Chelsea 4 Wigan Athletic 0: Robben briefly eclipses infighting but Chelsea still teeter on the brink

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The Independent Football

There is currently only one club in England where a 4-0 victory does nothing to silence the murmurs of unrest or where the politics of the players left out can still overshadow the rest of the victorious ensemble. The Chelsea of 2007 is a place so awash with intrigue that had they trebled the amount of goals scored on Saturday it still might not have changed the mood in the inner sanctum.

Consider the delicacies of Jose Mourinho's relationship with Roman Abramovich and with Frank Arnesen, the club's chief scout. Or take into account the way that is affecting the policy in the transfer window. Factor in John Terry's protracted recovery from injury, Andrei Shevchenko's hopeless decline, Michael Ballack's mediocrity and the injuries to Petr Cech and Joe Cole. No club teeters on the brink between crisis and triumph quite so spectacularly as Chelsea.

They have redefined the notion of a mid-season crisis. Abramovich looks on moodily, Mourinho complains of being emasculated in the transfer market and Terry spends his time before kick-off briefing newspapers in favour of his manager. The line-up is a patchy, improvised mix and the scene is set for disaster.

Four goals later the question remains: can Chelsea be in quite so much trouble when they win like this? It seems there is a fragile peace at Stamford Bridge, and what is most durable about Mourinho is his effect on the way his team play.

For a crowd that is so often as unresponsive as Chelsea's, the scope and volume of the chanting for Mourinho before and during the game was an indication of their support. The manager's refusal to respond was dignified and did not leave him open to the allegation of trying to make capital. Sensible too, because, no matter what the supporters may say now, they are never likely to turn on the Russian who controls the show.

The backing for Mourinho added to the tension of the occasion and revealed that the four sides of Stamford Bridge were literate in the struggles for influence at their club that are only ever hinted at or alluded to by the men involved. This challenge at Chelsea is already beyond the six points that separate them from Manchester United, or the next round of the Champions' League. It is the struggle to keep the combustible elements of this vast football experiment from destroying each other rather than the opposition.

For those who tire of the factionalism, who struggle to remember which signing was on whose instigation and have no interest in the doublespeak that pervades the place, there was an antidote on Saturday. Arjen Robben was back to his brilliant best, a player whose standing in the world could be far more elevated had he not succumbed to injury so easily over the past three seasons. That, of course, is a whole other Chelsea subplot. Instead, against Wigan you just had to wonder at his skill and pace.

Gifted the home side's second goal by a calamitous back pass from Kristofer Haestad, Robben made the third by dribbling down the left and striking a cross that went in off Chris Kirkland in the Wigan goal. Chelsea look a different team without him and you wonder why, with so much money, they have not bought a few more like Robben over the past four years.

Dominant once again, Frank Lampard scored a goal direct from a free-kick on the left that bounced once and shamed Kirkland and the Wigan defence. Didier Drogba headed the fourth in injury-time from a John Obi Mikel cross from the right.

In an attempt to clear up one potential controversy, Chelsea announced the injured players beforehand, just to make it clear that Shevchenko was not available. That, you might say, was the afternoon's first bit of bad news for Wigan. They are in free fall, this their sixth consecutive Premiership defeat. Mistakes like the one made by their new loan signing, Haestad, will hardly lighten the mood of the manager Paul Jewell, who promised a better Wigan team next season "if we stay up".

Afterwards, Mourinho was conciliatory, but he hinted at intrigue when he said: "Everyone in this club should think about the club, not themselves." Or in other words: ask not what Chelsea can do for you, but what you can do for Chelsea. It may have been intended to sound magnanimous, but in reality it just sounded like he had been mollified. For now, at least.

Goals: Lampard (13) 1-0; Robben (63) 2-0; Kirkland og (70) 3-0; Drogba (90) 4-0.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Ferreira (Geremi, 86), Essien, Carvalho, Bridge; Ballack, Makelele, Lampard; Kalou (Mikel, 82), Drogba, Robben (Sahar, 82). Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Wright-Phillips.

Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Kirkland; Boyce, Hall, Unsworth, Baines; Cotterill (Taylor, 66), Skoko, Haestad (Landzaat, 73), Kilbane, McCulloch; Heskey (Johansson, 77).

Substitutes not used: Filan (gk), Cywka.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Chelsea Drogba; Wigan McCulloch, Cotterill, Haestad.

Man of the match: Robben.

Attendance: 40,846.

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