On paper, it may be the greatest mismatch in the Premier League's history. It is not just that, at this formative stage of the season, they are separated by 18 places or even that, last season, they had the most prolific attack and worst goal difference, respectively. It is that, over 180 minutes, there is a 26-goal disparity between Chelsea and Wigan Athletic.
Chelsea have won their last two league matches by an aggregate score of 14-0, Wigan have lost theirs 12-0. The common denominator is the Blues' title-sealing, club record 8-0 victory over Roberto Martinez's side at Stamford Bridge in May. The task now is an unusual one: to lower expectations. "To win 6-0 or 7-0 is difficult. It can't happen every day," Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, said. It has, however, happened with remarkable regularity: his side have managed at least six goals five times in 19 league games.
"I hope that when the fans come to see us they don't always expect us to score seven goals, because it would be a tragedy for us." Yet meeting Wigan is a reminder of another form of misfortune. The London side today visit the scene of their first setback under Ancelotti. They reeled off six wins in a row before arriving at the DW Stadium last September. They had Petr Cech, their goalkeeper, sent off and were beaten 3-1. To ensure a repeat, Martinez said: "We have to be perfect."
They were decidedly imperfect in an opening day thrashing at the hands of Blackpool. "They want to play a different match," added Ancelotti, with a hint of understatement. If Wigan's two results against Chelsea last year illustrated a mercurial tendency, relying on an enigmatic streak to turn things around may be dangerous. Charles N'Zogbia, deemed "mentally not fit" by Martinez seven days ago amid speculation about his future, may return and Ali Al-Habsi is likely to displace the error-prone Chris Kirkland in goal.
Chelsea have a different calibre of reinforcements. Ramires's move from Benfica has finally been completed and the Brazilian could make his debut in Lancashire this evening. He has inherited the No 7 shirt last worn by Andriy Shevchenko, but represents a very different type of recruit: younger and more energetic, a player whose career is on an upward curve rather than a downward spiral. He can be seen as Michael Ballack's replacement and a more energetic alternative to the rather more statuesque German.
Not that the champions were struggling before his arrival. "Chelsea have the strongest squad in the league," Martinez added. "They have everything you look for in a successful team: experience, strength, power and quality in big amounts." Each adjective is applicable to Didier Drogba, the scorer of a hat-trick in each of his last two league games. The Ivorian's declaration that he wants to play on for a further five years should be the stuff of nightmares for defenders; coupled with his statement that he had not been fully fit for his first six years at Stamford Bridge because of a hernia problem, it is ominous indeed.
For the sake of Wigan's beleaguered back four, it is to be hoped they have avoided Drogba's recent pronouncements. Alongside him in attack, meanwhile, Nicolas Anelka has shared the headlines, but for very different reasons. After his expulsion from the World Cup, the striker has been handed an 18-match international ban by the French Football Federation. "For myself, it is good news, he can stay here to train during the international break," Ancelotti said. "For him, this is not good news but he accepts this with good spirit. I don't know what happened there but Anelka is an honest man and he didn't deserve this ban."
It means his efforts are confined to Chelsea. With Drogba fully fit, Anelka completely focused and Chelsea firing on all cylinders, it does not bode well for Wigan. Then again, it did not 11 months ago either. email@example.com Wigan v Chelsea, 8.15pm, today, ADMC Sports 3, to order: 600-2388 or www.admcsport.com