It has been a defining fortnight for Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas.
He stared elimination from the Champions League squarely in the face and growled back with a 3-0 win over Valencia, thanks to a controlled and ruthless performance at Stamford Bridge.
In the Premier League, back-to-back wins over Newcastle and Manchester City have lifted his team up to third in the table and restored some of the Portuguese’s natural swagger.
After the storm of intense pressure comes the relative serenity of a match against a team in the relegation zone in Wigan Athletic. In theory, anyway.
In practice, visiting the DW Stadium has traditionally been a gruelling slog for Chelsea, despite their solid recent record there.
It is true that they opened last season with a 6-0 demolition of the Latics. But their previous trip to Wigan ended in a 3-1 defeat and prior to that, they had scraped wins by a single-goal margin on three out of four occasions.
Sturridge is the man benefitting most from Drogba’s muscular and unselfish hold-up play, with statistics showing he now has a more advanced average field position than any other Chelsea player.
One interesting point to note is that there has never been a goalless draw between these two sides, so the goalscorer markets deserve serious consideraton in this clash.
For Chelsea, there is one player who stands out beyond all others and that is Daniel Sturridge.
With three goals in his last four league games, the England striker is beginning to hit the level of consistency expected of a top forward at a top club.
Deployed nominally in a wide right position, his power, skill and acceleration have caused left-backs throughout the top flight serious problems and I expect him to pose Wigan’s Maynor Figueroa similar questions on Saturday.
Important to note also is that five of his eight goals in all competitions this season have come away from Stamford Bridge, showing an increasing level of maturity at being able to handle intimidating situations.
Didier Drogba leads the betting at 7/2 to open the scoring, but I would suggest the 4/1 available for Sturridge to score first offers more value.
However, if you are feeling cautious about backing Sturridge in the first goalscorer market, (and given Drogba’s recent form that is perhaps understandable), then you should without doubt invest in the England striker to score at any time at the DW Stadium, which is on offer at evens.
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One interesting consequence of Villas-Boas’ recent decision to abolish his experiment with a high defensive line is Drogba dropping much deeper than usual to link the midfield and the attack (or because he no longer has the pace to get in behind teams, if we’re being really cynical).
Either way, Sturridge is the man benefitting most from the 33-year-old’s muscular and unselfish hold-up play, with statistics showing he now has a more advanced average field position than Drogba or any other Chelsea player, for that matter.
This was shown perfectly in the Blues’ recent 3-0 victory at Newcastle, where Sturridge frequently found himself at the point of their counter-attacks, always looking to get in behind or run at the heart of the creaking Magpies backline.
Of course, he scored in that game – and those 4/1 odds on him breaking the deadlock against Wigan look too good to miss.
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