Wigan Athletic are the best example of how a handful of games can potentially change a season.
At the start of December, Roberto Martinez was once again facing the sack, as his club had just shipped in four goals at home in an embarrassing performance against Arsenal.
Two hundred and seventy minutes later, the Latics have snatched five points from three tough ties, including two draws against Chelsea and Liverpool.
Though their odds of matching a third consecutive giant are rather steep (6/1), there is no doubting that Wigan have rediscovered some confidence in front of goal and are a decent punt to net against Manchester United at the Theatre of Dreams on Monday.
One man stands out in particular: Jordi Gomez. Having notched four goals over the last month, the ex-Masia talent has already got a late equaliser against Chelsea in his scrapbook, making him an interesting punt to net at any time at 6/1.
Gomez also has the added bonus of being on spot-kick duties (insert appropriate Old Trafford penalties joke here).
Though Wigan’s poor goalscoring record (they are the Premier League’s lowest-scoring side with 15 goals) might not stand them in good stead, United have conceded in each of their last four home games and still occasionally look frail at the back without the unfit Rio Ferdinand and long-term absentee Nemanja Vidic.
Phil Jones’ lack of experience in a central position might cost him against a quick-thinking adversary who is poised to either exploit his sluggish positioning in the back line, or get goal side of him in the box.
Victor Moses or Hugo Rodallega (especially in the air) seem to be the best candidates, provided the latter is fit. At 5/1 and 4/1 respectively to notch a goal at any time, they’re hardly worth ignoring when it comes to giving United’s defence a scare.
Manchester United know a thing or two about shocks, too: it took them a while to recover from their 6-1 mauling at the hands of ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City – their convalescence manifesting itself in front of goal, with a return of only 14 goals in the ten games that followed their nightmare derby.
Though Wigan’s poor goalscoring record might not stand them in good stead, United have conceded in each of their last four home games and still occasionally look frail at the back without the unfit Rio Ferdinand and long-term absentee Nemanja Vidic.
One of the main victims, Wayne Rooney, seemed to go completely off the boil. Before scoring against Wolves, the young Liverpudlian hadn’t struck in nearly two months. He now has four goals in three and is likely to pick up from where he left off earlier this season, where he racked up nine goals in his first six games.
At 7/10, he’s a sure-fire bet to trouble the scorer at any time, especially considering the five goals he’s racked up in his last six games against the Latics.
Portuguese winger Nani is another strong candidate to make a mark on the game, an eventuality quoted at 13/10.
Another player to have bounced back from being a casualty of United’s recent slump, he is certainly capable of cutting inside the likes of Maynor Figueroa and Ronnie Stam, not to mention draw Steven Caldwell into a foul, or even a double booking. The Scot has so far racked up seven yellow cards this season and has looked pretty jittery throughout.
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will also be relying on his defence to make a difference, especially on set-pieces.
Jones might not be enjoying the defensive aspect of his game, yet remains a dangerous aerial threat and will enjoy facing Wigan’s weak backline in the air. Having already netted twice in the last three weeks, he is 17/4 to do so again at Old Trafford.
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