Chelsea 4 Wigan Athletic 0: Fast and loose Robben breathes life into champions

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The Independent Football

Following four draws in five games, Chelsea kept Manchester United in sight at the top of the Premiership with the most straightforward of victories over a feeble Wigan.

There was even a clean sheet, which had not been achieved against either Macclesfield Town or Wycombe Wanderers, both of whom carried more of a threat in last week's Cup ties than Wigan. The visitors, understrength as they were, never looked remotely like scoring and are now in serious relegation trouble.

Andriy Shevchenko was again missing, presumed injured this time, though that actually helped as Mourinho - cheered all afternoon by the home crowd - reverted to his most successful formation, 4-3-3, in which Arjen Robben was outstanding. Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba further improved their outstanding scoring records for the season, though it would be foolish to read much into such a romp.

Mourinho was happy to take such positives as he could from the performance, as well as the news that Petr Cech, "a £50million player" is ready to return in goal at Liverpool next Saturday. "When you're not winning matches, the next step is winning," he said with some satisfaction. "The defensive line pushed up, Wigan didn't create chances and so we dominated the game. In the second half, instead of being scared of conceding, the team went for more. So it was good for us."

Wigan, short of confidence after losing their six previous games, proved ideal opposition. Their manager, Paul Jewell, was entitled to a grim laugh when regaled with sob stories about the champions' problems, insisting: "Don't talk to me about Chelsea being in crisis. I wouldn't mind having some of his problems. We're making basic errors, and when you concede the first three goals like we did, it's mission impossible."

Wigan's absentees included three players just as important to them as Cech, John Terry and the two Coles in Arjan de Zeeuw, Henri Camara and Paul Scharner, which meant that David Unsworth, signed from Sheffield United, and the Norwegian midfielder Kristofer Haestad were starting for the first time. Both found the going hard and could not have anticipated that Chris Kirkland behind them would prove so fallible.

The pace and direct running of Robben, one of four players returning to the home side, had Wigan going backwards from the start. In the 11th minute the Dutchman's neat return pass allowed Wayne Bridge to cross low for Drogba to sweep a shot too high and two minutes later - just after Manchester United had gone in front - Chelsea took the lead. Robben was fouled out on the left and Lampard curled an inswinging free-kick into the corridor of uncertainty by the far post. Fitz Hall, at centre-half, clearly expected Kirkland to come and deal with it but the goalkeeper stayed on his line as the ball swung past him.

Yellow cards for Lee McCulloch - nominally a striker - and David Cotterill reflected the pressure being exerted on Wigan, who almost conceded again following Cotterill's foul on Bridge. Drogba played the free-kick short to Lampard, whose powerful low drive was turned for a corner by Kirkland. In contrast, a Chelsea defence with Michael Essien standing in again for Terry was never troubled. Hilario, potentially a weak link in goal, did not have a shot to save and the manner in which Emile Heskey, apparently suffering from flu, was knocked off the ball by Essien illustrated another of their deficiencies.

Robben kept Jewell's team on the back foot both before and after switching from the left flank to the right, interchanging with the less effective Salomon Kalou. Haestad's foul on Robben brought another yellow card, Lampard's free-kick hitting the defensive wall, which was a better effort than Michael Ballack's from similar distance. The German, shooting high into the crowd, was disappointing again, though Mourinho shows no sign of taking as hard a line with him as with Shevchenko.

Wigan again contributed to their own downfall for the second and third goals, scored in quick succession to end any notion of a contest. In the 63rd minute Haestad, close to the halfway line, played the most penetrating pass by any visiting player all afternoon, unfortunately sending Robben clean through to tap in. Kirkland thwarted the same player with a low save a few minutes later, but almost immediately Robben danced down the left and cut back a cross that would have stayed out had the hapless goalkeeper not diverted it into the net with his left hand.

In added time Drogba headed his 21st goal of the season from a cross by substitute John Obi Mikel. Chelsea can hardly expect Anfield on Saturday to be anything like as easy.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Arjen Robben, Chelsea

Returning after injury, the winger added an extra dimension to Chelsea's recent stuttering play, making one goal and scoring another.