Wigan's Wingers Win FA Cup
By Alex Fairchild
Manchester City should have won the FA Cup. They have better players who have far more experience, skill and extraordinarily high levels of fitness. However, on Saturday, they lagged behind a boisterous Wigan side.
In a 4-4-1-1, City approached the match. They looked to be compact defensively, before exploding forward. However, without Yaya Toure making his bursts into the Latics' third, the sky blue were left with nothing. Wigan controlled possession early and created a wonderful chance via Callum McManaman, who received a delicious ball from Arouna Kone. The lone striker put through several balls, though this one to McManaman created a excellent chance which was squandered by the Englishman due to his impulse to take a few too many touches. Nevertheless, his left wing counterpart, Roger Espinoza, rampaged up and down his flank. Wigan's Ohio State graduate played a huge role in taking the attention off the man of the match. Espinoza was always on the receiving end of the switch early, though the No. 10, Shaun Maloney helped the midfielder get forward. Maloney's touches were superb in the opening period, as he roamed about the front lines, pressuring the backs when City had the ball.
Throughout the match, Kone made runs toward the left, while Maloney did the same. The two looked to overload the left side in an effort to open up space for McManaman which proved successful on several occasions.
Wigan were strong at the back as well, even though they were missing anchor and captain Gary Caldwell. Roberto Martinez used a compact formation, with a front bank of 4 coupled by a wall of 5 behind, though at times the defense aligned using 4 players ahead, who confronted City's attack. It was textbook defending from the Wigan, who have been accustomed to playing with a back three since last season. They made things very difficult for Carlos Tevez and Sergio Kun Aguero. Both looked to hold up play, but surrounded by the Wigan backs, it was difficult for Toure, Barry, Nasri, and Silva to find their teammates who sat 18 yards from goal.
Statistically, City were the dominant side and they should have won the match on 29 minutes. Had it not been for the right boot of Joel Robles the game would have been over. The keeper threw tactics out the window, as he mustered all the focus and strength of his right leg, to direct his ankle to lock in order to stiff Tevez's close range effort from rippling the Wembley yarn.
It was almost as good as a goal for Wigan, as it gave them further belief that they could topple their Champions League neighbors despite botching their opportunities.
Just six minutes later it should have paid off. It was Espinoza's run that penetrated a wimpy City back four. The former Kansas City man was brought down by Pablo Zabaleta, though the official waived off the Honduran's penalty shout. Espinoza was clearly clipped and David were robbed of yet another chance to take the lead against Goliath.
However, their determination went unmatched by the 2011 winners and that is probably how Wigan persevered. Their forward pressure kept Yaya Toure in place. The Ivorian was left to distribute the ball within the confines of the center circle, something he does very well, though, as mentioned earlier, he was not allowed the freedom to roam, which makes him so dangerous.
After halftime, Gael Clichy came out of the woods to maraud the left flank for the Citizens. Arsenal's sale was called upon throughout the half and City looked far more dangerous with the French international getting forward. Perhaps Clichy can be excused, as he was most likely left behind to deal with the threat of McManaman whose speed and trickery would be difficult to cover with only two center backs recovering.
James Milner was introduced in place of Samir Nasri. The consistent midfielder made a difference within moments of his introduction. Gareth Barry took the ball leftwards, though he spotted his Three Lions teammate open on the right. Barry threaded a lovely pass to Milner, who proceeded to run at the Wigan defense. Milner slid the ball to City's right back, but Zabaleta's run failed to produce a final product, as David Silva's trailed the Argentine's driven cross.
The game on the wings progressed as Robles played balls wide to his men on the paint throughout the day at Wembley. However, his flings forward struggled to create any meaningful contribution to the match. McManaman continued to torch the pitch's right side 24 minutes from time. Always cutting by defenders, it was a block from Vincent Kompany that kept City alive, as the 22 year old cut by the City defense to get a shot on target.
When Rodwell came on for Tevez it was the game's first sign of a tactical shift. Mancini looked back into his Wembley arsenal, as he used a similar strategy two years prior in the FA Cup semifinal against crosstown rivals United. Later in that match, he freed up his African centerpiece. Of course, Toure got the winner that day, with a brilliant foray by the Red Devils' defense. Toure found his place in a similar position on Saturday. In a rotating three of the Ivorian, Silva, and Aguero, the trio looked to find their way by a tiring Wigan. This looked to be the difference as the Latics were gassed. James McArthur, who featured as an attacking right back gave up on a poor switch just minutes from time.
The veteran Toure used his big frame to post up on the Wigan backs and Aguero looked to turn on them. Silva's ability to create was lost, as their greater Manchester rivals thwarted his efforts. A combination between Kone and McManaman was the play of the day. On 84 minutes, Kone slotted a through ball into the path of the Englishman, who took a touch, before lifting a heavy flick by Zabaleta. Coming in from behind, the right back had no chance of getting the ball, thus the moment he made contact with the man of the match, he had to of known he would be headed for the exit.
The loss of Zabaleta was tragic for City, who had to pull back Yaya Toure, whose forward play was sure to see the Citizens grab a late winner. With Milner subjected to right back, City were stuck in a defensive 4-3-1.
McManaman took advantage of Gael Clichy, who would never break with his City teammates with a purpose for the match's remainder, as the Wigan winger tired his enemy for 90 minutes. Using his pace, McManaman looked to pass Clichy, but the experienced full back grappled with his opponent, tripping him on the touchline. Lucky not to have given away a penalty Clichy was happy to see the ball roll out for a corner.
An extra defender may have helped City fend the Wigan set piece, as a flat zonal marking system failed to put an additional defender on the near post. Jack Rodwell was rooted to his position as Ben Watson thrusted a powerful nod over Joe Hart, handing Wigan their first FA Cup, as stoppage time began.
While Watson's winner will be cast in football lore, it must be remembered that Wigan won the day on the wings. Espinoza was strong getting forward and McManaman even more so. The ex-KC back beat his defender three times, while McManaman more than tripled that total, dribbling 10 men. Both should have been awarded a penalty, though Maloney's well-shaped ball to Watson's head was all that was required to hoist the trophy.