As almost unbearable excitement slowly turned into considered reserve, (maybe even into mild concern) over the course of pre-season, Sunday’s match against Wigan Athletic has always stood out as an impending source of comfort. It represents an opportunity for us fans, and presumably for the players as well, to forget everything that has happened since that glorious night we saw Jose Bosingwa lift the Champions League Trophy. Whilst any points lost would be a real bitter pill to swallow, a comfortable win on Sunday has the potential to erase all pre-season concerns and leave us with the confidence and momentum to get our season as Champions of Europe off to a great start.
I think at this moment in time, Chelsea find themselves in an interesting position, coming off the back of a double winning season yet we’re seemingly absolutely nobody’s prediction for the Premier League title. There’s almost unanimous agreement amongst the pundits and fans that Chelsea are still some way off the Manchester Clubs in spite of the money spent this summer. In my eyes this can only be a good thing. Naturally it places less pressure on the squad to compete initially, although with this group of players, you know it isn’t going to restrict them at all – you know that they’ll still expect to win every game they play.
Having a look then at the first game they’ll play, you have to admit, Wigan are good team to draw in round one, possibly even the best team to draw. Even though I’m done doubting Roberto Martinez, who I think is a great manager and will never see Wigan relegated, the way in which he has to sell his best players every summer makes it hard for his team to ever make a good start. Whether or not he’ll be able to continue with the 3-4-3 formation that saw his team win 7 of their last 9 games last season is an important question, with several Latics fans concerned over the lack of a replacement for Mohamed Diame, who was so important to their survival.
We on the other hand, are notoriously strong starters in the Premier League, having won 12 of our last 14 opening day fixtures and drawing the other two. And although we struggled both home and away to Wigan last season (having to rely on two offside goals to beat them at the Bridge) traditionally they’re side we tend to do well against, having recorded 8-0 and 6-0 victories in the recent past. For all their organisation and skilful build play, they’re a side that are always prone to a good thrashing.
Thinking then about team selection, Di Matteo has a quite a few decisions to make. Firstly, in case anyone didn’t know, Branislav Ivanovic won’t be suspended for his red card in the Shield and will almost definitely be selected at right back. Whether Robbie will stick with David Luiz at centre half though is more unlikely, I’ve written before I think Cahill is the better option against counter attacking teams like Wigan and I think he might get the nod on this occasion. Terry and Cole will obviously play.
Given he’ll have started two games already in the past 8 days, there’s a possibility Frank Lampard might also be dropped from the Community Shield line-up, in favour of either Raul Meireles or Michael Essien – who will no doubt partner Mikel in the double anchor.
Selection of the front three behind Torres may be more straight forward. If Wigan did in fact line up with a back three then there would have been a big case for Daniel Sturridge and new signing Marko Marin to start as inverted wingers, playing in behind the wing backs, however it looks like neither will get the opportunity because of injuries (toe and hamstring respectively). So it appears that Ramires, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will all keep their places. The only question is who should play #10 and who should play wide left. Two important stats to consider: Wigan conceded more fouls than any Premier League club last season and Eden Hazard was the most fouled player in the entire continent! If I was Di Matteo I would consider playing the Belgian through the centre and let him try and wreak havoc running at the Wigan defenders – I doubt Robbie will do this though. The only other option is to play Oscar, whom Di Matteo admitted may make his debut on Sunday; given he only arrived today though, I’d be amazed if he’s given a starting place.
To Summarise, the XI I predict will start Sunday: Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Mikel John Obi, Michael Essien, Ramires, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Fernando Torres
I’ve got no idea how Wigan will line up, which given the players they’ve lost and the frequency with which Martinez changes his system, I think is excusable for a Chelsea writer. All I know is new signing from Mallorca Ivan Ramis (who I think will form a sound partnership with Gary Caldwell) is unavailable because of injury, as is James McCarthy, not to be confused with James McArthur, who isn’t quite as good. One thing it’ll be interesting to see is if Victor Moses will start for Wigan, whether he does or not may be telling evidence as to just how far along his rumoured transfer to Chelsea is.
Prediction: I think Chelsea will win. Our excellent opening day record vs their poor one, coupled with the summer each club has had in the market, this should really be an easy start for us. Wigan are not to be taken lightly but this is a real opportunity to secure a good 3-0 away win and it’s one we need to take.