Chelsea 1 – 0 Wigan Athletic – Malouda goal boosts Ancelotti’s Champions League hopes

A Florent Malouda goal gave Chelsea a comfortable victory over Wigan Athletic as the Blues solidified their hopes of Champions League qualification next season and further dented the Latics’ chances of survival in the Premier League.

Ancelotti made a number of changes from the side that lost to Manchester United in the Champions League in midweek, dropping Jose Bosingwa from the squad altogether and Yuri Zhirkov, Fernando Torres and Michael Essien to the bench while captain John Terry was rested. David Luiz replaced Terry while Florent Malouda, Paulo Ferreira, Nicolas Anelka and John Obi Mikel also came into the starting XI. For Wigan, Roberto Martinez made a single alteration to the side that drew with Tottenham Hotspur a week ago, bringing in robust midfielder Mohammed Diame for winger Victor Moses.

Chelsea should have been ahead within minutes when Frank Lampard swept the ball across goal but Ramires could not convert at the back post. Florent Malouda had another effort soon after, firing straight at Ali Al-Habsi in the Wigan goal, but the two early chances belied the slow start Chelsea made, with a pedestrian tempo never really unsettling the visitors. Chelsea was too often content to stroke the ball around midfield and allow Wigan to regroup in a black-shirted block of defence.

Chelsea’s build-up play was tidy and improving throughout the half but a lack of urgency when delivering the final ball ensured the scores stayed level, and by slowing the game down Chelsea failed to crank up the pressure on a vulnerable Wigan back-line that had conceded 51 goals in the league before kick-off. It took a long ball from defence and a flick-on from Didier Drogba to create the best chance of the game late in the half, but Al-Habsi again denied Malouda.

Yossi Benayoun, for his first league appearance since September, replaced Mikel at half-time as Ancelotti attempted to inject greater impetus to his side. However, the increase in tempo from Chelsea was minimal. Benayoun was a peripheral figure and Wigan grew in confidence as the hour approached, moving the ball smartly when attacking and growing in stature in defence. Torres was introduced for Anelka just before the hour as Ancelotti continued to rotate his forwards and the Spaniard’s arrival brought a change in gear. Drogba immediately brought another save from Al-Habsi with a free kick and while Torres engineered a tame shot on goal the game was not goalless for much longer.

Drogba’s corner led to a scramble with Malouda eventually turning the ball home as Al-Habsi came under pressure from Torres, but was not fouled, according to referee Howard Webb. Torres had chances to score only for Al-Habsi to continuously deny the striker but Chelsea were comfortable after going ahead, with only a Franco Di Santo header and a late Tom Cleverly shot causing much concern for Petr Cech. The slow tempo that hampered their ambitions when the game was goalless become a positive in helping see out the victory, leaving Wigan at the foot of the table while Chelsea returned to third place.

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