The operatic rendition of ‘Blue is the Colour’ was meant to be the beginning of a harmonious evening at Stamford Bridge, but a narrow 1-0 win had us hanging on more than Lou Reed. Still, it was almost a perfect day as we managed a clean sheet and a Didier Drogba goal to hand us the advantage over Juventus going into the second leg, but before we even think about boarding the plane to take us to Turin, we must turn our immediate attentions to welcoming a slightly less glamorous side to SW6.
Wigan Athletic are the visitors this Saturday and although they can’t promise Italian style and swagger, they can bring…er, Steve Bruce and Titus Bramble. A far cry from the cultured Pavel Nedved and Gigi Buffon, but nonetheless as much of a challenge with the impressive Latics confounding early-season punditry and riding high – and deservedly so – in 7th place, with only the familiar names of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Everton above them.
However, Bruce’s side have stumbled more than Florent Malouda on a ‘skilful dribble’ in recent weeks, and we play them at an idea time. They have won just three of their last ten games, scoring a measly five goals, with three of those penalties. Indeed, they have shown Arsenal-like form in their last three games, recording goalless draws against Villa, Fulham and Middlesbrough.
The early-season form of Egyptian striker Amr Zaki has dried up spectacularly, and with their next highest scorers Henri Camara and Emile Heskey currently plying their trades away from the JJB – at Stoke and Villa respectively – after winter moves, the Latics are really struggling to find any goalscorers whatsoever. Zaki’s compatriot Mido is a doubt for Saturday’s game with a groin strain, while winger Antonio Valencia – incidentally Wigan’s next top scorer behind Zaki – may also miss out with a hamstring injury. In other words, Wigan probably want the season to end right now.
Truth be told, we were possibly thinking the same thing a few weeks ago, but Guus Hiddink’s rescue operation seems to be well on track, with optimism at the Bridge almost as high as the demand for the new CFCnet-affiliated magazine Chelsea Chelsea (out now!), and even Salomon Kalou looking half-decent. Only half-decent mind, and is anyone else questioning whether his through-ball to Drogba on Wednesday was actually a shot?
Regardless, he is likely to keep his place in the starting XI against Wigan, while fellow winger Ricardo Quaresma rejoins the squad after missing out in mid-week due to European ineligibility. Quaresma’s Portuguese team-mate Ricardo Carvalho may also return to the first-team after a period of absence due to a hamstring injury, while Michael Essien is allegedly just two weeks away from returning to full fitness after continuing his rehabilitation work after a knee problem. Ashley Cole, who missed the Villa win last week due to suspension, is back and should start at left-back, but José Bosingwa on the other side is out after picking up one too many yellow cards.
We have traditionally enjoyed games against Wigan, with just twelve games played between the two sides yielding a mighty eight wins for the Blues. We visited the JJB back in August, where a Deco free-kick papered over what was a poor display for Chelsea as we escaped with a 1-0 win. The last time the Latics travelled to the Bridge however, we couldn’t even managed that, as a last minute Heskey goal won Wigan a point following an Essien opener ten minutes into the second-half. On that occasion it left our title hopes in tatters, while on Saturday we will be looking to kick-start our rapidly faltering challenge with another three points.
So we have a Wigan side struggling to find form, depleted by a lack of striking options, perhaps punching above their weight, given little hope by many outsiders, against a rejuvenated Chelsea side, who are playing well and picking up results as we continue our charge for honours in the final third of the season.
0-0 it is then!