Ahead of tomorrow's league tie, we've reached out to Pie Eaters Footie -- the Wigan Athletic fansite on SB Nation -- for a Q&A exchange. You, our readers, provided the majority of the questions and they were supplemented by some of my own. Here is the Q&A exchange:
TBB: What are some of the main changes for this campaign in regards to the squad? One of the major losses certainly is Victor Moses making a move to Chelsea -- thoughts on that and on new signing Arouna Kone essentially taking his spot in the starting XI?
PEF: In terms of Victor Moses, for me it went on too long. Had it been done and dusted early on, I don't think we (Wigan fans) would have minded. What annoyed us was that Dave Whelan told Chelsea we want £9 million or no deal, and yet Chelsea refused to pay it untill the last week of the window. That for me seems silly, someone like Whelan won't move on what he wants, so why couldn't the deal have been done earlier and had the whole thing wrapped up nice and quick and easy. Pure rubbish.
As for his replacement Kone. I don't think we could have asked for a better player, in terms of effort and ability going forward he is a much better finisher and more composed in the final third. What we have lost is the skills and the trickery and the pace up front that Moses brought to the table. That will hurt us at some point, yet we have changed the dynamics of the front three now, with Kone and Franco Di Santo playing as the two strikers together, allowing Shaun Maloney the free role in behind them, and so far it has worked really well.
TBB: What are your expectations for this season? Do you feel a top-half of the table finish is a realistic possibility? Can you comment as to why Wigan often start slowly only to finish the season playing amazing football? As a fan, would you desire a nice, painless mid-table finish, rather than your annual heart attack inducing rollercoaster ride of a season?
PEF: The expectations this season have to be that we do better than last, and for us that is finishing around about tenth. Yet that doesn't mean the club aren't aiming for higher. Martinez has said that he wants to take the club into Europe, and whether or not he feels that this could be our year, I do not know. However if we play like we did towards the end of last season, then why can't we finish inside the top ten and in a Europa League spot?
But like you say we are notorious slow starters. Ever since out first league in the Premier League, we have always had a better second half of the season than the first. Why that is, I don't think anyone knows, whether it is the player mentality or whether it is down to the type of training. It really could be anything.
What I do know though is that Martinez can and has got his teams playing. One of the things that makes him such a good manager is his man management skills. He really can change a players playing style or effort levels on the pitch, and he always knows when it is the right time to bring in a new player to the squad. That is what makes that extra difference come the second half of the season, and why we do so well.
Yet I would much prefer a boring season (mid-table) this year, I don't think there are many hearts in Wigan that have a low blood pressure after some of the recent seasons!
TBB: Many of us have an idea of Roberto Martinez’s strengths as a manager, but what do you feel are his weak-points? What are your thoughts of him being linked to Liverpool this past summer? If and when he does move onto a bigger club someday (no disrespect intended for Wigan Athletic), do you feel he may be looking for a situation where there's a commitment to patience due to his propensity to start a season slow?
PEF: I will start about Liverpool first and Martinez going to a bigger club, because and you say he will do. The fact of the matter is that Martinez wants full control of the club, from under 6's right up to the first team squad. The man wants it all to be able to change not just one thing in the club but the whole playing ethos and the way in which the structure works to bring it into the 21st Century. From day one that is what Roberto has done at Wigan, and would have wanted to at Liverpool.
The fact of the matter is, that Liverpool only offer him the first team coaches post. Removing all ability to be in any transfer deals and also to be involved in youth players and their coaching. That though is what Roberto likes to have his hand in to affect everything at the club so he can bring it all together. It is one thing that a lot of people don't realize about Martinez is that he doesn't want a great team on the pitch, he wants a great football club.
Now where are his weakness. For a lot of people it will be a variety of different things, one for being too loyal to Jordi Gomez our former resident donkey, while for others it maybe that at times when the side is losing their is no plan b the ball must remain on the floor and keep going that way. They are both flaws and can be summed up in a flaw of Martinez's character, that he is very devoted to one thing once he has is mind set to it.
You very rarely see him change tactics majorly during a game, and instead want the players on the pitch to adapt and to change within their roles in the formation that they are playing. Under the current system and style though, it works like a dream.
TBB: What are your thoughts on Ali Al-habsi? The man can make some outstanding saves, but where would you rate him as a keeper in the PL? Top 5? How is his distribution?
PEF: Best keeper ever, and it ends there! Since he got into the goal at Wigan, every Wigan fan has loved him, and we will continue to do so (it always helps when you steal a talent off you rivals). Ali's best ability is as you mentioned his shot stopping ability he can save just about anything, some of the saves he pulls of you expect a top 5 world keeper to be pulling off.
Yet for me he isn't in that band due to one thing. That is he has very poor distribution, in terms of goalkeepers world wide it is still very good, but then compared with some of the worlds top keepers then it is. Which in terms of where he is makes it okay. He can hit a man and get the ball clear, it is just that one out of five ball where it can go wrong. But everyone has an area to improve.
For me he has to be close to Top 5 PL goalkeepers, but maybe top 20 world wide.
TBB: One of the fascinating tactical stories of last season was the spectacular turnaround after Martinez switched Wigan from a 4-3-3 system to a 3-4-3 one. United were certainly witnesses to the high-level of the football your side was playing by April. Has there been any subtle changes to that back three system and if so, what are they? How does Kone in there for Moses make things different? With left-wing-back Jean Beausejour expected to be unavailable -- perhaps Wigan's best creator of chances when he overlaps after Shaun Maloney drifts inside between the lines -- will there be a big attacking drop-off if Maynor Figueroa deputises in that role? At Old Trafford, do you think Martinez will take a proactive approach where Wigan intensely presses our midfield -- which United has been vulnerable to -- or do you think he takes a more reactive approach where the wide players drop back a line and make the system a more deep-defending 5-4-1 rather than a 3-4-3?
PEF: The system as a whole has remained the same from this season to last. If anything though we have gone more attacking to really get a teams and not let them settle, so playing a high midfield line to pressure their midfield and defense. You have though hit the nail on the head with Kone being the major change, in that we no longer play with two wide forwards. It is now more a case of Di Santo and Kone playing a two forwards and Maloney playing in the hole behind and wide, with a real freedom to roam.
One of the reason of the above tactic happening is due to Beausejour's injuries. Over the last few game, with him of the pitch, less cross are coming into the box so our attacks have had to come more centrally as the wing backs in each game have yet to provide any real creativity. As for who will replace Beuasejour it could be either Figueroa or David Jones. Both have played their this season, and both have played their well.
As for what style will we play, it will be very attack minded, I can't see it being any other way. Yet when we are with out the ball the two full backs will pull in to try and help keep United out with the midfielders pushing hard and high to press them into making a mistake. Expect much the same routine as last year, just with a bit more direct attacking approach.
TBB: And finally, how is your side on set-pieces? Who are the key free-kick takers and who are the targets? When defending, does Martinez have Wigan man-mark or zonally-mark? If you want to know about Manchester United on set-pieces, we're rubbish...
PEF: Set pieces can be a bid of a dodgy one when it comes to Wigan at times. Although few people score against us like that, you get the feeling that we are a bit weak defensively, especially if we are going to miss Antolin Alcaraz at Old Trafford. We man for man mark, with Alcaraz and Gary Caldwell being the two vocal defenders to clear the ball in the box, if Ali Al Habsi hasn't come for it. It has worked well for us in the past, yet I still feel we can be a bit shaky.
At attacking we are again okay at them. We don't tend to score many goals from them really. I believe there were only a handful scored by us that way last season (about six). I would imagine that will continue this season. One player I do feel that we lack in our starting line up, is someone who can score from a freekick. No one in our starting eleven is a set piece expert.