Looking ahead to Wigan: some background on the Latics

New man Zapata, here in action against Everton, has quickly impressed (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

     Villarreal take on Wigan Athletic in a few hours' time at the DW Stadium in Wigan.

     For those of you who don't know much about Wigan: they are a young club by English standards, formed only in 1932, elected to the Football League in 1978, and members of the Premier League since 2005.  They play in a stadium shared with a rugby club, about the same size as El Madrigal.  The team is building a fanbase, but with nine far more established clubs close by (including Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool and Everton) it's a struggle.  In that sense, Wigan is similar to Getafe in La Liga: a 'small-team success' story, but one that isn't much noticed.

     Wigan is managed by Roberto Martinez, who also played for Wigan; he, Jesús Seba  and Isidro Diaz all signed at the same time, and were known as the "Three Amigos" (which presumably they were, all having Zaragoza connections).  Seba, incidentally, played for Villarreal in 1994-95, on loan from Zaragoza.  The "Latics" are owned by Dave Whelan, a local businessman who made his millions building up the UK's largest chain of sports stores.  Whelan has been very supportive of Martinez, who has managed to keep Wigan in the EPL despite a small budget; Martinez has in turn repaid that faith by spurning interest from larger clubs to sign him as manager.

     Remember that Marco Ruben nearly joined Wigan in January 2010, the deal falling through at the last minute, supposedly because Whelan had second thoughts on spending €7m on what was then a Segunda B striker.  In turn, we have been linked with a couple of current Wigan players: Colombian international striker Hugo Rodallega and Honduran left back Maynor Figueroa, who I believe is out of contract at the end of this year.

   In fact, the Wigan team is something of a United Nations; as might be expected Martinez has been able to bring in a number of players from Spanish-speaking countries, including Paraguayan defender Antolin Alcaraz

     This year most expect Wigan to have a season much like last year, which in turn was much like the year before that: Wigan will play some entertaining football at times, will be overmatched at times, and will finish among the bottom half of the EPL, though avoiding relegation for another season.  If the club could go on an FA Cup run and knock off some big names, that might go a long way toward creating some excitement among the supporters.  But given that larger teams are just down the road, it's always going to be a hard sell.

   As for the game itself, coming only two days after the Everton match, expect more rotations and experiments--maybe Hernán Pérez in the lineup, for instance.  Hopefully Nilmar will play, to give some indication the transfer rumors are just that.  Sounds like Borja Valero might not, as he got banged up on Friday. 

    No real point to predicting a scoreline in these things: Villarreal have more talent obviously but it's hard to say how either team will approach the game.  Hopefully there won't be any of the challenges like Marchena's from last game, anyhow.  The match is at 11AM EDT, and there should be streams available in the usual places, Gol TV in Spain presenting it.  We'll have a match thread for commenting up an hour beforehand, so check back closer to game time!

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