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Wigan’s destruction of Newcastle shows that the Latics belong in the Premier League

Wigan put on a show on Saturday to all-but-secure their Premier League status for another year, and delighted the DW Stadium and onlookers in the process. A 4-0 win over Champions League qualification hopefuls Newcastle mixed a determined and dogged defensive approach with sublime attacking play, and Roberto Martinez’s men were good value for their comprehensive victory.

With Newcastle undoubtedly the surprise package of the season, and Alan Pardew crafting a team of rough-around-the-edges players into some of the most sought-after stars in the league, the victory is all the more impressive. The first-half showing by the hosts was nothing short of masterful, as Wigan were quite simply too good for their Tyneside opponents.

A Victor Moses brace and goals from Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo gave the home side an unassailable lead, and in truth Wigan could have scored more in the first 45. The win sends Wigan up to 16th place and 37 points, three ahead of the bottom three, and three adrift of the holy grail of 40.

Wigan’s escapology act from last season had the club’s fans on cloud nine, but this season seems to be even more of an achievement. Given the fact that the Latics were bottom of the pile not too long ago, and faced a stern fixture list, Martinez and his team should be proud of their end of season heroics.

Five wins in the last eight games has lifted Wigan above their relegation rivals, with three points against Liverpool at Anfield, at home against Manchester United and at the Emirates against Arsenal, along with yesterday’s triumph, sticking out in the memory. The Latics could already be safe, but one win from their last two games against Blackburn and Wolves, will ensure Martinez’s men stay in the top flight for another year.

The manner of the afore-mentioned victories, and Wigan’s play for the majority of the campaign, is the real standout point. Martinez has urged his troops to consistently get the ball down on the deck and play football, even against their supposedly superior opponents, and this must be admired. When a team goes into a spiral of bad results, like Wigan have this season, there is a temptation to try and get the ball forward in a direct fashion rather than keeping possession, and the Latics have resisted this urge for the majority of the campaign.

The likes of Victor Moses, James McCarthy and Maynor Figueroa have all been excellent, and the cash-strapped side may have a battle on their hands to hold onto their best players. Like Wilson Palacios, Antonio Valencia and Charles N’Zogbia before them, the chance to play for a bigger club could be too good to resist.

Looking forward, there could be a few changes at the DW Stadium this summer, and the club’s fans will hope that Wigan can get off to a better start next term. Despite their heroics in escaping relegation through end-of-season wins over the last couple of years, the team will hope to not leave it so late next term, and secure their Premier League status well before the last five games. A sensible summer in the transfer market and a continuation of Martinez’s positive attitude could well see Wigan as more than relegation escapees in 2012-13.

Published – Soccerlens

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Europa League Preview: Tottenham, Fulham, Stoke and Birmingham in a confusing European adventure

The draw for the group stages of this season’s Europa League has thrown up a number of difficult and interesting challenges for England’s representatives, with qualification through to the knock-out stages far from assured. This term it will be up to Tottenham, Fulham, Stoke and Birmingham to do the nation proud, and test their wits against some cultured European opposition.

Tottenham were drawn in Group A, and have been given one opponent on their doorstep, and two on the other side of the continent. Shamrock Rovers, Rubin Kazan and PAOK FC will look to further frustrate Spurs fans after their slow start to the campaign, and will have taken comfort in Harry Redknapp’s men being outplayed and beaten by both Manchester clubs in the space of six days.

The Russians will provide the most difficult opponent, and were unlucky not to make the Champions League; Kurban Berdyev’s side lost out narrowly to Lyon in the qualifiers. The Tsentrainyi Stadion is a hostile environment to enter, and a host of Russian internationals and familiar face Obafemi Martins will make the away tie in particular increasingly difficult. PAOK are not the force of past decades, but, like the Russians will make the away leg uncomfortable. The Irish champions will be sure to put up a fight in the emerald isle, but may find similar treatment to that distributed to Hearts in the qualifying round forthcoming at White Hart Lane.

Stoke have arguably got the most difficult task in front of them, with travels to the far-fetched lands of Israel, Turkey and Ukraine; Maccabi Tel Aviv, Besiktas and Dinamo Kiev lie in wait. Tony Pulis will be happy he has Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch at his disposal, in what should be a tricky campaign. The Turks have European calibre and experience, and will look to capitalise on the English outfit’s lack of past action in the continent. Stoke’s direct style of play will be countered by a technically gifted midfield trio of ex-Real Madrid playmaker Guti and Portugal international duo Ricardo Quaresma and Simao Sabrosa.

Kiev are top of the Ukranian Premier League currently have attacking options that could be the downfall of the side from the Britannia, with Andriy Shevchenko and international team-mate Andriy Yarmolenko sure to cause Ryan Shawcross and company problems. Tel Aviv meanwhile will be the least threatening member of the trio, but the distance to the away leg will ensure a win is not guaranteed.

Fulham have a mixed group comprising Twente, OB Odense and Wisla Krakow. The Dutch side crashed out of the Champions League qualifiers at the hands of Benfica, but have a strong team; despite this a deadline day move saw Bryan Ruiz swap De Grolsch Veste for Craven Cottage, which could be the difference between the sides. OB were unlucky not to make the group stage of the top tournament, as they were eliminated by Spaniards Villarreal, despite winning the first leg. Krakow offer up an unpredictable element, but should not be underestimated as they are Poland’s current champions.

Birmingham may find the going tough especially with a squad depleted after relegation and will most likely focus on their domestic fixtures in an attempt to make it back to the English top flight, rather than a European adventure. Club Brugge and last year’s defeated finalists Braga should be too strong for The Championship side, who will target the fixtures against Slovenian outfit Maribor as winnable games.

The English sides will travel to the four corners of the continent in this year’s group stage, have drawn difficult opponents, and will have to be at the top of their game if they are to progress.

Published – http://soccerlens.com/europa-league-preview-tottenham-fulham-stoke-and-birmingham-in-a-confusing-european-adventure/78376/

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