Chelsea experienced a Frank Lampard-led recovery as the Blues put four past Wigan.
So often have Chelsea’s commanding performances not been rewarded with goals, but there was plenty to cheer about this afternoon as the Lactics were hit for four.
A delightful Ramires lob started off the proceedings, with Eden Hazard continuing it, before Maloney pulled one back. Lampard restored the two-goal lead, with Marko Marin wrapping it up in injury time.
It was a day of stand-out performances. From Cesar Azpilicueta, to Oscar and Frank Lampard, the drive and determination that once fit into the definition of Chelsea returned. Even Fernando Torres had a decent match.
And so the Spaniard had to. With Demba Ba ineligible to play for Chelsea in Europe, it made sense for the Senegalese man to start here, but Chelsea deemed him unfit to start after his broken nose suffered on his Tyneside return.
It was a peculiar call from Chelsea as Ba was on the bench, indicating he clearly was able to play should Benitez require his services, and there have been times previous when Cech and Terry have played with protective masks. Indeed, Torres has played a game before where he suffered from a stomach bug, so the onus was on Torres to show exactly why he deserved to start.
But the responsiblity was on the whole team to record a win. Much has been made of Benitez’s failed reign thus far — out of the Capital One Cup, Club World Cup and managing a terrible stalemate at Brentford — this was seen as D-Day for Rafa.
But his decision to play Ramires on the right-wing proved astute 22 minutes in. It was Fernando Torres who provided the assist, laying the ball off to the Brazilian, who was menacing down the right, before lifting the ball over Al Habsi.
Chelsea have beaten Wigan 8-0 at home before, with another 8-0 thrashing seen against Aston Villa earlier in the season. And this was the first goal Ramires has scored in the Premier League since that blissful December day.
It has been a slow start to the game before that moment, with a pigeon dominating the headlines, showing Torres how to dart into the Wigan box, but from then on, Chelsea settled into their stride.
Torres could have made it two a few moments later, but Al Habsi did enough to tip over his header, from a wonderful Azpilicueta cross. The Spaniard, affectionately known as Dave, has been a sturdy fixture at right-back, culminating in his national team debut mid-week, and Chelsea’s troubles in finding someone to cement the right-back berth looks like it is becoming solved.
The two holding midfielders in Lampard and Luiz had the next Chelsea chances. The former, who has scored in his last four club and country appearances, went narrowly wide, whilst Luiz nearly found the back of the net after being put through by his compatriot Oscar, who was thriving in the central role with Juan Mata suffering from a virus.
It was a half where Wigan has chances, however, and Azpilicueta showed his defensive proficiencies with a clearance to stop McArthur equalising.
Chelsea have scored the first goal of the game on 17 occasions this season, more than any other side in the Premier League, but all too often have the European Champions let that lead slip. So it was with much relief that a second did come 10 minutes after the restart.
Gary Cahill’s punt long was met by the chest of Azpilicueta, who cut back inside and squared to Hazard, who coolly side-footed home a precious second.
It was the first for the Belgian since his suspension in the infamous ball-boy incident, and he showed his side just how valuable an asset he is.
Complacency crept in and the euphoria at doubling the advantage was wiped out just two minutes later.
Maloney rounded Cech and despite the best efforts of Cahill getting back on the line, the ball crept in, as Chelsea were given a stark reminder as to why concentration is key in the top flight game.
So often have Chelsea let slip in the dying minutes, so it was to Benitez’s credit that he made a substitution early. In his last few matches, the time on the clock seemed to determine replacements more than the current passage of play, but Mata came on for Oscar with a healthy quarter of an hour to go.
86 minutes is about the time for Chelsea fans to get jittery at the thought of an equaliser, but up stepped Frank Lampard.
Hazard’s pass was dummied by Mata, and the England veteran drove his slot low past Al Habsi, meaning Lampard is now the Premier League’s top goalscoring midfielder, shoul you count Bale and Michu as the forwards they play as.
It is quite a statement from the 33-year-old, who has scored in four successive Premier League appearances for the first time since August 2010.
Marin has only been on the pitch a matter of seconds before he rubbed salt into the wound, jumping highest to head home the fourth after Al Habsi had palmed away an Azpilicueta strike.
- Chelsea 4 Wigan Athletic 1: match report (telegraph.co.uk)
- Chelsea 4-1 Wigan Athletic (guardian.co.uk)