Chelsea regained top spot in the Barclays Premier League, after a magical free-kick from Deco secured three points in a 1-0 victory at Wigan Athletic.
The Portuguese struck an arcing 25 yard effort past Wigan goalkeeper, Mike Pollitt, after four minutes at the JJB Stadium.
Despite such beauty, Chelsea battled for victory and manager Luiz Felipe Scolari will remind his players that Chelsea will need to perform better against their title rivals.
The hosts caused Chelsea’s expansive formation countless problems and Chelsea’s Petr Cech made four important saves, three of those in the opening half, ensuring Chelsea kept their second successive clean sheet; remaining unbeaten in 2008 in the Premier League.
Wigan dictated play in an unimpressive opening half by the visitors, who through midfield trio; Ballack, Lampard and Deco – with Joe Cole again supporting Anelka up-front, appeared careless in possession.
Michael Essien, returning from injury, was the only change for Chelsea from the Portsmouth match, replacing John Obi Mikel, who had performed outstandingly in the anchorman midfield role last week.
An outstanding performance looked likely as early as the fourth minute, as Chelsea started perfectly. A handball by Wigan midfielder Lee Cattermole gave the Blues a free-kick outside the area, just right of centre, which Deco finished sublimely past a bewildered Pollitt.
However, despite the blistering start, Chelsea thereafter offered glimpses of negative football from previous seasons, coupled with Wigan’s impressively determined response.
Wilson Palacios nearly provided an instant reply for Steve Bruce’s side, as the winger turned right-back Jose Bosingwa on the left angle of the penalty area, before wrestling free of the ex-Porto defender and unleashing a drive which Cech parried behind at his near post.
Wigan continued to attack and only two minutes later, Amr Zaki’s effort from 15 yards was smartly blocked by Cech with his legs.
Chelsea meanwhile, failed to threaten the hosts’ goal. Although Bosingwa probed sporadically, the Premier League leaders were offensively inept.
Despite some nearly-balls from Ballack and Deco to Chelsea’s strike-force, Wigan’s Emmerson Boyce and Titus Bramble remained an impenetrable force.
And although Ricardo Carvalho nodded over from Lampard’s corner on 17 minutes from 10 yards, Chelsea almost gifted Wigan a penalty after a bizarre push by Cech on Boyce inside the area luckily went unnoticed by referee Alan Wiley, before Zaki’s drive from the left of the penalty area was clawed away by Cech from 15 yards on 26 minutes.
Wigan’s attractive interplay meant Chelsea struggled to gain possession and although Anelka flicked over from a Lampard free-kick on 37 minutes, Chelsea continued to remain toothless.
But, Anelka perhaps should have been awarded a penalty on 41 minutes after a careless foul by Boyce on the Frenchman as he wriggled in to the box.
By half-time Chelsea were relieved to be ahead and after Wigan’s Jason Koumas was replaced by Daniel De-Ridder on half-time, Chelsea dampened the home crowd’s spirit with some better possession and negated the Latics’ forward forages.
Scolari’s side appeared increasingly set-up for a counter-attacking game after the break, with Anelka and Deco’s final delivery almost producing a second goal.
Though despite Salomon Kalou replacing the ineffective Joe Cole and aiming to enable width, Chelsea gifted Wigan a foot-hold in the game with 15 minutes left, after sloppy play.
First Palacios’ shot was blocked brilliantly inside the area by Chelsea captain John Terry, after Wigan’s hardworking Zaki and Heskey’s turn produced the chance for the Honduran.
Then as Wigan’s pressure built, with De Ridder and Zaki’s influence demonstrative, substitute Olivier Kapo’s low drive after neat Wigan passing against lax Chelsea defending, caused Cech to stretch the Frenchman’s 25 yard drive behind for a corner two minutes from time.
Chelsea went close to a second goal on the break through Lampard and Anelka, only to be denied by splendid challenges from Cattermole and Bramble. As time dwindled, the visitors retreated further and if not for more incisive crossing by Wigan’s attack, the Blues may have been punished in Lancashire.
However, they defended stoutly and at the final whistle, Scolari’s men had laboured sufficiently to prolong their winning start to the season and move above Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool at the top. With tougher challenges remaining ahead, one wonders how the West Londoners will cope against their nearest title rivals after this tough encounter. But importantly, Chelsea’s resolve to win without playing well highlights them as Championship material already.
Wigan Athletic; Pollitt; Melchiot (Camara 84), Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; Valencia, Palacios (Kapo 79), Cattermole, Koumas (De Ridder 45); Zaki, Heskey.
Booked: Cattermole 48.
Chelsea; Cech; Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole (Bridge 82); Essien; Deco, Ballack, Lampard, J Cole (Kalou 57); Anelka (Malouda 88).
Booked: Terry 13, Carvalho 73.
Referee: A Wiley.