OPPORTUNITY TO ENHANCE REPUTATION
Last weekend saw one game, four goals, and one win… Sorry, let me correct myself; one enthralling game, four excellent goals, one comprehensive win and hopefully a sign of things to come this season. Chelsea under Scolari look good. Very good. The opportunity to enhance that reputation comes this Sunday, with a trip to Wigan and the JJB Stadium, which often bears fruit for the Blues. The benchmark was set against the despairing Pompey. Can it be met or even bettered against the Latics? Steve Bruce’s side just about survived relegation last season, and although they do show glimpses of ability to take them beyond the tag of perennial strugglers, a lot of hard work is required. Their own opening weekend ended in defeat against West Ham, albeit due to the ability of Hammers striker Dean Ashton – who bagged a brace – rather than a lack of trying on Wigan’s part. Bruce boasts a team which features the right blend of solid Premier League players and exciting unknown quantities, with regular starters including Chris Kirkland, Kevin Kilbane, and ex-Chelsea man Mario Melchiot, lining up alongside bright prospects Wilson Palacios, Luis Antonio Valencia, and Egyptian Amr Zaki, who is currently ranked by FIFA as the best striker in the world.
Wigan only have Erik Edman and Ryan Taylor as doubts for Sunday’s game, and should welcome back nine internationals – including Emile Heskey – from mid-week duty to their squad.
Meanwhile, the mighty Blues have almost a full squad to choose from and seemingly not a care in the world after the opening weekend decimation of Portsmouth. We will hopefully see the free-flowing, interchanging midfield (are you watching Fabio?) again, supported by the solid defence and supporting the gradually rejuvenated Nicolas Anelka up-front. Salomon Kalou has returned from the Olympics after his Ivory Coast side were eliminated by Nigeria last weekend, and could challenge Anelka for a place in the starting XI.
Chelsea have a great record against Wigan in the Premier League, with a 100% winning record only broken in their last meeting, as the Latics scored a last-gasp equaliser at Stamford Bridge back in April to clinch a 1-1 draw. Last season’s game at the JJB saw a not unusual Frank Lampard goal added to by an unusual Juliano Belletti strike, as the Brazilian full-back picked up the ball from well inside his own half after some brilliant work from Shaun Wright-Phillips, and ran unchallenged to the edge of Wigan’s area before unleashing a 30-yard thunderbolt into the top corner of Kirkland’s goal.
An FA Cup tie at the JJB also saw a Chelsea win, as Anelka bagged his first goal in a Blues shirt (although it was electric yellow on this particular day) and Wright-Phillips made it two before a late Antoine Sibierski consolation restored Wigan some pride.
Sojourns up to Wigan are always a great day out, with a lot of credit going to the Lancashire outfit for generous ticket prices and a warm atmosphere in and around the stadium. We should be treated to another entertaining 90 minutes, hopefully at the Latics expense, and our early lead at the top of the league could be further enhanced by Sunday afternoon. Pompey were easily brushed aside, can Wigan weather the Blue storm on the horizon?
Prediction: Forgot one last weekend but luckily for me I knew it was going to be a 4-0 all along…honest! Wigan are a good side but we are better and we should be able to show it off again on Sunday. I’m going for a 2-0 because I think Wigan will show a lot more fight than Pompey, but ultimately, the points should be ours.
Wigan V Chelsea kicks off at the JJB Stadium at 1:30 PM on Sunday.