After a staccato first couple of months, Saturday presents the first real chance for Latics’ new team to start to build some momentum. The six league games that Latics have featured in thus far are just the appetiser as they are followed by more than twice as many between now and the turn of the year. Whether the start of that run being the visit of Manchester United turns out to be a blessing or a curse is a question that may only really be answered come January, but form up until this point suggests that we’ll have to wait at least another week until the ball starts rolling.
A consensus seems to have grown that the postponement of the first fixture between these two sides, last season, allowed Latics to regroup and start on their winning ways. If the game had gone ahead gone the way of the rearranged fixture, it would have meant three defeats on the bounce. Each, for different reasons, would have been demoralising and energy sapping. We’ll never know whether the squad would have recovered from that, but the feeling both in and outside the club is that it would have been the death knoll for our season.
This time around, things are a little different. United are showing signs that some of the old hunger is back and that they’re serious contenders this season. Latics are struggling to match the impression they made last term and the growing feeling is that the season is ebbing away already. There’s plenty of time to turn that around but there’s little hope of that happening on Saturday.
Simply put, this is probably the first game of the season where the expectations of Latics fans will be realistic. The pressure should be off for the team and hopefully they can relax and play some football. If they can add a bit of steel to that and come out with a performance that we can be proud of then it will provide a springboard for the games to follow, regardless of the result. If we only manage to match the performance against Watford, then it might just be just about time to give up, until January at least.
In the game at Old Trafford last season, Jewell took the opportunity to experiment, starting with three strikers and to little avail. He’s probably short of options to change too many things ahead of this game and having just had a 2 week international break it would be a surprise if Latics didn’t line up in a 4-4-2 tomorrow. There are question marks over the personnel that will be deployed.
Over the past week it has become increasing clear that Jewell sees Andy Webster as his first choice Centre Back, however this game is probably too soon for his debut. Only the manager knows whether Matt Jackson did enough against Blackburn to keep Hall out of the side. The midfield is a little more straight-forward. An eye injury sustained on Wednesday may remove the need to decide on what part Kevin Kilbane plays leaving the only real problem being over whether Teale or Valencia takes the right wing berth.
United are likely to be missing Giggs and Heinze, Ronaldo is a doubt and Rooney is out of form, so we’re alright there then. They’re unbeaten away from Old Trafford this season and I’m struggling to see how Latics can change that. An early goal might give the boost they need, but who would bet on Latics holding onto a lead, these days. Fresh starts are always about changing results, and this game provides a chance to make steps in the right direction. We can only hope that the players have got the right maps.
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