City boss Paul Lambert wasn’t the only one sweating on a few, late injury worries ahead of this weekend’s big, Premiership kick-off – Wigan boss Roberto Martinez now faces an anxious wait to see whether or not his young midfield ace James McCarthy has had a recurrence of his ankle injury.
The 20-year-old one-time boy wonder of Scottish football hobbled out of Sunday’s final dress rehearsal – a 1-0 win over Villarreal – and is now deemed a major doubt for the visit of the Canaries this Saturday.
What is equally clear is that the Latics’ side awaiting Lambert’s men is very much a work in progress – Martinez is going into battle with his team still to be completed; his eyes still very much on further signings before the summer transfer window shuts on August 31.
By contrast, Lambert gives every indication that his summer shopping spree is now over. His challenge is to ensure that those carrying last-week niggles – Russell Martin and Andrew Crofts, in particular – are ready for the call this weekend.
Likewise, he will be extremely keen to see striker Steve Morison emerge from tomorrow night’s Wales international against Australia unscathed.
“We are a bit concerned about James, although the good thing is he doesn’t seem to be as bad as we originally thought,” Martinez told the Wigan Evening Post yesterday.
“The ankle is clearly something he has had trouble with in the past, and it was a late challenge that caught him again this time.
“As a result the ankle caught in the turf, and we’ll find out the full extent in the next 24 hours – although we are remaining quietly optimistic.”
The youngster was ruled out for three months last season with ankle trouble; the best-laid plans of mice and Martinez could be starting to unravel.
It has also been a difficult time transfer-wise for the Latics; ‘big’ names have gone as the money talks and, as yet, the canny Spaniard hasn’t been able to replace like-for-like.
Wigan – like Norwich, in fairness – remain one of the bookies’ favourites for the drop this season. Denying them an opening home win will merely reinforce the doubts that Martinez can pull off another miracle escape act.
“As everyone knows we have lost Charlie (N’Zogbia), Tom (Cleverley) and Mauro (Boselli), and that means we are light in numbers,” said the likeable Wigan chief.
“Obviously we need to replace them, and we are going to work as hard as we can over the next three weeks to make sure we bring the right characters into the club.”
Whether said characters arrive before Norwich do is probably a moot point and the potential loss of McCarthy won’t have helped his preparations either.
Not that everything is smooth running in Norfolk.
Lambert admitted after Saturday’s 3-0 win over Parma that he pretty much knew what his starting line-up would be come Wigan; the question now is whether his ideal starting XI will have to be tweaked to accommodate some last-minute aches and strains.
Full-back Martin is the obvious worry after feeling a calf knock he first picked up in the Real Zaragoza clash.
His role could be filled with ease by Kyle Naughton; leaving the way clear for Marc Tierney to continue at left-back.
The on-loan Belgian Ritchie de Laet looks to have done more than enough to command one of the centre-half berths; for speed alone, the second may yet go to Leon Barnett.
In midfield, the question is more about formations – and the fitness of Crofts.
Without the Welsh international – and presuming that Anthony Pilkington is, indeed, still a couple of weeks away fitness-wise from being ready to start – David Fox is likely to be joined by Elliott Bennett to the right, Bradley Johnson to the left. With Wes Hoolahan tipping the midfield diamond.
Should Lambert opt to go safety first on the opening day and play 4-2-3-1 then Andrew Surman’s double strike this weekend could give him the nod in the three; skipper Grant Holt being offered the lone striker’s role.
Much, of course, could yet change – in particular courtesy of events in Wales. The ‘puffiness’ that Lambert still saw around Crofts’ ankle could, of course, be intended for the ears of the Wales’ physio.
Should he have featured this weekend, then the Canaries would have had little or no option but to consent to him playing against Australia – with all the risks that then entails for a combative midfielder.
The fact that managers should even be faced with such dilemmas 72 hours before the start of the new season merely reflects FIFA’s stupidity in inserting such a round of fixtures for such a crucial week in every clubs’ preparations.
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