FA Cup Final, Wigan vs. Manchester City: Tactical preview

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Two managers with a penchant for tinkering clash in a FA Cup final full of technical talents

From a tactical point of view, perhaps the most memorable feature of Roberto Martinez's and Roberto Mancini's management style is their contextually unusual fondness for three at the back - but for varying reasons, neither manager may start with this unorthodox formation in Sunday's FA Cup Final.

Instead, Manchester City have firmly preferred a 4-4-2 template in 2013, having utterly failed to acclimatize to Mancini's tinkering while for Wigan, the situation is more complex. Injuries have decimated their squad to the bare bones - especially crucial in the context of a relegation dogfight - and by necessity rather than design, Martinez may be forced to field a four-man defence.

The decisive injury has been to Maynor Figueroa. The Honduran generally plays as the left-sided centre-back in a 3-4-3, where his ability to also play left-back means he's comfortable defending in the channels, and covering for the forward runs of Jean Beausejour.

The Chilean is also an injury doubt, meaning Wigan's left side could have an entirely different feel - crucial, as 42% of their play comes down this flank, a bias only beaten by Everton in the Premier League. The signing of the Chilean full-back was one of the more significant moments in the evolution of this Wigan side: he had previous experience at wing-back thanks to Marcelo Bielsa's Chile side, and is a good crosser from deep positions.

In the previous fixture between these two sides, Samir Nasri's narrow positioning on the right wing, combined with Shaun Maloney being used as the most advanced Wigan attacker, almost like a false nine, meant Beausejour enjoyed great time on the ball, striding forward confidently and whipping crosses into the penalty area towards Franco Di Santo.

Unfortunately, the lanky Argentine was typically profligate and has recently been usurped in the starting line-up by the youthful Callum McManaman, who is nominally the right winger but plays a very narrow role, almost as a second striker. His runs from inside to out are very clever - his goal in the semi-final against Millwall stemming from this situation, as did the winner against West Brom - and must be tracked diligently by Gael Clichy, who likes to stick tight to his marker.

Mancini will probably take the cautious option and start James Milner ahead of Pablo Zabaleta, as the Englishman's insatiable work rate provides good protection for the Argentine full-back, despite the probable absence of Beausejour. Besides, City's balance simply feels more comfortable when Milner starts, as he tends to play wider than Nasri and so provides more space for Silva to drift into.

The flipside of Wigan's predisposition to the left is that the space vacated by Beausejour can be exposed, especially without Figueroa to sweep up in behind. West Brom striker Markus Rosenborg cleverly took advantage of this by drifting out into that channel when his side didn't have possession, and the outlet he provided on the counter-attack was the catalyst for Shane Long's opening goal. Pablo Zabaleta's forward runs have become commonplace this season, and with Beausejour's likely replacement Roger Espinoza a central midfielder by trade, positionally insecure and attack-minded, the Argentine full-back will enjoy good freedom by storming past Maloney into advanced positions.

In the last clash between these two sides - which came just two days after they had confirmed their place in this final - City overloaed the centre with creativity, with both wide players characteristically playing narrow and Yaya Toure permanently occupying an advanced midfield role. But for all their control in this area, City couldn't create opportunities, and not even the standard Mancini change to a back three could alter the score line.

Instead, City's breakthrough came when Carlos Tevez was introduced, prompting a return to a back four - but it was the Argentine's movement between the lines that was crucial, finding space on the edge of the penalty area to jinx his way past Wigan's defenders before curling home a smart finish. Ben Watson looks likely to play the deepest midfield role, and must ensure he isn't overwhelmed by City's sheer presence in his zone.

Wigan must get off to a good start here. Their most impressive performance this season came in this competition, in the quarter-final against Everton - they simply blew David Moyes side away with a flurry of quick passing and attacking football, scoring three unanswered goals inside the first thirty-five minutes. City are able to turn to star-studded bench including Edin Dzeko, whose goals off the bench have cast him into a substitute's role this season.

By contrast, Wigan have Franco Di Santo.

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