We must be about to reach the Premier League’s home straight. How can I tell? Wigan Athletic and Liverpool meet at the DW Stadium on Saturday with the latter’s campaign all but over, while the former have already begun their latest act of unlikely escapology.
Never mind the title run-in, over the last few years nothing has said the Premier League is reaching its climax quite like Liverpool meandering around in upper mid-table while Wigan perform Lazarus-style comebacks from the relegation dead-men to the bosom of safety, and we are already seeing both things happen all over again.
For Wigan, it is a necessity. Before last weekend, their only wins in the previous nine matches had come in the FA Cup as they sat second bottom of the Premier League table and once again looked doomed to relegation.
Yet after a 4-1 win over Huddersfield Town in the cup, Latics boss Roberto Martinez took to playing some mind games of his own, which is not what you normally associate with the unflappable Spaniard, by declaring Wigan ready for the run-in.
“We have people coming back from injury and we are getting ready to finish the season as you expect from Wigan Athletic,” said Martinez.
Or in other words, watch out, fellow strugglers, because we are about to click into gear when it matters.
The comments went under the radar as far as press coverage was concerned (could you imagine if Sir Alex Ferguson had said something similar?) but the managers of the sides down the bottom will have taken note, because Martinez looks as though he could be right.
A thumping 3-0 win of vital importance over Reading at the Madejski Stadium last weekend showed Martinez is capable of backing up his words as it moved the Latics out of the bottom three with 11 games to go, and quite possibly set in motion another huge climax to the season.
An incredible run of 21 points from the last ten games, which included victories over Manchester United, Arsenal and Saturday’s opponents Liverpool, saved Wigan from the drop in 2011/12 and you wouldn’t bet against it happening this time around, either.
You could ask why it is that Martinez can only get his team to perform consistently at this stage of the season, but let’s not dwell on that: Wigan can keep on picking up results, and they can get another one when the Merseysiders are in town.
Wigan are 31/10 to grab all three points, with the draw at 14/5 and Liverpool priced up at 39/50, which is a terrible, terrible price for a side that have won just three away league games in 13 all season.
It may not be strictly true that Liverpool’s season is over, but with sixth place only guaranteed a Europa League spot depending on who wins the FA Cup, much has to go Brendan Rodgers’ way for Liverpool to be playing in Europe next year and at the very least they have to clamber a further two places from their current position of eighth.
And given the way the Reds were eliminated from all three cups – embarrassed by Swansea City in the Capital One Cup, humiliated by Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup and not good enough to beat Zenit St Petersburg in the Europa League – Liverpool have started March with little to play for.
Kenny Dalglish’s league campaign might have fallen apart, but at least he won one of the domestic cup competitions and got to the final of the other.
Rodgers doesn’t even have that to fall back on, and the manager will have another big summer on his hands. How happy that summer is will depend on what he can get from his players between now and then, but I don’t think they will be winning at Wigan.
Liverpool have a terrible record at the DW over recent years, not winning in their last five visits, and at 21/20 I think that may be the case again.
Like I said, just three away wins all year means you aren’t getting stuck into an odds-on price, especially when Daniel Sturridge is an injury doubt.
And even though Wigan haven’t won too many recently, they haven’t lost a great deal, either.
The Latics have ended up on the losing side in just three of their last 12 games in league and cup, two of those to Manchester United and Chelsea, and they have enough to get a result against a Liverpool team that you never know what you are going to get from.
So when it’s all said and done, I’d rather be on the 21/20 that the Reds don’t win than the 39/50 that they do.