Latics played three centre-backs against City's two strikers and their attackers drifted wide to prevent home full-backs advancing
Before Wigan's excellent 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium, Uwe Rösler insisted he had not spent much time talking about their opponents. "This time, we just focused upon us," he said. It was something of a ruse: Wigan completely changed their usual strategy, reverting to the approach they used in the FA Cup final victory over Manchester City last season and nullifying Manuel Pellegrini's side superbly.
Wigan switched to a three-man defence, the approach Roberto Martínez employed so effectively at Wembley. City still use two strikers up front and therefore a three-man backline makes sense against them – two to track opponents, one to act as the spare man – yet many Premier League sides are too proud to change their approach so drastically. The security at the back allowed Wigan to press high up the pitch, closing down Yaya Touré particularly keenly, and they retained possession without fear of being caught two against two in defence when moves broke down.
Wigan's wing-backs shuffled back efficiently to defend the flanks but they had no one to defend directly against City's full-backs. Instead, Rösler told his attackers to drift wide and dissuade Gaël Clichy and Micah Richards from attacking, with Callum McManaman again causing Clichy problems with his tricky dribbling. Wigan's only problem was on the opposite side because City had not used an out-and-out winger in the FA Cup final, so Jesús Navas was something new – he seemed the most likely to cause problems by finding space between Wigan's left wing-back, Stephen Crainey, and surprise left-sided centre-back, Chris McCann.
Wigan's chances were sporadic, usually on the break, but they created more than City in the first 50 minutes. With City 2-0 down, Pellegrini's treble change brought renewed momentum to his side's attacking play, although the substitutions changed little in a pure tactical sense. Arguably, the most crucial substitution was Rösler's removal of a tired McManaman because his replacement, James McClean, failed to offer such an attacking threat. This allowed City to push their full-backs forward, Wigan defended much deeper and the striker Marc-Antoine Fortuné was isolated for long spells.
Although Wigan spent the last 20 minutes camped inside their own box, and rode their luck at times, they did not win this match by parking the bus. They won because they changed their shape to suit the unique demands of facing City and were disciplined, brave and positive with their pressing and passing. It was a thoroughly merited win.