The hectic holiday period continues on New Year's Day when Manchester United travel to the DW Stadium to face Wigan Athletic. In the reverse fixture at Old Trafford in September, the Red Devils defeated the Latics 4-0. During this same fixture last season in April, a Shaun Maloney second-half goal propelled Wigan to a famous victory while the defeat for United was a major blow to their then title hopes.
Form Guide: Sir Alex Ferguson's side is unbeaten in their past eight Premier League fixtures, with seven of those results being victories. United currently sit top of the table, seven points clear of nearest title-contending rival Manchester City, with 49 points from 20 matches. Their most recent result occurred on Saturday when they defeated West Bromwich Albion 2-0.
Team News: Wayne Rooney, Nani, and Anderson are all out. Both Phil Jones and Rafael are expected to be available.
Form Guide: Wigan enter the new year sitting 16th in the table with 18 points from 20 matches. The Latics beat Aston Villa 3-0 at the weekend but prior to that fixture, they had gone six successive league matches without experiencing victory.
United: Rotation and fatigue will be obvious factors when Ferguson picks his team. Here's what he had to say about that, and on the possible return of Jones and Rafael after Saturday's game versus West Brom:
"Phil could be ready and Rafa will be ready. We rested Robin [van Persie], Chicharito, Ryan [Giggs] and Paul [Scholes] against West Brom so we've got enough freshness to bring in. Wigan had a great result today [winning 3-0 at Aston Villa] - it'll be a hard game on Tuesday."
- Ferguson | Source: MUTV
United have played thrice over a recent seven-day span. Five players have started all of those matches -- David de Gea, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, and Antonio Valencia -- so each are obvious candidates to possibly be rested. This upcoming weekend, though, doesn't have any Premier League fixtures and instead, the lesser important FA Cup takes center stage. Ferguson is likely to prioritize this Wigan match over Saturday's cup tie at West Ham United. It's really anybody's guess as to who will start at the DW.
de Gea could continue his run of games in goal but Anders Lindegaard is possible. At center-back, Rio Ferdinand will probably start after being rested at the weekend and he could be partnered by either Evans, Smalling, Jones, or Nemanja Vidic. The latter, though, is likely to be rested after featuring versus West Brom. Rafael seems likely at right-back, assuming that he's fully recovered from his recent injury as Ferguson expects, while Evra seems possible to be given a rest from usual left-back duties. The Frenchman's deputy, Alexander Buttner, was fantastic in the reverse fixture versus the Latics.
In midfield, Paul Scholes seems likely to come into the side and he could be partnered by any of Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, or Ryan Giggs. Out wide, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, and Giggs are the only natural winger options with Nani out. However, both Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa are capable of putting in a shift out wide. The latter, though, is likely to be rested for this game after featuring at the weekend for the first time since October. Up front, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez (Chicharito) appear very likely.
Wigan: Fatigue is also a concern for Wigan manager Roberto Martinez but because he has a smaller squad, his selection choices are less complicated than Ferguson's. In goal, Ali Al-Habsi is the clear No.1, despite his plethora of recent mistakes. In the Latic's 3-4-3 system, Emmerson Boyce, Maynor Figueroa, and Gary Caldwell are typically the first-choice back three. Ivan Ramis is in contention as well.
In central-midfield, David Jones and James McCarthy have been first-choice as of late but James McArthur is possible as well. Jean Beausejour will be the left-wing-back while either Ronnie Stam or Jones is the expected right-wing-back.
Up front, the trio of Franco di Santo, Arouna Kone, and Shaun Moloney are expected -- the former two are natural forwards while the latter enjoys roaming the space between the lines. Jordi Gomez is in contention for a spot up front too.
* The basics of Wigan: Prior to the September match between these two sides, I wrote a scouting report on Wigan. I would recommend that for further tactical detail on the Latics. Below, though, is a more condensed description on Martinez's side:
Wigan typically are deployed in a 3-4-3ish system. More often than not, Caldwell is in the middle of the back three and he's generally the one in a sweeping sort of role while the surrounding two center-backs generally step out of the back more. The two central-midfielders stay deep in an attempt to keep the shape compact and when in possession, they typically look to swing the ball out wide for the wing-backs. Of the wing-backs, it's Beausejour that is the most dangerous. The energetic Chilean enjoys motoring up and down the left touchline and when attacking, he does well to overlap Maloney and send in crosses. Up front, Kone and di Santo tend to play the role of forwards while Maloney freely drifts inside to the space between the lines from an initial left-sided position.
* What will Wigan's approach be?: In the 4-0 win over Wigan at Old Trafford, it took United awhile to get a grip of the game and this was evident by all the goals being scored in that game's second-half. Here were some of Ferguson's post-match thoughts that day:
"I thought the first half of the game never got started. Wigan were taking a minute for every goal-kick and slowed the game down. They kept possession well and are quite an aggressive team to play against, giving a lot of fouls away and stopping the game that way. Once we got the speed of the game right in the second half, it made a difference for us as we became more aggressive in terms of getting the ball back and making good tackles in midfield. That set a pattern with the crowd as it got them up. Scoring the first goal is always important in these type of matches and we ran out good winners."
At home, one might reason that Wigan will take a more positive approach -- it's worth considering that Wigan were brave and proactive last season during their famous win over United at the DW Stadium. Martinez's side, though, are in poor form so perhaps they'll be cautious from the start again. When they do sit back, their shape tends to be more of a 5-4-1 and when that occurs, they aren't much of an attacking threat but they can be a challenge to break down. Will Wigan be reactive or proactive? That'll likely the determine the pattern of the game, especially in the opening-half. Whether it be a player like Scholes or Carrick dictating the tempo and rhythm of the game, or whether the front four can provide consistent incisiveness through intelligent movement and good technique, the Red Devils may need to find a way to get 'the speed of the game right' if Wigan defend deep and try to slow the match down.
* United's right-side vs. Wigan's left-side: Only Norwich attack more down the right-side than United does while only Everton attack more down the left-side than Wigan does. This side of the pitch will be an obvious key battleground.
When Wigan's attacking moves break down in the attacking third of the pitch, there will likely be space for United to break into. Valencia and Rafael excel in surging down the right-touchline and creating overloads. Opportunities will be there for this, whether that be for Valencia and Rafael or for other players who are rotated in, when Maloney comes inside and when Beausejour motors forward to join the attack. If Valencia is rotated out, it'll be key for this replacement player to provide the width the Ecudorian typically does while tracking back onto Beausejour will be key as well. If United can attack in behind the Chilean wing-back, then this will stretch the back three and wider gaps in the center will be created for United's other attackers to exploit.
Maloney caused trouble last season with his movement as he continually found pockets of spaces between the lines. It was fitting that he was able to provide the blast for the winner from an inside position just outside the box. United will need to find ways to squeeze this space.
KO: 3:00pm GMT, 10:00am EST | DW Stadium
Live TV: None (U.K.), FOX Soccer (U.S.)
Referee: Andre Marriner
Odds: Wigan Athletic 5/1, Draw 16/5, Manchester United 8/15