Behind Enemy Lines: Wigan
Two Wigan experts share their thoughts ahead of Saturday's game.
Saturday sees a short trip to the DW Stadium for David Moyes' men. After beating the league leaders in midweek, the Blues now face the side sitting at the opposite end of the table.
Wigan have only amassed three wins so far this season, but after a January window of adding rather than losing key players, it is do or die as the Latics prepare to launch their bid to stay up.
So what has been going wrong for Roberto Martinez's side? Can they maintain their Premier League status for an eighth successive year? And which players should Blues be wary of?
To find out, we went 'Behind Enemy Lines' and spoke to Wish FM's Sports Presenter Chris Milow and supporter Jason Taylor of CockneyLatic.co.uk...
After ensuring Premier League survival on the last day of the 2010/11 season with a great late run of form, fans will have hoped for a less nervy second half of this campaign.
Taylor points to injuries and refereeing decisions playing their part in the struggle.
"It has been a very disappointing season so far," he said. "After the end of last term we thought we would move on and do well this time out. We had a run of 10 to 12 games where Martinez couldn’t pick the same team, never mind what would be his first team due to injuries.
"We certainly seem to be on the wrong end of major decisions this season as well. I know they are said to even themselves out but they definitely haven’t for us."
Wish FM's Milow feels that the Latics' position is down to them not being clinical enough in attack.
"Their Achilles' heel this season has been their lack of goals," he explained. "The approach play is good, but all season long they have struggled for creativity when they get to the opposition’s penalty area, netting the majority of their goals from outside the box.
"And when you struggle to score goals, that naturally puts extra pressure on the defence."
Picking up just one point from their last six league games, the Latics' form is causing concern for some. Milow and Taylor, however, are optimistic that a few good results will foster confidence and that survival can yet be obtained.
"You have to believe, don’t you?" said Milow. "It’s looking increasingly difficult though, with teams like Bolton and QPR starting to get fresh impetus into their campaigns.
"Last season, when Wigan were in trouble, it was Charles N’Zogbia who fired them into life (ironically starting with the game against Everton), but this season I’m struggling to see who’s creating that spark. New signing Jean Beausejour played well on his debut at Spurs – maybe his combination with Victor Moses on the left will be significant.
"I have no doubt that there are four or five worse teams than us in this division," added Taylor. "Unfortunately, the confidence is very low and although we show signs of being that good team we know we can be, we don’t maintain it throughout a full game. We need to get that level all game, every game for the next 15 weeks. If we can, we will stay up. If we can’t, then we won't."
January was an important month for many clubs. For some, it was key to hold on to their best players. Amid rumours, the Latics kept hold of their aces and were able to add to their pack.
"It was crucial," Milow expained. "There were two players being linked with potential moves away from the club, and both have the potential to get those much-needed goals. Victor Moses is proving to be one of few bright lights in a dark season so far, and although Hugo Rodallega has hardly been prolific, he can be a real handful on his day. His worth to the club could prove very important with some key goals and assists between now and May."
Taylor noted that there could have been more arrivals at the DW Stadium.
"It was important to keep hold of players, but I know (Martinez) was very disappointed with three of his targets letting him down on deadline day. We needed bodies in the squad and he has an uphill task to get everybody fit and keep everybody fit for the rest of the season."
Everton have a great record against Wigan, having lost just two of the 13 Premier League encounters. How do our experts see this particular meeting playing out?
"The first goal is crucial," said Milow. "In that run pre-Christmas, even if Wigan went a goal down, you could sense that they would get themselves back into the game. Since the turn of the year though, that confidence doesn’t seem to be there. In my opinion, Wigan need to score first to get anything from the game.
"It’s time to start throwing a bit of caution to the wind and putting visiting defences under more pressure, even if that means breaking from Roberto’s tradition of neat passes. Occasionally a long, hopeful ball into the box with an irritant of a centre forward buzzing around can be equally, if not more, effective."
CockneyLatic.co.uk's Taylor emphasises the need for a positive result.
"I am expecting one of those good games to come from us soon and I feel we need two of them over our next two games (Everton and Bolton). Six points would drag us back into the mix again and do the confidence levels a world of good. My heart says we will win 1-0, but the head says it will most likely be another frustrating loss."
ONES TO WATCH
Most Blues fans will have their eyes on a potential debut for new boy Nikica Jelavic and a second debut for Steven Pienaar. Asked about the opposition's personnel, Taylor and Milow are quick to point out the same duo as match-winners.
"They can all turn it on on their day," said Taylor. "But stand out players are Victor Moses and Ali Al-Habsi
"Outfield, it would probably be Victor Moses," added Milow. "Defenders hate his pace. But by far the player who has given Wigan the greatest chance of survival is goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi. Some of the saves he’s pulled off this season have been extraordinary, and he has a 50 per cent success rate at stopping penalties."