthrie they have two creative midfielders. I’m not a big fan of Pavel Pogrebnyak, he’ll probably prove me wrong this season, and does have a good goalscoring record throughout his career. But they’ll be relying on him to score goals because that’s something Jason Roberts hasn’t done for a long while. Adam Le Fondre is making a huge step up after playing League Two football this time last season – I won’t judge him just yet.
West Ham were terrible in their 3-0 defeat at Swansea on Saturday. James Collins was too slow in playing the offside trap, Guy Demel looked a bit overly aggressive going forward from right back, Kevin Nolan looked slow in the centre of midfield and where are the goals coming from? Ricardo Vaz Te is inconsistent and Carlton Cole only has patches of good form. I usually have faith in Sam Allardyce’s ability to avoid relegation with his proven record at Bolton and Blackburn, but this team needs work.
I do think Norwich City will go down this season and unless Queens Park Rangers invest they will be strong contenders. I do think Mark Hughes will keep them up but their defence is horrific with just a few days left of the transfer window. That, and Djibril Cisse’s selfish actions of showing his frustrations when Bobby Zamora scored at the weekend, instead being part of the team as you’d expect. This team needs a number of signings.
I believe Wigan Athletic are currently better than the five teams mentioned above, and even Aston Villa have made a poor start to the season. Victor Moses is a loss to the team after he turned up at the end of last season. The sale of Hugo Rodallega is a good one because I found him to be a selfish player with poor finishing.
Wigan Athletic have enough to keep them outside of the bottom 3 come May.