Writer: Barry Worthington
Date:Thursday August 19 2010
With Wigan Athletic entertaining Chelsea this weekend it`s a pleasure for yours truly to be welcoming back to Vital Towers our old friend, Chelsea fan and Vital Chelsea editor, Merlin for a chat, a brew and one or two chocolate hobnobs.
worbo - Howdy Merlin, the last time we met was just before the final game of last season, I`d sooner forget the score-line but Chelsea not only won the game but also the Premier League title that day, you must love playing us?
Merlin - Certainly at home but not so much away from home, last May was surreal, I never thought I`d see the day we`d silence the critics, smash 103 Premier League goals and do the Double, absolutely fantastic although I did feel for you guys when goals 6, 7 and 8 went in!
worbo - We`ve had a relatively good preseason, made some good signings then hit the ground with a bump last Saturday against Blackpool whilst you lot started were you left off with the demolition of West Brom.
How`s preseason been for you, any exciting signings to set the pulse racing ahead of the new campaign?
Merlin - Our pre-season was a mixed bag you might say. We beat Crystal Palace but then lost four on the bounce to Ajax, Eintracht Frankfurt, Hamburg and United in the Community Shield. Although to be fair we did play a lot of our youngsters as the majority of the squad were still recovering from World Cup duty.
As for signings, we`re all excited about the Brazilian chap - Ramires, he may even make his debut on Saturday. Another we`ve taken on board is Yossi Benayoun, although he`ll be more of a squad player, plus we`ve also welcomed back Michael Essien after a long injury spell. We`ve lost quite a few though with Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Deco, Juliano Belletti and Ricardo Carvalho shuffling out through the exit door.
worbo - Joe Cole, what happened there? Surely he was worth another contract, were you surprised that he left and did it disappoint you or was his time up at Stamford Bridge in your opinion?
Merlin - It did in some ways. There`s no doubting he`s a good footballer but the word on the street was he wanted too high a salary and with the club gearing towards being self sufficient something had to give. Cole missed large periods of the last two seasons with a bad knee injury but, as they do, continued to pick up an enormous weekly salary. Some feel he should have shown a little gratitude, taken what was on offer and knuckled down to prove his worth again, something Essien did without flinching!
worbo - My hopes for the Latics this season is mid-table mediocrity, after last week 17th will do!!
I know down in West London you tend to aim a little higher, what will be the Chelsea priority this season do you think? Champions League or Premier League?
Merlin - I`d just love to win the Champions League; it`d mean so much, especially after the hurt of Moscow when the post was all that deprived us of glory. But the Premier League represents so much as well, champions of your own country, the best in the land over 38 games, as opposed to enjoying the luck of the draw, some dodgy refereeing decisions and overcoming UEFA`s pledge to hinder English clubs participating in the competition but turn a blind eye to Spanish financial strife.
worbo - We have been linked with a loan move for Franco Di Santo once this games out of the way, I know he was at Blackburn last season but to be honest we don`t pay much attention to them, what`s he like and does he have potential?
Merlin - He had potential but seems to have drifted slightly. He was out-shone in pre-season by Daniel Sturridge and looked as if the spell at Blackburn has stunted his development. I believe he`s not even been given a squad number this year so the future doesn`t look rosy. Could his career be put back on track? I honestly wouldn`t like to say!
worbo - We have had a few well documented problems with Charles N`Zogbia this past week, but hopefully it`s all sorted and he will be in the team for Saturday, he is without doubt our most creative player and carries the biggest threat we`ve got, with Charlie in we have half a chance.
I know Chelsea have creative players throughout, for me though Florent Malouda is an exceptional talent and one that I think we should be very wary of, who do you feel carries the biggest threat in the Chelsea side?
Merlin - Two words - Didier Drogba! Having only been off the operating table less than two weeks after a hernia operation, he strut his stuff last Saturday and scored a hat trick. He reckons he`s playing pain free for the first time in six years, so beware - he`s on a roll with consecutive hat-tricks (Wigan and West Brom), he`s looking for three on the trot!
worbo - Right then prediction time, we might have beaten you last season at the DW Stadium but this time round I think you will be a little more aware of us, also we are off the back of a truly awful performance so confidence in the Latics camp is probably low, having said that we do tend to respond well so with that in mind I am going for a 2-2 draw.
How do you see it Merlin?
Merlin - As long as we can exorcise the ghost of last season and put that horrible 3-1 defeat to bed with any sort of win I`ll be happy! Putting my head above the parapet I`ll go 3-1 to Chelsea this time around.
worbo - Thanks again for popping round for a chat Merlin, good luck for the season and we`ll catch up again in April
Catch my return interview over on Vital Chelsea
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Date:Thursday August 19 2010
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