WIGAN ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Wigan manager Roberto Martinez laughs before the Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Fulham at the DW Stadium on January 15 2011 in Wigan England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Kirsten Schlewitz may write for 7500 to Holte, SB Nation's Aston Villa blog, but she admits to harboring a secret crush on Wigan -- or, at least ,on manager Roberto Martinez. She takes a look at whether Wigan will stay up this season.
Wigan Athletic, the little club that could. That pesky team that just wouldn't go away. The club that's not supposed to be in the top flight, the one whose presence offends traditionalists. The Latics entered the Premier League in 2005 and have been destined for relegation ever since, yet somehow have managed to hang on. Last season, they secured safety with a dramatic comeback win over West Ham, simultaneously sending the Irons down, before beating Stoke City with a Hugo Rodallega strike in the 78th minute. This is a squad that simply doesn't want to give up - and that's what makes them so utterly endearing.
That, and Roberto Martinez, of course. The Spaniard, whose classy fashion sense rivals that of much-lauded biggies Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, was wooed by Aston Villa in the summer, but his sense of loyalty to Dave Whelan kept him at Wigan (to the dismay of many Villa supporters). Martinez, a former Latic himself, is unquestionably the reason that the club stayed up last season. Roberto's style of play is remarkably flowing and attractive, particularly for a team with such financial constraints. It may lead to more than a few mistakes at the back, but it's fun to watch, and Martinez also knows how to get scrappy when necessary. Pep who?
Wigan do have some big boots to fill, however, with the loss of winger Charles N'Zogbia (Villa decided if they couldn't tempt Martinez, they were going to swipe the squad's best player). They've also seen Tom Cleverly return to Manchester United, where the punning pundits will have an even wider audience. Speaking of United connections, the Latics have hung on to James McCarthy, ensuring that Wayne Rooney still has a decent target for his elbows. Another youngster, Victor Moses, is coming into his own, while one of the real victories of the Wigan offseason was securing a permanent deal for goalkeeper Ali al-Habsi.
The million-dollar-question is, as always: Will Wigan stay up? I'm ever an optimist of the club, so I may not provide the most neutral perspective on their chances. But if Wigan can keep up the momentum of last season, when the Martinez system finally seemed to gel, avoiding regulation will be simpler than in seasons past. Then again, how often does the play of a team at the end of a season have any sort of impact over what happens three months later?