FA Cup preview: Wigan Athletic v. Chelsea

The Premier League interlude continues this weekend with our second cup game of the week after the excellent victory over Everton on Wednesday that sees us back at Wembley for the third time since it re-opened. Get used to it because I have a feeling the next few years might see us building a nearby lodge for the team to stay in such could be the frequency of our visits.

The fourth round of the FA Cup is up next for our gallant patched up heroes to defend a trophy that has become something of an old friend since the days when the dreadlocked Dear Leader, Ruud Gullitt, finally ended a trophy drought (trophies of note I hasten to add so the Full Members Cup is omitted!) dating back 27 years. He was the first foreign manager to coach a side to FA Cup glory and it seems he may have opened a door because other than Alex Ferguson I can’t think of any Brits who’ve won it since. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Like many I thought that winning the FA and Carling Cups last year was still a good haul, after all there are only four trophies to win each season, so a 50% hit rate isn’t bad. Be honest people even 10 years ago, that would have been dreamland.

News arrives today that we’ve signed Franco Di Santos from Audux Italiano so the youth development continues. I’ve seen some grainy footage and whilst it looks okay it’s not scintillating stuff. But the investment is going in and that’s good. Allow me to be jingoistic for a moment, but I hope we are applying the same diligence around signing young English players.

As for the current players, it seems Frank Lampard is out for a couple more weeks and we can’t expect John Terry for three weeks at least, although if we’re realistic it’ll be five weeks before he’s close to “match fit”. Michael Ballack suffered a slight calf strain this week but it’s hopeful he’ll pass a fitness test tomorrow, but if not then Steve Sidwell can expect yet another chance to prove his worth to us. Andriy Shevchenko is fast becoming the forgotten man when just as he looked like returning some of Roman’s millions he gets a mysterious back injury. Maybe he just likes to cuddle up on the sofa and watch TV with those other perennial “sick notes” Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben.

A few trivia facts (thanks to the Beeb).

We have won the last seven and are undefeated in ten. We’ve won nine and drawn one (all competitions) since losing 1-0 away to Arsenal in the Premier League on 16th December – our only loss in twenty-seven. Wigan on the other hand have won two of the last five and lost the last two at home.

In all competitions the head to head is Chelsea have won all five league meetings against Wigan, including this season’s at the JJB Stadium, 0-2 on 3rd November last year when Frank Lampard and Juliano Belletti were on target.

In the FA Cup Wigan won our first ever meeting, when as a Fourth Division side they dismissed us when we were in the old Second Division (for the kiddies who read the blog that’s The Championship as it’s laughably known today) 1-0 in the third round on 14th January 1980 with a goal from Tommy Gore. Chelsea turned the tables in a third round replay five years later at Springfield Park, winning 0-5, with four from Kerry Dixon, including one from the penalty spot. David Speedie got the other. Paul Jewell and Mike Newell earned that replay, scoring both goals for Wigan in the 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Prediction: Wigan have a full squad by all accounts and there is no doubt that Steve Bruce has added some steel and determination to them, so much so that relegation is starting to look more and more distant. Having said that they still possess the ticking time bomb of disaster in Titus “Bumble” Bramble and Premier League survival is still their key goal so I’m not expecting them to commit much. 2-0 to us.