Deco strike lifts Chelsea to top
Wigan Athletic 0 Chelsea 1
Luiz Felipe Scolari has managed in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, he has won a World Cup in Japan and he comes from the remote Rio Grande do Sul in the southern Brazil, but he admitted that, until yesterday, he had never been to that distant, exotic kingdom known as the north of England.
Chelsea will have to play better on their further visits if they are to win the Premier League this season.
A moment of brilliance from Deco four minutes into the match decided it, a free-kick that swooped into the top corner of Mike Pollitt's goal before he had barely picked out its flight. The rest of the game was not so beautiful although it was never easy for Chelsea, whose second win of the season leaves them top of the Premier League after two games. So far, so good, even if Roman Abramovich chose not spend to his August bank holiday in Lancashire.
Scolari explained how this was the first time that he had ventured north of London but that his grip of geography was improving. "Yes, it's my first time in the north," he said, "and I know that I will have to come here to play Bolton, Manchester United, Manchester City. Here in the north. I understand that now."
Gritty, physical, relentless: Scolari got a view of the other side of football in England that was in stark contrast to the opening weekend when Chelsea passed the ball around Portsmouth in the sunshine at Stamford Bridge. Only the marble-hearted would have begrudged Wigan a point from this game, in which they ran themselves silly in the first half closing down the opposition. Wilson Palacios and Amr Zaki were outstanding but it all felt futile against superstars who need just one chance to pick opponents off.
It will be curious to see how Scolari's teams play away from home this season, especially in the North-West – which Sir Alex Ferguson has often referred to as if it were one rebellious tribe desperate to wreak havoc on any London sides with pretensions to winning the League. Yesterday Scolari paid tribute to the strength of the competition when he said that a 1-0 away win was equivalent to "10-0" in other leagues around the world. "In England," he said, "you always say that first [placed team] playing against the last is not easy."
Up to a point, Felipe, but when you have players in the side like Deco, they can, at times, make the whole thing look as simple as lacing their boots. For the goal, Lee Cattermole handled the ball about 25 yards out and Pollitt, a late replacement for Chris Kirkland who aggravated his back injury in the warm-up, never got close to Deco's resulting free-kick. "Another piece of Deco magic," said Ashley Cole. "He does it all the time in training."
That was the assumption, given that the Portuguese international was even allowed to take the shot – the queue for free-kick status at Chelsea is long and distinguished. But soon Wigan were back in the game, snapping at the heels of Chelsea's midfield, which looked stretched at times with Joe Cole in a more forward position. Palacios and Antonio Valencia, Steve Bruce later noted, played in Mexico for Honduras in midweek, while Zaki represented Egypt in Sudan, and none of them looked rusty.
Two defeats into the season, Bruce talked wearily of beating any one of the big four and the lengths he has gone to source players – he made his trip to Cairo to persuade Zaki to sign sound like he had been asked to find the source of the Nile single-handed. Now he is looking at the Korean striker Park Chu-Young, from FC Seoul. "Chelsea didn't look at any stage like they would rip us apart like they did with Portsmouth," Bruce said. "Chelsea have had a bad day but a piece of brilliance from Deco has saved them. That's why they are at the highest level. If it hadn't been him, they have others who can do that."
Fabio Capello was in attendance and, as usual, he will have left thinking about the non-English players on the pitch. Cattermole was determined for Wigan and Emile Heskey contributed to the move that saw Zaki's shot stopped by Petr Cech at close range, but they struggled to put Chelsea's defence on the back foot. Cech was excellent – that save from Zaki and another from substitute Olivier Kapo were decisive in winning the game.
With Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien all playing with injuries, and John Obi Mikel out of the game, Scolari declared himself delighted with the performance. "It doesn't mean that much to be top after just two games," he said, "but it's good for the group to have six points." They will, after all, face some tougher tests in this part of the world.
Goal: Deco (4) 0-1.
Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Pollitt; Melchiot (Camara, 85), Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; Valencia, Cattermole, Palacios (Kapo, 80), Koumas (De Ridder, h-t), Zaki; Heskey. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Brown, Kilbane, Sibierski.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cech; Bosingwa, Carvalho, Terry, A Cole (Bridge, 83); Essien; Ballack, Lampard, Deco; J Cole (Kalou, 58), Anelka (Malouda, 89). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Ivanovic, Alex, Belletti.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Wigan Cattermole; Chelsea Terry, Carvalho.
Man of the match: Cech.
Wright-Phillips' future up for discussion in boardroom
Luiz Felipe Scolari said yesterday that he will meet with the Chelsea hierarchy today to discuss whether to sanction the transfer of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips has been targeted by Everton and the player's future is understood to rest on the success of Chelsea in signing their principal target, Robinho, from Real Madrid.
At the start of the summer Wright-Phillips had been told he could leave but as the Robinho deal looked more unlikely, the club thought they may keep the player. Now, with Real's stance softening on Robinho – valued at around £30m – he may yet be allowed to leave. "I listened to my director say something about this," Scolari said. "But when I am in the club, I will discuss this. It's impossible before an important game, with so many problems."
Andrei Shevchenko has already left the club over the weekend to rejoin Milan. Nevertheless, Scolari said that Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien were all carrying injuries in yesterday's 1-0 win over Wigan. Joe Cole had an ice pack on his right foot after being substituted. Ashley Cole, also substituted, had a dead leg. The left-back said it would not rule him out of England's World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia this month.