Rafael Benitez’s appointment as Chelsea interim manager wasn’t a popular decision among the club’s fans at the time and he’s done little in his short spell to win them over ahead of this weekend’s clash with Wigan Athletic.
Despite a lack of support from the stands, Benitez remains defiant, insisting that he wants to stay at the club beyond this season, but his chances look slim at present if the Blues continue their inconsistent form, which has been plaguing them since the turn of the year.
A top-four finish and qualification for next season’s Champions League is the minimum requirement for the Spaniard, with his men currently sitting in third, three points ahead of Everton in fifth, with 13 league matches of the season remaining.
Success in the FA Cup and Europa League – competitions he has won during his managerial career at Liverpool and Valencia respectively – remains achievable, but ultimately it is the club’s league standing come May that will decide his fate.
Benitez’s cause certainly hasn’t been helped by his side’s last two results, in which the Blues threw away a two-goal advantage with five minutes remaining in their 2-2 draw at Reading – a result we correctly called, it should be said – before squandering a 2-1 lead at Newcastle last weekend to lose 3-2.
However, the visit of relegation-threatened Wigan arguably provides them with the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways, with anything other than a comfortable victory at Stamford Bridge unthinkable for the under-fire Benitez.
The Blues head into the game as overwhelming odds-on favourites at 17/50 to secure a league double over the Latics following a 2-0 win on the opening day, with the draw at 15/4 and an unexpected success for Roberto Martinez’s men priced at 31/4.
Chelsea have an impressive record against their visitors in recent years, winning 11, drawing three and losing just one of the 15 league meetings between the two sides since Wigan gained promotion to the Premier League back in 2005.
Despite breaking his nose against Newcastle last weekend, Chelsea striker Demba Ba is hoping to feature on Saturday with the aid of a protective mask, which would provide Benitez with a major boost as Fernando Torres continues to struggle for form.
The Senegalese international has notched four goals in as many appearances against the Latics, including a brace for Newcastle at the beginning of December, and he looks a good price at 3/1 to open the scoring should he be available.
Benitez will also be able to call upon the services once again of Eden Hazard, who returns from a three-match suspension following his red card in the Capital One Cup semi-final tie with Swansea after an altercation with a ballboy.
For all the rights and wrongs about the episode, the Belgian has enjoyed an impressive debut season in the Premier League and it would be no surprise if he notched on his return – an eventuality which can be backed at 7/5.
Only Manchester United have scored more goals in the league than Chelsea, which is a worrying statistic for Martinez and his players, who currently have the second-worst defensive record, conceding 47 goals in total and recording just three clean sheets.
The Latics’ defence has been breached 19 times on their last seven trips to Stamford Bridge and odds of 5/4 for the game to involve over 3.5 goals, as has been the case in 11 of Chelsea’s league outings this term and nine of Wigan’s, looks an attractive bet.
While Chelsea may head into the game on the back of a couple of disappointing results, Wigan are without a win in their last five, so the Blues should relieve some of the pressure on their manager this weekend with victory in what could turn out to be a goalfest.
With that in mind, get your money on Chelsea to win a game of over 3.5 goals at 9/5 and give Benitez just a little more breathing space ahead of the greater challenges on the horizon.