In the end, the scoreline flattered Chelsea a little, but few Stamford Bridge regulars will care as a 4-1 victory over Wigan Athletic returned the Blues to winning ways.
With Tottenham beating Newcastle earlier in the day, Rafael Benitez’s side needed three points to put them back above their north London rivals into third place in the Premier League and although the performance wasn’t wholly controlled or convincing, the end outcome was timely and morale boosting.
After Shaun Maloney had pulled a goal back following strikes by Ramires and Eden Hazard, the Blues again endured a few nervy moments with their recent capitulations to Southampton, Reading and Newcastle fresh in the mind.
But the hosts duly held on without too much fuss until the ever reliable Frank Lampard sealed the deal with a couple of minutes to go and Marko Marin added the icing on the cake in injury time.
It was hardly the sort of demolition job you’d expect from the European champions entertaining a side destined for the Championship, but with Everton losing at the weeekend, Chelsea have put themselves ahead in what is starting to look like a three-horse race for two spots in the top four.
As a result, the bwin oddsmakers have pulled the Pensioners in to 9/50 to be in the Champions League places by the end of the season and their upcoming fixture list suggests that’s a decent punt.
Next up, it’s a pair of ties with Sparta Prague in the Europa League sandwiching Brentford’s visit to the Bridge in the FA Cup, before Chelsea resume league duties with a trip to whipping boys Manchester City.
The games against Prague and Brentford offer another presentable opportunity for Benitez’s boys to chalk up some more wins and get some wind in their sails and with Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty, suddenly it’s not all doom and gloom around SW6.
It’ll also be interesting to see how Chelsea approach the Europa League. Sparta Prague are no mugs but they’re certainly nothing to be feared and with only League One opposition to come back to, Benitez should be able to stick out his strongest XI without fear of reprisal.
At present, the Champions League holders are 25/4 second favourites to lift the pot (pardon the pun) in Amsterdam, with Atletico Madrid outright favourites at 21/4 and Inter Milan 23/2, Napoli 12/1, Tottenham 13/1 and Liverpool 14/1.
That doesn’t seem a bad price given the club’s proclivity for lengthy European campaigns and I’d definitely back them to get the 7/10 result in Prague on Thursday.
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