Has there ever been this much trepidation over a visit from Wigan Athletic? Not just at Stamford Bridge either, but ever in the history of football? The permeations are well-known; win and we become champions, and the history books gain an extra Blue chapter. The unthinkable alternative is purely that: unthinkable.
Wigan arrive at the Bridge with only the possibility of an extra £750,000 – the reported prize money increase for every league position gained – to play for, as well as the chance to wreck the title celebration which could ensue if Chelsea end up with all three points. It’s naïve to say that a draw could be enough; Roberto Martinez has promised his Wigan side will come to London to battle, while Tony Pulis – who will take his Stoke City team to Manchester United at the same time – has so far kept quiet about Sunday’s game and the way Stoke will play. We can safely assume that even if it’s a 0-0 stalemate approaching the final minute, Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs will score a last-gasp winner.
But for now we need to concentrate on our own game, as no-one else will win it for us. John Obi Mikel won’t be part of the side however, as he joins the long-term injury victims on the sidelines for the final Premier League match of the season. Freshly crowned Chelsea Player of the Year Didier Drogba will be looking to seal the Golden Boot outright with at least the one goal to pull ahead from Wayne Rooney – with both men tied on 26 goals at the moment – while we could see final Stamford Bridge appearances for players expected to move on in the summer, including Juliano Belletti, Deco and Joe Cole.
Wigan will be missing Titus Bramble and Chris Kirkland, but they come to Stamford Bridge with a more serious hindrance: their dire away record. In 18 league games on their travels this season, the Latics have won just three and drawn two. Wins came against Wolves, Burnley and Aston Villa, but in their last five away games, they’ve lost all five. Their top scorer away from home is Hugo Rodallega, with four goals. Former Blue Mario Melchiot will captain Wigan on Sunday, and it would be very much appreciated if he could nod one in his own goal if we’re struggling. He could even get a medal for it. Paul Scharner will be playing his last game for the club.
Previous meetings against Wigan have featured last minute winners from Frank Lampard, Arjen Robben and Hernan Crespo, as well as a forgettable defeat earlier this season and a regrettable draw in 2007/08. In the fourteen matches we’ve played against Wigan, we’ve won nine, scored 27, and lost three. Incidentally our first ever meeting, in the 1979/80 FA Cup, resulted in a 1-0 Wigan win at Stamford Bridge.
Martin Atkinson is the man in the middle, and he will be refereeing his 49th game of the season. Of those 49, he’s officiated Chelsea three times, all at Stamford Bridge and all resulting in wins and a clean sheet for Chelsea. He’s only had the pleasure of taking charge of a Wigan game once, when the Latics played out what sounds like a terribly exciting 1-0 win over Sunderland in November.
Going by historical data, squad strength, even the choice of referee for the match, a Chelsea win looks all but a foregone conclusion. But that’s just on paper. What happens on the grass is what matters, and come 6pm on Sunday we’ll either be overjoyed or desolate, such is football. With an FA Cup final to look forward to next weekend, the Premier League trophy would be the perfect start to the end of the season.
It’s been a season of twists and turns however, which is evident in the fact that the Premier League title race has gone down to the very last match. Wigan have beaten us once this season, can they do it again? Can Stoke get anything out of the United game? Will we even need them too?
It’s a day for heroes to step up and be counted. Thankfully, we seem to have a few of them in our ranks. Trust in them, believe we will do it, and make it a Blue day. It’s over to them now.