The highs and lows of the 2011/12 Premier League will all be forgotten as the teams and players prepare for the first game of the new season. Fourteen clubs will be in action on the opening day of the 2012/13 campaign, with every team eager for the first goals, win and points of the season to instill as much confidence going forward as possible.
European champions Chelsea will travel with their expensively assembled new squad to take on Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium for the teams' opening games.
Chelsea had a fairy tale ending to last season, registering win after win and clinching the FA Cup and their maiden Champions League crown to turn an otherwise disastrous season around. Unfortunately, the cup games were the highs to the awful lows in the Premier League.
The Blues finished a lowly sixth place, behind Spurs and even Newcastle, while traditional rivals Mancheser United and Arsenal, as well as nouveau riche Manchester City were well beyond them. In fact, so disastrous was their campaign that had it not been for the surprising Champions League win, the Blues would not have qualified for the elite tournament this season. Roman Abramovich has spent big this summer in an effort to reel in that gap. Will that be enough?
Chelsea's performances last season were inconsistent. The Blues started well, under former boss Andre Villas-Boas, before completely losing momentum and focus and further reports of player unrest meant the Portuguese manager had to be fired. AVB was replaced with his assistant Italian Roberto Di Matteo and the club recovered miraculously, playing particularly well in cup competitions. The league form did not improve very much but they did at least avoid defeats and picked up enough to ensure a reasonable finish, given the position AVB left them in.
The summer transfer window promised much, with the mega signings of Belgian Eden Hazard and Brazilian Oscar leading the way. The addition of German midfielder Marko Marin and the return to form of Spanish striker Fernando Torres heralded good times for Blues' fans. Unfortunately, the squad seems to have lost focus again. A strong 4-2 pre-season win over MLS club Seattle Sounders was followed by defeats to the MLS All-Stars and AC Milan, while the first competitive game of the season - the 2012 Community Shield - was lost 2-3 to Manchester City.
Chelsea is under significant pressure to improve performances relative to last season and a strong winning start to the season is what they need.
Wigan Athletic, on the other hand, will be satisfied at still being in the Premier League after avoiding relegation last season, mostly because of a string of good results towards the end. They finally finished five points above the relegation zone, earning them another well-deserved season in the Premier League. However, this time the Latics will have to formulate a strategy so they do not have to count on last moment heroics to save the day.
Much of the credit for their survival should be given to manager Roberto Martinez, who was actively pursued by Liverpool in the summer as replacement for Kenny Dalglish. Martinez was instrumental in squeezing the most out of the club's limited resources and, critically, took points off the big boys in the league, including Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Wigan have often been threatened with relegation in recent seasons but always rely on a better second half to pull through.
Team News and Tactics
The departure of legendary striker Didier Drogba means Torres should have an extended run in the first team, something he has long been asking for. However, he will have to improve significantly on earlier form to continue justifying his position and worth at the club. That said, scoring should not be a problem for the club. with the new trio of Hazard, Marin and Oscar capable of finding routes to opposition nets. In addition, last season's joint top scorers, Frank Lampard and Daniel Sturridge are still around, as is the ever creative Juan Mata. Di Matteo has no significant injury concerns going into this game.
Wigan will have to contend with the departure of some of the stalwarts from last season, including defensive midfielder Mohamed Diame and Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega, as well as the potential sale of Nigerian Victor Moses to, ironically, Chelsea. However, the Latics have not been quiet in the market. Incoming faces include Scottish midfielder Fraser Fyvie (from Aberdeen), Japanese winger Ryo Miyaichi (on loan from Arsenal) and Ivorian striker Arouna Kone (from Levante). Martinez too will go into this game with no fitness concerns.
Probable Line Ups
Wigan: Al Habsi; Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Maloney, Beasejour; Di Santo, Moses
Chelsea: Cech; Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, David Luiz; Lampard, Obi Mikel, Ramires; Oscar, Torres, Hazard
Where to Watch:
You can follow the game live from 1 pm BSTon Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports HD 1 and Sky 3D.