WIGAN ATHLETIC

V

CHELSEA

D.W Stadium, Wigan

Sunday Aug 19th 2012; 13:30 BST

***

The Premier League is back after an agonizing two month wait and as ever, promises to infuse life back into those who were reduced to scouring forums and articles just to stay in touch with the beauty of English Football. There was the European Championship and the Olympics, but let’s admit it, national football does not whip up the same amount of passion and frenzy that club football does. It makes the summer bearable at most. Something is better than nothing, as the saying goes.

Wigan Athletic spent last season floating as one of the contenders for relegation but managed to put together a brilliant run of games towards the end and finished at 15th place in the table. The final 10 games of the season saw them beat Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and a very strong Newcastle United (finished 5th). It is of course, interesting to note that Wigan have played no fewer than 11 friendlies in the lead up to this season.

They managed 4 victories, 4 draws and 3 defeats in these games. Wigan have been active in the market and have signed Arouna Kone, Ryo Miyaichi (Loan), Ivan Ramis and Fraser Fyvie. They’ll however be disappointed about the fact that they couldn’t secure any money for the departures of Hugo Rodallega and Mohammed Diame, who have both been influential for the Latics in the recent past.

While Chelsea may have finished last season as the FA Cup and European Champions, their League performance was certainly shocking to say the very least. The team shipped in 46 goals and scored just 65 which saw them finish sixth in the table. With Chelsea being Chelsea, the season saw them sack Andre Villas Boas after failing to adapt to his attempts at revitalizing the style of play, and Di Matteo has since come in and steadied the ship. While the now permanent manager worked wonders in cup competitions, he still couldn’t help Chelsea finish 4th in the table.

The club did put all of its eggs into the Champions League basket, so it is in some ways understandable. However, there is no doubt that an improvement in the League is expected and Di Matteo will have to ensure that Chelsea close the humongous 25-point gap that separated them from Champions Manchester City last season. Pre-season form has been patchy at best, but Chelsea supporters will take solace from the first half performance against Manchester City in the Community Shield where the team showed impressive organization.

Owner Roman Abramovich has done his bit by providing the funds required to sign Marko Marin, Eden Hazard and Oscar Dos Santos at a combined price of £65 million. Indications are that Chelsea aren’t yet done in the market. The South London club are infact embroiled in a protracted saga for one of Wigan Athletic’s best players – Victor Moses. This situation gives the fixture an added dimension.

Team News And Tactical Brief

Wigan Athletic

Wigan are largely expected to line up in a 3 – 4 – 3 formation that served them well last season. The only injury concerns for Roberto Martinez’ side are new signing Ivan Ramis with a hamstring strain and James McCarthy who might have to sit this one out with a back problem.

Wigan have just signed Arouna Kone and the striker could start this game as he has the pace to trouble Chelsea’s defence. Di Santo provides more of a straight forward problem for the Chelsea backline, but Kone could be the unknown quantity capable of springing a surprise. It might be a bit early for him to start, as he just signed just a couple of days back but it should be interesting if the new man starts upfront. Chilean Jean Beausejour and Emerson Boyce are expected to play the wingback role for Wigan on the left and right respectively, while Alcaraz, Gary Caldwell and Maynor Figueroa should line up to play as part of the three man defense.

New signing Ryo Miyaichi is expected to start upfront as well, but doubts persist over Victor Moses who would’ve thought he’d be wearing Chelsea colours by now. It will be brave of Roberto Martinez, if he opted for a frontline of Maloney, Kone and Moses. But it is equally plausible that Wigan opt to bench Moses (considering his understandably confused state of mind) and play Ryo Miyaichi instead.

Should James McCarthy miss this game, Wigan are likely to field Jordi Gomez alongside James McArthur.

Probable Starting Line up: (3 – 4 – 3) : Al Habsi, Alacaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Gomez, McArthur, Boyce, Beausejour, Maloney, Kone, Moses.

Chelsea

Roberto Di Matteo possesses a full strength squad barring Marko Marin who is out with a hamstring injury. The Chelsea defence usually picks itself but the manager might have a decision to make on his hands after watching David Luiz’ callous display against Manchester City. But he is likely to persist with the flamboyant Brazilian instead of the more reliable Gary Cahill because Luiz’ pace does come in handy for the team.

Oscar has had a couple of training sessions with the team now; having played the Olympics and then an International friendly, the Brazilian midfield schemer is match fit and ready to go. While his presence is likely to present a selection dilemma for Di Matteo, it is unlikely to crop up just yet. One can safely expect Chelsea to go with Lampard, Mikel and Ramires. It was interesting to note that Brazil did use Ramires in the number 10 position vs against Sweden and Chelsea could try something of the sort if they are to stick with Di Matteo’s preferred 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 formation.

Probable Starting Lineup (4–2–3–1): Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Lampard, Mata, Torres, Hazard.

Tactical Battle

It will be a challenge for the two Wigan midfielders against Chelsea’s expected three-man midfield in the battle to wrest control of the game. It will also be interesting to see how Wigan cope with Chelsea’s attacking three in case of a counter attack with their wing caught in advanced positions. The possession game is something Wigan pride themselves and thrive on, but it is harder to keep against the bigger teams. Wigan should focus upon upsetting Chelsea’s rhythm if they are to have any chance in this game.

Chelsea’s biggest worry would be in defence as the team haven’t looked too assured in the department since pre-season. While Wigan are unlikely to apply continued pressure upon Chelsea, they will have their moments and the lactics have enough pace upfront to unsettle the Chelsea back line. While in attack, Chelsea have only shown flashes of cohesion yet. It is still very much a work in progress.

Also, last season Ashley Cole was left exposed by Mata’s poor tackling and defensive presence. This season Chelsea have Hazard on the left who isn’t likely to contribute majorly in defence and Mata is likely to tuck in behind Torres with Ramires trying to cover the right ahead of Ivanovic when Chelsea defend. This arrangement is likely to get disrupted at times and Wigan need to exploit these chinks in Chelsea’s armour in order to make headway.

Key Facts

Last Five Meetings

Chelsea 2 – 1 Wigan, 07-04-12
Wigan 1 – 1 Chelsea, 17-12-11
Chelsea 1 – 0 Wigan, 09-04-11
Wigan 0 – 6 Chelsea, 21-08-10
Chelsea 8 – 0 Wigan, 09-05-10

Days since –

Chelsea lost on the opening day: 5,118.
Wigan won at home on the opening day: 4,761

  • Wigan have lost five of their opening day fixtures since their promotion to the Premier League seven years ago.
  • Wigan have lost just one of their last eight Premier League games at the DW Stadium and won the last four in a row.
  • Chelsea have won just one of their last nine Premier League away games (W1 D4 L4).
  • The Londoners have picked up just two more points than Wigan (30 to 28) in the calendar year 2012.

Player To Watch Out For

Watch Out!

Fernando Torres – Eden Hazard will grab his fair share of eye balls, but Torres is still the one from whom there is a phenomenal amount of expectation this season. His difficulties since joining Chelsea are well documented but having finally got his wish of being the club’s main striker, there can’t be any more excuses for Chelsea’s number nine. This season will be make or break for Torres and the club is doing everything necessary to make sure he is a success. Even the formation is similar to the one he thrived at while he was with Liverpool.

PREDICTION

Wigan Athletic 1 – 3 Chelsea

Considering this is an opening day fixture, one can expect both teams to come out all guns blazing which makes it a scrappy affair. Looking at Chelsea’s unsettled defence, it is difficult to see them keep a clean sheet. Wigan will hope for a draw but Chelsea have enough quality in the team to see this one through and this time around they would want to hit the ground running early.

BLAST FROM THE PAST