As Wigan prepare to face Manchester City this afternoon, how will the Latics' relegation battle influence their team selection?
Wigan Athletic have three cup finals remaining this season. As sacrilegious as it is to say so, in many ways today’s is the least important.
It shouldn’t be. And I for one am of the belief that getting your hands on a trophy should be more important than where you finish in the league.
But while cup success gives you a day of great celebration and a summer of memories and bragging rights, league success gives you stability and a lot of money.
And it is a sign of the sporting age in which we live that money trumps what many believe is the greatest domestic cup competition in the world.
Had Wigan not decided that their last game against Swansea would be the one in which they temporarily capitulated, perhaps this afternoon’s match could have been the celebration it should always be.
With the sides immediately above them in the Premier League showing no signs of resurgence, Wigan could have stepped out today knowing that one more league win probably would have saved them.
Now they must win both – away to Arsenal and at home to Aston Villa – and even that may not be enough.
With the Latics likely to be without up to five defenders for today’s game, the decision of who plays at the back has been taken out of manager Roberto Martinez’s hands.
Maynor Figueroa, Jean Beausejour, Ivan Ramis and Ronnie Stam are all definitely out, while Antolin Alcaraz is likely to join them.
But further up the field, Martinez must decide whether to put his faith in freshness or momentum.
Should he opt for the latter, he will simply start with every available first-choice player, hoping they pull off a mini-miracle this afternoon that will motivate them to repeat the feat both at the Emirates and the DW Stadium.
But should he choose freshness, expect at least some of the second-string to make an appearance.
The truth is we all know what he is going to do. Martinez is not the sort of man to invite defeat one week in the hope of securing success the next.
He will want to win this afternoon, cementing his legacy at a club he has served, and saved, so well.
But what should have been the greatest day of his tenure may be tinged with a sense of what is to come.
Who would you play this afternoon? And for one day should the club completely forget their league troubles and simply enjoy their moment?
image: © illarterate