Roberto Martínez has conceded that Wigan Athletic may have a mental block when it comes to playing Manchester United and has advised his players to think about their own improved form before Boxing Day's meeting at Old Trafford rather than allow themselves to be daunted or dazzled by their opponents.
"The least we concentrate on United the better for our performance," the Wigan manager said. "We have to forget we are playing Manchester United and not fear them. That would be the best mental approach, because there is a psychological block we have to overcome before we even start the game. They are the only team we have never taken a point off in our history. The results we have had against them have built up a mental block and so the moment we think about who we are playing it becomes a harder task."
Martínez is sceptical about whether this may be a good time to be playing United because of injuries to Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Young and others, pointing to the emphatic 5-0 victory at Fulham in midweek.
"Every player in their squad has a winning mentality," he said. "There is no best moment to play them. They are hitting their form at the right time and, even if they have players out, they will not show weakness. When you play at Old Trafford they determine the tempo of the game and it is not correct to assume that they will be weak if they have a few defenders missing. They won't."
On the other hand Martínez would very much like his players to believe in their own recent form and go into the game aware, as United will be, that a side capable of holding Chelsea and Liverpool in successive matches must be doing something right.
"If there is a time to play them, not from their point of view but from our point of view, it is now," Martínez said. "We have momentum from the draws with Chelsea and Liverpool and this form has come at the right time to test ourselves at Old Trafford. Right now we have a fresh view about playing the top teams.
"We came back from a goal down against Chelsea and in the Liverpool game we played against a very good side. They were not poor at all but we played well too and created 10 chances. That shows a good balance of performance for us and that's what we should focus on."
Some heavy defeats, including a not unfamiliar 4-0 scoreline in the 2006 Carling Cup final, have led to a suspicion that Wigan leave their feistiness at home and turn into doormats whenever they face United, though Martínez naturally prefers to emphasise the positives.
"Our track record is not good but every time we have played United we have had periods of the game in which we were outstanding," he said. "Last season was the best we have played at Old Trafford but then we conceded in first-half injury time and had two sent off in the second half, so it ended up a tough afternoon.
"What we need to do is not just play well for a period but for the whole 95 minutes. That's our new challenge. It's not complicated, as long as we understand that going to Old Trafford is a titanic task for any team and we will have to be perfect. Over the past few years we have been setting ourselves little targets and reaching them. First it was getting a win over a top-four team, then going toe-to-toe with them. Now it is a matter of doing it against United.
"We need to go to Old Trafford and get three points because we are five points short of where we should be. But if we lose, it will not be the end of the world. We need to finish with more points than we did last season. Nothing is more important than that. We have to stay in this league and, if we do, it will give us more chances to take points from United in the future."
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