Manchester United cruised to victory with four second half goals against a Wigan team who looked well off the pace after travelling for two rounds of international matches. Once upon a time Latics didn’t have internationals in their line up but now most of the squad are committed to playing for their countries all over the world.
United never really needed to get out of third gear as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were given far too much freedom in midfield and the Wigan defence returned to the blunders of early last season.
Wigan were without defender Antolin Alcaraz who was injured playing for Paraguay, so Maynor Figueroa slotted into the back three. Jean Beausejour returned as wing back. United started with Robin Van Persie on the bench and gave a debut to Alex Buttner at full back.
The first half started in controversial fashion when in the 7th minute Danny Welbeck went down on the right hand side of the Wigan box after Ali Al Habsi raced out to close him down. The keeper made minimal contact with Welbeck but referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Justice was done however, when Al Habsi guessed right and saved Javier Hernandez’s tamely hit penalty kick.
Overall the first half was closely fought with Wigan matching United in most departments. Danny Welbeck and Nani had half chances for United but Wigan had their own chances through Emmerson Boyce and Arouna Kone. Kone in particular should have done better when Jean Beausejour’s cross was deflected into his path but the Ivorian mis-kicked and the chance was lost.
The second half was a torrid affair for the Latics as they gifted United the three points with a series of defensive blunders.
United’s first goal was the result of a mistake by the normally reliable Omani keeper Al Habsi. On 51 minutes Nani’s low cross shot was spilled by Al Habsi into the path of Paul Scholes who couldn’t really miss from six yards out.
United went 2-0 ahead 12 minutes later when Giggs and Buttner combined well and Buttner crossed for Hernandez to score, he initially looked offside but Boyce hadn’t got back into position and was playing the Mexican on-side.
The setback was compounded soon afterwards when Buttner was too easily allowed to make progress down the by line beating four Wigan defenders in the process and getting in a shot which Al Habsi somehow allowed to beat him at the near post.
Robin Van Persie replaced Paul Scholes in the 70th minute and Ryan Giggs gave way to debutant Nick Powell with United already well in control. Van Persie had a great chance to make it four soon afterwards but Gary Caldwell did enough to put him off his stride and prevent a goal.
Nick Powell did make it four on 82 minutes after some more shambolic Wigan defending gifted him the opportunity. The Latics defence had just broken down another United attack but McCarthy casually gave the ball away in his own box and Hernandez pulled the ball back for Powell who drove the ball powerfully past Al Habsi.
Wigan’s usually effective midfield of James McCarthy, Shaun Maloney and James McArthur had one of their most disappointing days as they struggled close down their opponents and or to build any kind of attacking momentum.
As the game progressed towards the final whistle Wigan’s play grew more ragged and the players looked tired and weary. Wigan’s international players had travelled thousands of miles to play in the World Cup qualifiers and their sojourns had clearly taken their toll. Roberto Martinez has criticised the timing of the internationals and it was clear from this performance that Wigan had suffered because of them.
Martinez knows that there is another international break due next month. He believes that there should be a longer recovery time before you play your next game. The 48 hours before a game is insufficient time to recover for many of the Wigan players who have to travel long distances often representing countries in Central or South America.
It is fair to say that Manchester United players also have to contend with international duties but United have much greater strength in-depth and they can afford to rotate their players more often than Martinez.
Old Trafford is an intimidating venue but on this occasion United didn’t have to be at their best to beat an under-performing Wigan team who produced a catalogue of defensive errors. All Wigan fans will know that we are capable of much better. It is to be hoped that by next weekend the international break will have been forgotten and that they will put in a much improved performance and result against Fulham.