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Gritty Wigan ready to test Chelsea´s swagger

SoccerNews in English Premier League 23 Aug 2008

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It will take more than one thumping win over under-cooked opponents to convince the doubters that Luiz Felipe Scolari can return the English Premier League title crown to Chelsea.

But if last weekend's 4-0 romp over a curiously limp Portsmouth did nothing else, it confirmed that Scolari's much-trumpeted ambition to restore some west London swagger to Stamford Bridge was not merely a hollow boast.

As a statement of intent to the club's title rivals, it could not have been more emphatic.

Sunday's trip to Wigan, one of the least glamorous outposts of club football's most lucrative league, will provide a sterner test of Chelsea's credentials, but already the Brazilian appears to have stamped his mark on the club.

Players have spoken glowingly of Scolari's hunger for success, his man-management skills and aura of unquestioned authority, the latter in stark contrast to the meek mannerisms of his predecessor, Avram Grant.

Frank Lampard saw enough in the new manager to commit his future to the club for the next five years, while the expected exodus of star players has not materialised.

There is also hope that Robinho, the Real Madrid striker, will soon arrive in a deal which could break the British transfer record.

Scolari's arrival also seems to have re-energised one of Chelsea's most enigmatic characters. Nicolas Anelka cut a morose figure under Grant, missing the decisive penalty in the Champions League final defeat to Manchester United and scoring just twice in total following his January move from Bolton Wanderers.

But a brighter performance against Portsmouth, capped by a goal, suggests the Frenchman's confidence could be blossoming again.

“When you play as a striker it is always like this,” he said. “When you stop playing it is difficult to come back and play again: you need rhythm, even more when you are a striker because you need confidence. If you don't have confidence you are nothing.

“I don't think I am back to my best yet. I am still looking to enjoy my football but I am starting to like it again, because I am playing more games, and the more I play the more I learn how Chelsea play. And I think the more I play the more confidence I will have.”

Confronting Chelsea's galaxy of talent is a daunting business, although Wigan have no reason to harbour an inferiority complex at the JJB stadium.

The Latics effectively derailed the Londoners' championship charge last season when Emile Heskey's injury-time equaliser at Stamford Bridge denied them the two points which would have made them favourites to dethrone Manchester United.

Steve Bruce, the Wigan manager, has fond memories of that match but he fully expects Scolari to keep the Blues in title contention this season.

“Scolari has an unbelievable record in the world game and he has the resources available which are the envy of us all – I'm sure he'll do very well there,” he said.

“You can't write Chelsea off when it comes to the title. It was so close last season – it went right down to the wire.

“It wouldn't surprise me if it went the same way again as both Chelsea and Manchester United are exceptionally good teams. I think it will be between those two sides.”

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