It’s the question that gets asked at this time of year. While we wait and wait for the season to finally start, everyone satisfies their need for football by discussing transfers and make predictions for the season ahead. One of those predictions is always who will be going down this year. The answer to that question every year always involves Wigan Athletic.
Ahead of the season every year you look at Wigan and you think that they are doomed. Their squad looks threadbare and compared with the rest of the Premier League they look like odds on certainties for relegation. In the opening weeks of every season we all think, yeah this time they cannot possibly survive. The Latics are invariably adrift at Christmas and nobody sees anyway that they will still be a Premier League team when May comes around.
And then February comes along and Wigan transform into the Barcelona of the North West. Those players who had Championship written all over them suddenly turn into world-beaters. Gary Caldwell goes from pedestrian plodder to defensive rock. Jordi Gomez changes from a timid midfielder to a craftsman around the box. Wigan find the kind of form that keeps them up time and time again. Last season they beat Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in the run in and finished in a terrific fifteenth place.
So why do their fortunes change in the back half of the season? My own personal view is that Wigan are a terrific technical side with the ball at their feet. Unfortunately they share a ground with Wigan rugby union side and this often leaves the pitch in dreadful condition. As a result, Wigan are not able to get the ball down and play as Roberto Martinez has taught them to do. This is a big hindrance during the Winter months and so when the weather starts to improve and the pitch gets better so does Wigan’s football.
Another of their major issues at the start of the season is that Wigan always need to sell their best players to financially support the club. Consequently the often have a new first eleven at the start of the season and it takes time to build understanding and coherence. Once the manager gets to grips with his squad, their fortunes improve and so could explain why it takes until February for Wigan to really find their feet.
Sadly it will be the same again this summer. Wigan have already seen Hugo Rodallega, Mohamed Diame and Hendry Thomas leave on free transfers and now it looks as though Victor Moses is heading to Chelsea. Moses was a key man last season as Wigan pulled themselves out of trouble. Once again Wigan need to rebuild and you have to feel that sooner of later they will finally be for the drop. But we say that every year and every year they prove us wrong. It will be interesting to see if they do so again.
One advantage they do have is that I don’t believe the promoted teams this year are of the same strength we saw last year. Southampton and Reading in particular look like they could have squads that will struggle at the top level but there is always one team that produces a mid-table finish at the first time of asking. Wigan need to find a way to perform more consistently across the season. If they do so there is every chance that survival will be achieved once again. Or they could do what they do every year and tease us until February and then rise like a phoenix out of the ashes to claim their spot in the Premier League for yet another year.
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