Premier League preview: Chelsea v Wigan
Chelsea are in danger of losing third position in the English Premier League if they fail to beat strugglers Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
The visit of lowly Wigan should be a straightforward proposition for a team in the automatic UEFA Champions League places, especially given the match will be at Stamford Bridge.
But Chelsea have been anything but a sure thing in 2013.
Since the start of January, the Blues have suffered defeats to relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle, while they were also knocked out of the League Cup semi-finals by Swansea City.
The London outfit also had to settle for a draw with third-tier Brentford in the third round of the FA Cup while Reading and Southampton – both sitting in the bottom five of the English Premier League table – also won a point against Chelsea.
Adding more pressure to the Blues is the fact that fourth-placed Tottenham are only a point adrift of them and they will fancy their chances of securing three points at home to Newcastle United on Saturday.
Anything less than a win will heap further pressure on the under-fire Benitez as Chelsea – who are now 16 points behind table-toppers Manchester United – lose further ground this season.
They are only five points above the sixth-placed Arsenal and with Chelsea's controversial owner Roman Abramovich hell-bent on the club achieving European success, failure to qualify for the Champions League would be an unmitigated disaster for the team who won the competition last season.
What is in Chelsea's favour is their terrific record against Wigan.
Of the 14 top-flight meetings between the two sides, Chelsea have won 12 and only lost one.
The current European champions have never failed to score against the DW Stadium outfit and celebrated their 2009-10 title with an 8-0 success at Stamford Bridge, which included a Didier Drogba hat-trick.
Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard will return for the match from a three-game suspension but striker Demba Ba (broken nose) and Peter Cech (broken finger) are fresh injury concerns for Benitez's side.
David Luiz (ankle) and Oriol Romeu (knee) are also on the casualty list at Chelsea.
Wigan will hope to welcome back defensive duo Antolin Alcaraz (groin) and Emmerson Boyce (hamstring) for the match but Ben Watson (broken leg) is at least two weeks away.
Roberto Martinez's side have slipped into the relegation zone after a run of form that has seen them win just one of their last 12 Premier League matches.
Consecutive 2-2 draws against Stoke City and Southampton in recent weeks have been impressive – Wigan have had to come from behind on both occasions – but they need to go on a run of form if they want to kick away from the bottom three.
With Ba sidelined, Chelsea will rely on Fernando Torres up front and Wigan will hope he does not bring his shooting boots.
But with captain Frank Lampard and Juan Mata having scored 10 goals each, Chelsea should have too much firepower for their opponents.
Wigan's top scorer, Arouna Kone – who has bagged six goals – will be assessed by the club's medical staff before the match after returning from the African Cup of Nations earlier this week.