Thanks to the Premier League, the FA, Setanta and Sky, we do not have another fixture this season which takes place in the traditional timeslot of three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Instead, we have games like this which have been unceremoniously shunted into more ‘convenient’ days and times. For further rants on this subject, consult the upcoming Everton preview.Anyway, back to the ‘Magnificent Monday’ (or whatever they are calling it) meeting between Chelsea and Wigan at Stamford Bridge. With Manchester United hosting Arsenal on Sunday at Old Trafford, the Blues will know exactly what they have to do by Monday night, and with Wigan theoretically safe from relegation and unable to reach the upper echelons of the Premier League table this season, Chelsea shouldn’t face much of a struggle.
However, the Blues’ fight for the title has taken a knock, with stand-in ‘keeper Carlo Cudicini injuring a hamstring in Tuesday night’s win over Fenerbahce. He will require his own stand-in to deputise, with the inconsistent but loveable Hilario taking his place between the sticks. Welshman Rhys Taylor, who celebrated his 18th birthday last Monday, will be on the bench, and the way things are going in the injury-laden goalkeeping department, he will probably get a game sooner rather than later. With only Petr Cech and Cudicini ruled out through injury, and no suspensions to speak of, Avram Grant has a near full-squad to pick from. After a dull but effective win on Tuesday, he must decide whether changes need to be made, while also preparing for the Everton game on Thursday night (LUDICROUS FIXTURE PLANNING).
Wigan will be quietly satisfied with the way their season has panned out, as they sit eight points clear of Bolton in the last relegation place, all but safe and able to plan for next season in the Premier League. They only have Erik Edman out through injury for this game with a long-term problem, while they can welcome back the talented Jason Koumas and the untalented Michael Brown from suspension.
We have already met Wigan twice this season, with an FA Cup meeting in January resulting in 2-1 win for the Blues-goals from Nicolas Anelka and Shaun Wright-Phillips before an Antoine Sibierski consolation-following a league meeting in November which also saw Chelsea triumph. An early Frank Lampard goal was eclipsed by a memorable moment which saw Juliano Belletti’s cult status created. Running from his own-half, the right-back was given the freedom of the JJB Stadium as no Wigan defender thought to close him down, and urged by the travelling Chelsea fans to shoot, he duly obliged from 30 yards out, sending a dipping shot past a despairing Chris Kirkland in the Latics’ goal. He really is a Brazilian defender!
The last time we met Wigan at the Bridge again saw Chelsea on top (notice a trend here?) as a January game last season finished with four goals without reply for the Blues. Lampard again opened the scoring before an impressive Arjen Robben doubled the lead in the second-half. Subsequent goals from Kirkland (own-goal) and Didier Drogba put the icing on the cake.
As we are still chasing honours despite battling tired legs at this stage of the season, another win like that would be a huge morale boost to the squad, and could carry them for the remaining fixtures of the season. If Arsenal can do us a favour then spirits will be high enough anyway, but a big win would really send out a message to Manchester United. We are coming to get you!
Prediction: I’m hoping for a confident 3-0 and we really are capable of doing so, it’s just a matter of whether we perform on the day. We shouldn’t be too troubled, but I guarantee I can honestly say I would be delighted with a scrappy 1-0, as long as it‘s a win!