Drogba eyes triple hat-trick
London - Didier Drogba will have ambitions of a third successive Premier League hat-trick when Chelsea visit Wigan, the team they routed 8-0 to win the title on the final day of last season.
The free-scoring champions opened the defence of their crown with a 6-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion last weekend to go top of the table, with Ivory Coast striker Drogba scoring three goals to build on the 29 he ended last season with.
Wigan began this season with a humbling 4-0 home loss to newly promoted Blackpool but beat Chelsea 3-1 at the DW Stadium last September in one of the shock results of the campaign. They ended Chelsea's run of seven straight victories and was the first defeat of manager Carlo Ancelotti's reign.
"It is always hard to play at Wigan," Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka said. "It is going to be maybe even harder because they lost 4-0 there in their game last weekend.
"We have to come back with three points and also we have to play our game and to do the same as last week."
Anelka's favoured position is as a striker but with Drogba showing ominous early form, the Frenchman is having to settle for a place on the right wing in Ancelotti's 4-3-3 formation.
Drogba was the top scorer in the Premier League last season and netted a 23-minute hat-trick against West Brom to show he is one of the favourites to top the goalscoring charts this season, too.
The powerful striker has said he is playing with more freedom after recovering from surgery to cure a nagging hernia injury that has affected him for the past six years. And his treble last weekend came three months after the hat trick he scored against Wigan in the championship-clinching win at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are in fine form going forward but also have been tight at the back, having gone 406 minutes without conceding a league goal.
Manchester United are again expected to be Chelsea's main challenger for the title but will have to do without Rio Ferdinand for another five weeks as the England captain recovers from medial ligament damage suffered just before the World Cup.
"We are still thinking the end of September for Rio," United manager Alex Ferguson said Friday. "It was a medial ligament problem rather than a cruciate, so the recovery time is exactly what we thought."
Midfielder Anderson, who is back in training after recovering from a cruciate ligament injury sustained in February, also will be absent when United plays Fulham away on Sunday, but Ferguson said the Brazil international is expected to return to first-team action at the start of next month.
United began the season with a 3-0 home win over Newcastle but have lost to Fulham at Craven Cottage the last two seasons, conceding five goals and not scoring a goal.
Manchester City and Liverpool both won 1-0 in Europa League playoff first legs on Thursday and meet at Eastlands on Monday looking to claim their first victories in the league this season, after opening-weekend draws.
City manager Roberto Mancini completed his summer signing spree with the capture of James Milner from Aston Villa on Wednesday for a reported 26 million pounds ($40.6 million) and the England midfielder could make his debut against Liverpool.
Italy forward Mario Balotelli, who made a dream debut for City by coming off the bench to score the winner in the 1-0 victory over FC Timisoara on Thursday, also could start.
Liverpool are without the suspended Joe Cole, who compounded his sending-off in the 1-1 draw against Arsenal on his league debut by missing a penalty in the club's 1-0 win at home to Trabzonspor in the Europa League.
On Saturday, Arsenal host Blackpool, Birmingham are at home to Blackburn, Wolverhampton will go to Everton, West Brom host Sunderland and Tottenham travel to Stoke. Newcastle are at home to Aston Villa in Sunday's other match.