Chelsea 2 – Wigan 0
This contest had drifted just beyond the half-hour mark when the referee Mike Jones’ patience finally snapped. Eden Hazard was face down on the turf, crumpled this time by James McCarthy’s frantic tackle, but, rather than book the offender, Jones sought an explanation from the captain Gary Caldwell for the Latics’ apparent strategy to nullify the Belgian. Judging by the panic that gripped the home players whenever Hazard picked up possession, even thereafter, any plan that might have been hatched felt decidedly flawed.
Hazard drifted in and out of his Premier League debut, tiring after the interval to be replaced just after the hour, but if this was the 21-year-old finding his feet then Chelsea will be salivating over everything that awaits. At £32m the playmaker has not come cheap, and his price-tag will demand a smooth transition from Ligue 1 to English topflight, but this was a mouth-watering introduction into his qualities. By the time Caldwell had crashed through his opponent’s 5ft 7in frame just 11 minutes in, earning a booking in the process, Hazard had generated the two-goal advantage Wigan, for all their energetic endeavour, could not retrieve.
Better teams than Roberto Martínez’s will be troubled by Chelsea’s new-look attack this term once the new personnel have settled. Indeed, everything Hazard delivered here came with the promise of even better to come. There was skill in his turn away from Iván Ramis and vision in his delivery for the galloping Branislav Ivanovic for the full-back to belt in the visitors’ opener. Wigan’s Spanish debutant, his composure drained already, was soon tripping Hazard as he wriggled into the area, conceding the penalty dispatched with glee by Frank Lampard.
Those flashes of creation were delivered with time and space allowed him by the hosts. Arguably more impressive were the scuttling dribbles from deep, all low centre of gravity as opponents flew in and the ball glued to the instep, and inter-plays with Juan Mata. That pair flitted from centre to right in the absence of Ramires. Oscar, the £20m Brazil No10, ended up replacing Hazard and, in his first real involvement, seared away from Ramis to fizz a low shot wide of the far post from an unkind angle. Quite where Roberto Di Matteo will cram all this talent into his starting lineup remains to be seen, particularly if interest is maintained in Wigan’s Victor Moses, another diminutive, skilful attacker.
The Nigerian was a nuisance here, reminding Chelsea of his own pedigree as the home side huffed and puffed to recover their deficit. His bursts down the flank, scorching Ryan Bertrand and Lampard on separate occasions, left the European champions feeling vulnerable even if Wigan boasted no bite to capitalise. Franco Di Santo’s prodded attempt beyond Petr Cech, hoofed from the line by David Luiz, was as close as they came when Moses was not involved. Their own attacking reinforcement, Arouna Koné, will need time but did test Cech from Moses’ centre, Jordi Gomez almost converting the rebound.
The Latics were rugged and awkward opponents, their response admirable given they had shipped 14 goals to Chelsea in two matches as recently as 2010. Yet it is rare to recover from such a disastrous start against one of those expected to contend for the title. Fernando Torres might have added a third only for Ramis to recover some dignity from a chastening afternoon with a goalline clearance of his own, but this contest had been settled early at Hazard’s intervention. Even at this early stage, Chelsea appear to boast a new talent to enthral and captivate the Premier League. – Guardian (UK)