Wigan Athletic-Chelsea Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - Chelsea may be relieved to be back at Stamford Bridge, but they may breathe an even greater sigh of relief if Demba Ba is available.
Facing Wigan Athletic presents another chance for peace of mind, and a victory.
With Ba's status unclear, the Blues go for their first win in five matches by attempting to continue their dominance of relegation-threatened Wigan on Saturday.
Chelsea (13-7-5) are returning home for the first time since a 2-1 win over Arsenal on Jan. 20. Since then, the Blues have stumbled through a 0-3-1 stretch on the road in all competitions.
That run included cup draws with Swansea City and Brentford of League One, while playing Reading - another team mired in the relegation fight - to a 2-2 draw in league play Jan. 30.
Chelsea appeared to be headed for a victory last weekend. However, they wasted a second-half lead by surrendering two goals - one in the final minute - to fall 3-2 at Newcastle.
Still, unpopular manager Rafa Benitez was keen to focus on the positives.
"The character the players showed in the second half shows something is right," he said. "If we cannot control these games then it is something we have to improve, but (last Saturday) we had a good reaction that was positive. Hopefully, we can play well and win and carry on.
"Every single game we had good chances, we have played good football in the majority of them, and when we couldn't we still had chances to win."
Benitez may feel more comfortable is Ba is available after suffering a broken nose when he was kicked in the face by Fabricio Coloccini in his return to Newcastle.
The forward has three goals in nine games - five starts - with Chelsea, and his 14 league goals with them and Newcastle rank him third.
He has four goals in four meetings with Wigan (5-6-14), scoring a pair in a 3-0 victory for Newcastle on Dec. 3.
If Ba can't play, then the scoring onus will likely be on Fernando Torres, who has three goals in nine matches versus the Latics, but none in the past three.
Despite scoring 15 goals in all competitions, Torres has just seven in the Premier League and none in eight matches.
Chelsea has dominated Wigan in all competitions to the tune of a 13-2-1 record, while going 6-1-0 with a 19-3 scoring edge at Stamford Bridge.
The result was never really in doubt in the most recent matchup Aug. 19, when Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic scored in the opening seven minutes as Chelsea went on to win 2-0 to open the Premier League season.
Wigan are going for their first victory since beating relegation rival Aston Villa 3-0 on Dec. 29. The Latics are 0-3-2 since in league play, giving up 12 goals.
That woeful stretch continued with last weekend's 2-2 draw with Southampton.
They may get a boost with Arouna Kone returning to the fold after Ivory Coast was eliminated by Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations in South Africa.
"We'll asses how fit he is, but there's no concerns as to whether he'll be ready to play," manager Roberto Martinez told the team's official website. "We had constant contact with the player and medical staff whilst he was away and although he hasn't played much football, he did play 90 minutes against Algeria. His physical nature will ensure he doesn't have any trouble settling back into the demands of the Premier League."
Kone leads Wigan with six league goals, getting two in his last three matches.
Updated February 7, 2013