Saturday teatime brings a trip to the DW Stadium for Andre Villas-Boas’s resurgent Chelsea. The Blues are searching for a fourth consecutive league victory and if this was to be achieved it would be the first time they had managed such a run in the league all season. Wigan Athletic come into the game on the back of two wins in three themselves, although their last outing at home was less impressive, going down 4-0 to Arsenal. If Chelsea are to be considered serious title contenders this year then they can certainly not afford to drop points during games such as these. Indeed, as Petr Cech has pointed out in the build-up to the game, all the hard effort put in to win the last two league matches, at Newcastle and at home to Manchester City, will count for nothing if the Blues do not return from the North-West with maximum points.
With regards to team selection it appears that no new injuries have been picked up since the victory over the league leaders five days ago. Goalscorers Frank Lampard and Raul Meireles will again vie for the same spot in midfield, while Villas-Boas hinted in his pre-match press conference that he will stick with the same front three, meaning another place on the bench for Fernando Torres. He hasn’t started a league game since October. Elsewhere David Luiz returns from suspension and is expected to go straight into the starting eleven at the expense of Jose Bosingwa.
Wigan’s resurgence in form has seen them win consecutive away games 2-1, at Sunderland and West Brom. The latter victory briefly moved them out of the relegation zone but they are now back there in 18th place. Roberto Martinez has favoured a 4-4-1-1 formation this campaign with the creative Jordi Gomez playing behind a long striker, traditionally former blue and top scorer Franco Di Santo or Irish striker Conor Sammon. Hugo Rodellega, such a pivotal player in helping the Latics stay up last season, has lost form dramatically and with the summer departures of Tom Cleverley and Hugo N’Zogbia Wigan have suffered from a lack of creativity and penetration this season. At the back their defending has quite consistently been of a schoolboy standard. Antonin Alcaraz, perhaps missing for this game with a rib injury, has been culpable on a number of occasions – the home defeat to Bolton and the 3-3 draw with Blackburn were particular lows. Behind the error-prone back four Chelsea will find one of the best stoppers in the division in Ali Al-Habsi, but even he blundered against Arsenal, letting Mikel Arteta’s fairly tame effort slip through his fingers.
With January fast approaching many fans’ attention has turned to the upcoming transfer window. Nicolas Anelka’s departure has already been confirmed whilst transfer listed Alex is also likely to move on to pastures new. Villas-Boas’s long-term strategy for the Blues may well be defined by his approach to the window according to much of the media, but with the African Cup of Nations around the corner the sale of more players seem unlikely.
With leaders Manchester City hosting Arsenal on Sunday and other Europa League contenders Manchester United facing a potentially tricky game at Loftus Road the same day the opportunity presents itself for the Blues to make up some more ground on those directly around them. Today’s fixtures start a run of five league games in fifteen days and a healthy points tally acquired in that time could help plunder the Blues right back into the title mix. Meanwhile in the Champions League Chelsea received one of the most difficult draws yesterday with two games against the potent, pacey Napoli scheduled for February and March. Following something of an unpredictable season thus far it is difficult to predict what sort of form Chelsea will be in going into those games or indeed where they might be in the table: anywhere from 1st to 7th seems feasible right now.
In the short-term it is the frosty, windy DW stadium that awaits Chelsea. A 6-0 win last season was harsh on the Latics and all our previous games there have proved much tighter, with Carlo Ancelotti’s Double-winning side losing their first game there in September 2009. A 3-2 win just before Christmas five years was especially memorable and Chelsea will be hoping somebody can reproduce Arjen Robben’s heroics today.