It wasn't quite as easy as we'd all have liked, but Chelsea completed their double over Wigan Athletic with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge thanks to a second half goal from Florent Malouda, who also managed to score the winner in the reverse fixture in August (the rest of the team added five more in that game, however). In light of that critical Champions League match against Manchester United on Tuesday, Carlo Ancelotti opted to rest several players, including captain John Terry and Michael Essien, and also switched his team shape to the old 4-3-3, with Didier Drogba leading the line.
Roberto Martinez countered with his usual 4-5-1, with Charles N'Zogbia and Manchester United loanee Tom Cleverly on the flanks and Hugo Rodallega as the lone striker. It was never really a team that could hope to compete with Chelsea on paper, and within 45 seconds of kickoff Drogba had ploughed through the heart of the defence and cut back to captain Frank Lampard, who completely fluffed his lines with the goal at his mercy. His shot, however, turned into a pass for Ramires... who completely fluffed his lines with the goal at his mercy, except from closer range. Whoops.
And really, that was the story of the first half. Chelsea attacks and Chelsea chances being screwed up for no reason at all while Wigan worked hard when they had the ball to absolutely no effect. There was no earthly rationale behind Chelsea contriving not to score, but they're good at that sort of thing and Florent Malouda in particular make a couple of shocking mistakes. Then they compounded that by letting the visitors linger too long in possession, making silly fouls (Ashley Cole and David Luiz, I'm looking at you) and generally played pretty badly*.
*NB: I have no idea what order events of the first half happened in, because foxsoccer.tv is awful and had some sort of weird timewarp thing going on.
Yossi Benayoun made his Chelsea comeback in the second half, which meant that still-in-the-doghouse John Obi Mikel was hauled off with Ramires moving to a holding role. Benayoun's presence was welcome and he played a few incisive passes, but Chelsea still didn't much look like scoring for much of the second half. Then Fernando Torres came on for Nicolas Anelka, and Chelsea scored soon afterwards.
Not that it was much to do with Torres - he did win the free kick from which the key corner was won, but other than that did little to impress before the goal. Anyway, Torres was fouled near the corner flag and the resultant free kick was nodded behind by midfielder Ben Watson, giving Chelsea a corner. Dorgba's delviery found Luiz at the far post, and Ali Al-Habsi and Fernando Torres had a bit of a clash there. The ball dropped to Lampard, who saw his shot blocked, but the ricochet went straight to Florent Malouda, who prodded through a huge crowd of defenders to put Chelsea ahead.
The rest of the game was all about trying to get Torres a goal. It didn't work, although well played David Luiz and Yossi Benayoun for at least trying to give the man some opportunities. A Luiz long pass was woefully mis-controlled (or, more accurately, missed), before Benayoun's sublime cut-back was hammered towards the back of the net by Torres only for Al-Habsi to make a good stop. That goal just isn't going to come, is it?
The second half also saw the long-awaited return of Alex, who came in for Paulo Ferreira with about fifteen minutes remaining. The centre half did pretty well on his return, too, putting in some key tackles and blocks, although it's still an open question whether or not he'll be fit to play against United on Tuesday.
At the end of the day, this was a pretty annoying game. Chelsea dominated but didn't look good doing it, and if they hadn't won I think the mood around here would be fairly murderous. Instead, they picked up three points in a goofy way, introduced two players who had missed a combined ten months of injury, and finally got Torres some opportunities. It wasn't really a bad day's work.
However, it's a worrying sign when I can't think of a single player who might be man of the match. Who're y'all's nominations?