On Saturday, Wigan make a trip to Stamford Bridge as the Premier League has a second festive period of fixtures around Easter. Beginning Saturday, each team will play two matches between now and next Wednesday.
Chelsea have the disadvantage of having to greet Wigan on Saturday and having to turn around and play Fulham on Monday. This mirrors the fixture period around Boxing Day this year. The difference is that the Blues will contest both the league, as well as semifinals in two cup competitions coming up.
After beating Benfica in an unconvincing manner on Wednesday, Chelsea have a relatively easier test in 19th place Wigan.
Chelsea will have to deal with the absences of Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard due to knocks picked up midweek, as well as the absence of captain John Terry because of cracked ribs.
With 4th place on the line, a win is a must for the Blues.
Wigan may be in 19th place, but I’m not entirely sure they’re as bad as the table suggests.
Roberto Martinez has to be given a lot of credit for what he’s achieved at Wigan. He’s in a scenario at a club that doesn’t have a great deal of money to spend on players and is in a town that focuses more on rugby than football, yet he’s managed to escape relegation of each of his season’s as manager while playing a relatively attractive style of football after Steve Bruce’s more direct approach.
To be honest, they are a danger with their variations of playing and the fact that they like to play a pressing game without the ball. So far, Martinez has played combinations of 4-3-3, 3 at the back, and 5 at the back in attempts to gain points. While exciting to watch, they seem to lack a cutting edge to their play. But make no mistake, they are playing better as evidenced by the win over Liverpool at Anfield.
Franco di Santo is getting a run of games. While he might not have been the top class center forward, but he’s more than adequate in the lower to midtable area.
For a team that has had major problems scoring goals this season, 4 goals have been good enough to earn him joint top scorer at the club. His link play has been very good and has shown the strength to hold off defenders, which he never really showed in our blue shirt. It is nice to see him come good, but when combined with the other two forwards, makes for a concern in the front line.
The other two members of the front line are just as concerning, if not more so.
Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses are the partners on the front line in the wide areas. Both are capable of beating their man and run at the back line.
Moses has shown the quality that made him sought after as a youth at Crystal Palace, and Wigan have had some of their worst performances in his absences due to injury.
Rodallega has been his usual solid self, but has had injury issues of his own and has only scored twice this season in the league.
These two also highlight Wigan’s major issue of goal scoring.
Wigan have not conceded as many goals as the sides around them, but they’ve scored far fewer goals.
The biggest reason that Wigan are in 19th position is because of their lack of goals scored. To date, they’ve netted just 29 goals this season compared to QPR, Blackburn, Wolves, and Bolton who have scored more. They’ve also had a better winning record away from the DW Stadium than at it, having won 4 matches away compared to 2 at home.
Roberto Di Matteo needs to figure out how to play a system that maximizes the whole squad.
The potential of the fixture list is a major concern, given how long it seems to take the squad to recover after matches. The injuries to Terry, Lampard, and Cole seem to be evidence of that. With the bulk of a squad that’s over 30 years old, recovery between matches is key. Also, expect more “coasting” performances over the next few weeks. Against Benfica, the squad seemed to feel as if they didn’t need to leave 3rd gear and were conserving energy. It’s a dangerous game to play, but may be necessary given the number of games to be played.
I know I’m terrible at predictions, but I think this one ends 1-0. Wigan can’t score goals, and I don’t think we’ll feel the need to crank up the pressure, though we probably should at first. Expect a dullard affair where we do just enough to pick up the win. After all, we have to play Fulham on Monday.