History shows Manchester City can't overlook League One foe Wigan
To be considered a persistent thorn in Manchester City's side in modern times is asking a lot. One can only really nominate Liverpool domestically as an opponent that has continued to cause regular problems. The regal names of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona continue to trouble City's mounting presence at the top of the football tree on the continent, but at home, a 16-point gap at the top of the Premier League paints its own picture of unchallenged domination.
Wigan Athletic, however, have every right to request being taken into consideration for membership of this exclusive club. In the Premier League era and in recent cup encounters, they have frequently proved themselves to be a much bigger handful than their opponents could rightfully have been expecting.
For a fixture that didn't occur for the first time until 1971 -- then, as now, an eagerly awaited FA Cup tie -- the unlikely partnership of Manchester City and Wigan has resulted in 28 fixtures. It is a mixed bag of matches encompassing third-tier football, nerve-wracked playoff games and a slew of more recent Premier League encounters. That Wigan are now once more plying their trade in the third division of English football, while City are parading their substantial wares in the latter stages of the Champions League, underlines the vagaries of modern-day football.
Wigan were non-league members of the Northern Premier League when the two clubs kick-started their relationship in 1971, giving an excellent account of themselves (0-1) in front of a 46,000 Maine Road crowd. By the time the clubs met next, in two legs of the second round of the League Cup in 1982, Wigan were part of the football league set-up and beginning to make headway through the divisions.
A strangely rounded story sees the most recent three fixtures between the clubs almost perfectly mirroring the first three: a League Cup tie and two FA Cup games.
When considering those two most recent FA Cup games, City boss Pep Guardiola may cause himself a sleepless night or two, as he prepares his squad for Monday's game at the DW Stadium. That both were lost is alarming enough, but one of them was the final itself at Wembley in 2013 and represents perhaps the lowest point of the hitherto glittering Sheikh Mansour era. A tepid display from a side not responding to the instructions of the outgoing Roberto Mancini brought an undeniably melancholy close to his otherwise successful stint in charge at City.
Having won the club its first honour in 44 years two years earlier, Mancini had brought home the even bigger prize a year after that, with that never-to-be-forgotten climax to the Premier League season against Queens Park Rangers. For him to walk away from a club he had so significantly served in such downbeat circumstances was typically ironic. Ben Watson's last-gasp header was the difference on the day and as the heavens opened over North London at the end, a seemingly higher power appeared to be calling a soggy and desperate end to Mancini's reign.
City gained a measure of revenge on Wigan with a thumping 5-0 win in the League Cup the following September (2013) under the tutelage of new manager Manuel Pellegrini but the most recent encounter between the sides also left City with egg on their faces and matched the Wembley final result for its surprise value.
The cup tie in March 2014 fell between a victorious League Cup final against Sunderland and the upcoming second leg of the Champions League round of 16 game against Barcelona. Then as now, City's calendar was liberally decorated with grand occasions. For Sunderland read Arsenal, City's opponents in this season's League Cup final a week after this Wigan game, and for Barcelona (a fixture that would end negatively for City) read Basel, where the club faces a walking-pace return game having just gained a clear-cut 4-0 advantage in Switzerland.
Parallels, similarities and omens are everywhere.
If City's recent history has seen them catapulting from Premier League to the third tier and back, Wigan's movements have been even more erratic. From non-league to the top flight and back to the third level again, reflecting the boom-and-bust nature of the club's business strategy under owner Dave Whelan.
Now run along more prudent lines, the club sits second in League One with every chance of reigniting the good times that they experienced less than a decade ago. For City, the task is to withstand the brickbats of historical precedent, hold their nerve against enthusiastic opponents and get through to the last eight of the competition unscathed. With the four-goal display in Basel still fresh in everyone's minds, it is surely unthinkable that Wigan could once again upset the FA Cup apple cart against their famous neighbours.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.