Thursday, 16 August 2018

Chelsea vs Arsenal Match Preview (18/08/18): The Joy of Six for the Blues

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The majority of football fans, no matter who they support or what level they play at, are prone to feelings of optimism and expectation before the new season begins.

Those can be extinguished within a tawdry 90 minute performance, of course, but sometimes the feelings of excitement are justified.

That was certainly the case for Chelsea supporters last week as we witnessed our boys hit the ground running in fine style at Huddersfield.

A goal from debutant Jorginho and further strikes from N’Golo Kante and Pedro were enough to secure the three points in Yorkshire, and there were no obvious signs of concern in the switch from 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 formation installed by new boss Maurizio Sarri.

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In an ominous warning for the rest of the Premier League, the Italian has said it could be up to three months before his new side are firing on all cylinders. When quizzed how long before the Blues were comfortable with his tactics, Sarri said: “It depends on me and the players. I don't know. Hopefully two months and not three.

“I have to know the characteristics of the players. I have to adapt myself to the characteristics of the championship and the players. Now I study my players.”

To give an indication of our progress, we are odds-on with the bookmakers to beat Arsenal in Saturday’s tea-time kick off. The Gunners were well beaten by Manchester City last time out, and with injury problems Sarri and his players will be hoping for the joy of six (points) by the close of play.

Chelsea Team News

There were nothing but positives to be taken from the 3-0 win at Huddersfield, with the new players shining and the new shape seemingly bedded in well.

Kepa seemed to be a failry solid and dependable figure in goal, communicating with the defenders in front of him (despite the language barrier) and pulling off a routine save from an Alex Pritchard free kick. The Spaniard can expect to be busier this week!

Jorginho is a player that Sarri knows well from his time at Napoli, and you can see why the new boss was so keen to bring his old charge in. He barely gave the ball away in a congested midfield area, and showed great composure to score from the penalty spot on his competitive debut. He and Kante could form a formidable pairing in the middle of the park.

And while they aren’t new players to the club, there was an obvious spring in the step of the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Ross Barkley and Pedro as they pulled on the blue shirt.

Azpilicueta was reborn in the right back role, given the freedom to attack as he pleased down the side; as an outstanding crosser, this is great to see compared to his conservative role as a third centre back last term.

Luiz came into the side and barely looked as if he had been away despite his lengthy absences last season, while another injury-ravaged Chelsea boy – Barkley – looked sharp, fit and focused.

And Pedro, so often deployed in a defensive context by Conte, appeared to have his attacking joie de vivre back.

With Cesc Fabregas the only absentee, as far as we aware, Sarri must decide whether to keep the same starting eleven that defeated the Terriers or bring back his rested World Cup stars.

You suspect that Eden Hazard might get the nod against the Gunners….

Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to Head

This is one of the most storied rivalries in English football, with the nominal ‘king of London’ title at stake as well as three massive points in the shake-up for a top four finish.

Our record against the Gunners, dating back to 1907 no less, reads W62 D57 L76, but of course we’re more interested in the modern battles.

And it’s here where our record is not good. We’ve only beaten Arsenal once in our last eight meetings, and haven’t defeated them at all in a six-match streak dating back to early 2017.

Let’s hope the Sarri effect can take hold on Saturday!

How the Match Will Be Won

Maybe the key narrative here is not about Chelsea but instead about Arsenal’s defensive injury woes.

Undoubtedly their best defender, Laurent Koscielny, is out until November at the earliest, while Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Carl Jenkinson are all on the treatment table.

Nacho Monreal may come back in, but this could be a back four unfamiliar with one another if the likes of Sokratis and Stephan Lichtsteiner alongside the error-prone Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi.

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They will be protected by fledgling defensive midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, a 19-year-old who was playing Ligue 2 football last season and who was exposed by Manchester City at times on Sunday.

The Gunners are good for a goal – Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey et al – but defensively they look weak. So, expect Chelsea to win an entertaining contest with plenty of goals.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Huddersfield Town vs Chelsea Match Preview (11/08/18): Bright New Era for the Blues Begins

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It’s a bright new dawn for Chelsea, with a new manager, a new shape and a couple of new players to admire.

Saturday’s trip to Huddersfield provides the Blues with their first opportunity to make a statement ahead of the new campaign; we are gunning for a top four finish this term.

Maurizio Sarri will bring a fresh, attack-minded impetus to proceedings, with his Napoli side averaging two goals per game last season.

Our pre-season results don’t hint at a goal glut to come – 1-1 draws with Inter Milan, Arsenal, 0-0 with Lyon and 0-2 to Manchester City in the Community Shield – but once our key men have recovered from their World Cup efforts, and are used to the new system, we can expect some free-flowing football from the boys in blue.

For now, getting a result in Yorkshire by any means would be the perfect start.

Chelsea Team News

As you are probably already aware, changes are afoot.

Thibaut Courtois has decided to move loser to his family in Madrid, with the shot stopper signing terms at Real. He will be replaced by Kepa, the 23-year-old from Athletic Bilbao who becomes the most expensive goalkeeper in history. No pressure, then!

As part of the Courtois deal, Mateo Kovacic joins us on loan. He is a classy operator in midfield, and he will become a key figure in Sarri’s enterprising style of football. But after helping Croatia to the World Cup final, he may be given some extra time off to reach peal fitness.

The same is true for N’Golo Kante, who returned to training late alongside Olivier Giroud, and so Jorginho, Sarri’s first big money signing, is expected to start in midfield. His dynamism and range of passing will give us an extra edge in the middle this term.

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The new manager has fielded his favoured 4-3-3 system during pre-season, and we expect him to do likewise here.

So Kepa comes straight in for his debut, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso playing as traditional full backs outside of, possibly, Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz.

Jorginho could be joined in midfield by Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley, who has featured prominently in the friendlies.

Up front, Alvaro Morata will presumably lead the line with, maybe, Pedro right and Eden Hazard left. But watch out for a cameo from Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has really caught the eye in pre-season.

Huddersfield Town vs Chelsea Head to Head

Last season’s pair of meetings between these sides was the first time they had met in the league since the 1980s!

It was a decent enough return for Chelsea, with a 3-1 win at the John Smith’s Stadium followed by a 1-1 stalemate at the Stamford Bridge.

All in all, Huddersfield haven’t beaten Chelsea in the league since 1963!

How the Match Will Be Won

What’s new about Huddersfield Town? Very little, in truth, with the on-loan trio of Terence Kongolo, Florent Hadergjonaj and Jonas Lossl all signing permanent terms and Ramadan Sobhi and Adama Diakhaby joining from the rather contrasting Stoke and Monaco.

So its evolution for the Terriers, rather than revolution, but is that enough? They finished just four points clear of the dropzone last season, and won just three games in the period from Christmas until the end of the season.

Opportunity knocks for Chelsea then, although they will be tested in different ways here than they have been in pre-season.

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Huddersfield will be aggressive, intense and in-your-face, and so Chelsea’s new boys will need to be up for the fight. It will be a culture shock for those from La Liga and the Serie A, that’s for sure!

But class generally shows through in the end, and in this new free-spirited Blues side will enjoy plenty of possession against the Terriers.

Freed of Antonio Conte’s shackles, back the boys in blue to get 2018/19 off to the perfect start.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Chelsea vs Manchester United Match Preview (19/05/18): Can Blues Get Their Hands On Some Much Needed Silverware?

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It is fair to say that our Premier League campaign fizzled out in something of a whimper with the 0-3 defeat a Newcastle on Sunday, and now we must recover quickly in order to have a chance of landing some much-needed silverware in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

We say ‘much needed’, but in a season in which we have gone from champions to the fifth best team in the land, a trophy is at least some vindication for the players’ efforts this term.

And it might just be enough to convince Antonio Conte to have another year at the helm….

The Italian was frustrated but calm in the aftermath of the defeat against the Magpies. “We deserved to lose because our start wasn't good and we suffered by losing every ball. Newcastle were more determined than us,” he said.

“We didn't lose our Champions League place today, we had chances in the last two games, but to finish the season this way is not good for anyone connected to the club.

“When you are at the end of the season, this performance can happen, but the first person to answer for this must be the coach. I wasn't able to convey that determination to my players.”

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Redemption could be just a matter of hours away. The players stand 90 minutes away from glory; a win helping everyone to get over what has been a disappointing campaign by our high standards.

A chance to get one over on Manchester United and Jose Mourinho? That’s always welcome, too!

Chelsea Team News

Fortunately, the one upside to the Newcastle game is that we have no new injuries to worry about ahead of our Wembley date.

David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater will miss out, but otherwise Conte has a full deck to choose from.

One of his toughest decisions will come in goal: he has used Willy Caballero as the cup keeper throughout the campaign, with the Argentine featuring in each of our six FA Cup dates thus far. Will Conte keep faith, or will he bring in Thibaut Courtois for the final?

The interesting team news coming from Manchester United is that both Romelu Lukaku ad Marouane Fellaini are struggling to be fit in time.

Their physical presence – Lukaku from the start, Fellaini from the bench – would have caused us a few problems, and now instead United will have to use either Alexis Sanchez or Marcus Rashford through the middle. That may change Conte’s team selection too, with the pacier Andreas Christensen arguably a better bet than the physicality of Gary Cahill.

We have gone with a 3-5-1-1 system lately and that presumably won’t change for the final, with Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas tasked with shutting down the middle of the park against United’s possible trio of Pogba, Matic and Lingard. We deployed the 3-4-3 shape at Old Trafford in February and went down 1-2, so perhaps discretion will be the better part of valour at Wembley.

Chelsea vs Manchester United Head to Head

Chelsea and Manchester United have met on an incredible 179 occasions, with the first encounter dating back to 1905! That match ended 0-0, so let’s hope for something rather more exciting 113 years later….

We have, by and large, enjoyed the upper hand of the head-to-heads, with a run of W8 D5 L2 dating back to Halloween 2012. Worryingly, United have won two of their last three against us with Mourinho at the helm, although they both came at Old Trafford.

We have enjoyed recent battles in major cup finals, too. You may recall Didier Drogba notching a winner for us in the FA Cup final of 2007 against United; the first to be played at the new Wembley.

But the Red Devils would have their revenge a year later when they bested us in the Champions League final.

How the Match Will Be Won

Cup finals are all about moments: moments of magic, moments of calamity, moments of courage.

And so all conventional logic goes out of the window on these showpiece occasions….it's simply about who can handle the pressure better.

It is a concern that we lost in last season’s FA Cup final, but at least that gives the players a chance to redeem themselves 12 months later. Coming at the end of a title-winning campaign, the final was perhaps one game too far.

United look set to be without Lukaku, Martial and Fellaini, and that hampers the attacking potential of a side known for conservatism and a defensive outlook already. Knowing Mourinho as we do, he will look to strangle the game and nick a goal on the counter attack or from a set piece.

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The one thing we can say about United is that they are hard to beat, but we have players like Hazard, Fabregas and Giroud who can break down the door and create a moment of magic. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will look to isolate themselves against the United full backs and sling crosses into the Frenchman.

This particular edition of the FA Cup final, you fancy, will be won in a single moment of brilliance in an otherwise fraught battle of ‘chess with a ball’. Let’s hope that it’s the Blues that come out on top.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Match Preview (13/05/18): Expect Blues to Sign Off on a High

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We had, in truth, left ourselves with too much to do in the race for fourth place, but even so we can feel slightly disappointed with our efforts in the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield on Wednesday.

Our aim was simple: to win our remaining matches and force Spurs and Liverpool to win theirs too.

And so the stalemate with the Terriers was a huge disappointment as it gifted the spoils to our rivals. Okay, so we can still technically finish fourth, but we need Liverpool to lose at home to Brighton and the chances of that are rather slim.

It’s all the more frustrating because we had ample chances to beat Huddersfield. Antonio Rudiger had a couple of great opportunities to score, while Andreas Christensen was denied by a fantastic save from the Terriers’ keeper Jonas Lossl.

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The introduction of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud, surprisingly benched, after an hour did little to change the course of the game, and in the end proceedings fizzled out despite our dominance.

As the Huddersfield players and coaching staff celebrated with their fans, we were left to reflect upon a fairly mediocre campaign at Stamford Bridge which saw us take 37 points from a possible 57.

Lifting the FA Cup would be a welcome finale to a season beset by problems, and if it is to be Antonio Conte’s swansong as manager then it would be a fitting one.

Of course, there is one more Premier League engagement to take care of: a trip to a Newcastle side who have lost four on the spin. With some of these Chelsea boys playing for their places in that FA Cup final, we can expect a committed performance in what is otherwise something of a dead rubber.

Chelsea Team News

Conte made several changes for the visit of Huddersfield, with Andreas Christensen, Davide Zappacosta, Willian, Pedro and Alvaro Morata all coming in. Willy Caballero started in goal as Thibaut Courtois was struggling with a back injury.

It would be churlish to suggest that any of them advanced their hopes of making the Wembley starting line-up, and as such we would expect the strongest available Chelsea eleven to line up against Newcastle in a dress rehearsal for the final.

So Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud come back in, the shape is restored to the 3-5-1-1 that has worked so well recently, and we return home from the north east with three points that won’t affect our final league position but will restore some confidence ahead of the biggest game of our season next week.

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is a storied fixture that dates back more than a century, and it’s one which we have traditionally enjoyed the upper hand in with 71 wins to Newcastle’s 52 (and 39 draws).

We are unbeaten in five against the Magpies with that run including four victories, although it should be noted that all of those came at Stamford Bridge. As far as our efforts at St James’ Park are concerned, we are actually without a win in four (W0 D1 L3).

Worries about that can be assuaged somewhat by our matches with them this term, which have yielded comfortable 3-0 and 3-1 victories in the FA Cup and in the league.

How the Match Will Be Won

This Newcastle set-up is actually quite similar to that deployed by Leicester City in their title-winning campaign of 2015/16.

They will play a rigid four at the back, with Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey patrolling in front. Shelvey’s role is particularly important as he is looked upon to spring long balls into the channels for Dwight Gayle to chase, in a partnership akin to that of Drinkwater-Vardy for the Foxes.

Matt Ritchie and Kenedy will provide the width, while Ayoze Perez provides support to Gayle as well as operating a key role defensively in closing down the opposition’s playmaker.

It’s a strategy that has worked well for them this term, by and large, despite their four-game losing streak of late.

So how do you combat it? Well, from a defensive perspective we have a sweeper to tidy up the loose balls played into the channels, and clearly the channel-running approach works better against two centre backs than three, so already we are well placed to deal with the Magpies’ attacking forays.

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Going forward, the key man – as ever – will be Eden Hazard. He can drop into the spaces between Newcastle’s defence and midfield and cause havoc in ‘the pocket’. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will be looking to hit the by-line and float in crosses for Giroud to attack as well.

It could be a low scoring affair – Newcastle have scored one goal in 360 minutes of football – but Chelsea have the quality and the shape to see off the Magpies on Sunday.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Chelsea vs Huddersfield Match Preview (09/05/18): Blues to Bite Back Against the Terriers

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We are showing a very nice sense of momentum at the moment, and with two games in the space of four days that should come in very handy.

The 1-0 win over Liverpool on Sunday was remarkable in that it was wholly unremarkable as a game of football; not what we’ve come to expect from the Merseysiders this term. They may have dominated possession but we created the better chances, and Olivier Giroud’s header was just reward for our endeavour.

Indeed, had Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko made the best of their openings we could have been 3-0 up at half time.

Liverpool were experiencing something of a hangover after their Champions League victory, but no credit should be taken away from the Blues in what was another committed, high quality performance. Where has this outfit been all season?

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“Today was a must-win game against a really good team, but it was a good game and a great show of will to keep our hope of finishing in the top four alive,” Antonio Conte said afterwards. “I'm very happy for the players and the fans. They deserve this type of game and this win.

“Our target is to finish the season in the best possible way and to give the best satisfaction to all the fans. I think in spite of the difficult season we are still alive and are fighting until the end.”

Conte’s words confirm what the recent performances have alluded to: the Blues have not given up on fourth place just yet. It’s a longshot of course given the mathematical advantage held by Liverpool and Tottenham, but as the Italian suggested all we can do is win our games and see what happens.

And that starts with the visit of Huddersfield on Wednesday….

Chelsea Team News

It seems that the switch to 3-5-1-1 has a sense of permanence to it, rather than being a mere experiment, with Olivier Giroud once again getting the nod up front with Eden Hazard playing in behind.

And again, it worked like a treat against Liverpool; shutting down the middle of the pitch and minimising the space available to their roaming wingers Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.

The emphasis will be more on us to attack against the Terriers on Wednesday, but even so you suspect Conte won’t change anything – although Willian will be given a brief to stay loose and ready to go on the Blues bench should a reshuffle be required.

There’s no immediate concerns regarding the starting eleven either. Alvaro Morata has picked up a knock but should be fit to take his place on the bench, while the seasons of David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater appear to be over.

Chelsea vs Huddersfield Head to Head

December’s league meeting between these two teams was the first in more than 20 years, with goals from Bakayoko, Willian and Pedro enough to seal a 3-1 victory.

Other than that there have been the occasional cup fixture between the sides, with Chelsea twice triumphing in the FA Cup and falling to defeat in the League Cup back in 1999.

Our meetings in the 1920s and 30s were rather more frequent, and overall we enjoy a 29-27 lead over the Terriers, with just nine draws.

How the Match Will Be Won

There is so much at stake for Huddersfield in this match, and they are in grave danger of being sucked into the relegation battle unless they pick up at least a point at the Bridge on Wednesday.

They set up a defensive wall at Manchester City on Sunday – you can hardly blame them for that, and came away with a precious point from a 0-0 draw. You wonder if they will erect something similar on Wednesday evening.

They will play with five at the back, the tenacious duo of Aaron Mooy and Alex Pritchard in midfield and the sizeable Steve Mounie in attack. But the pervading sense is that the Terriers won’t exactly be going gung ho for all three points.

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And so we can expect plenty of time on the ball and the opportunity to carve out chances at our own pace; it will be interesting to see how the players react to that.

Given that Huddersfield will line up with three physical centre backs, the opportunity to feed crosses into Olivier Giroud may be in short supply.

So the more nuanced probing of Hazard and Fabregas will be key, and it may be that the odd moment of magic is required to break down this Terriers rearguard.

But our boys are full of confidence at the moment, and will surely fancy the job.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Chelsea vs Liverpool Match Preview (06/05/18): Blues to Cash In On Hungover Reds?

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We are doing everything in our power to secure a Champions League spot, and while the likelihood is that Spurs – who are five points clear with just three games to go – are the most likely to nab fourth place, we at least have to hold up our end of the bargain by keeping the pressure on.

And three wins on the spin does exactly that. Our latest victims were Swansea in a nip-and-tuck contest that arguably could have gone either way, but Cesc Fabregas’ early goal was ultimately enough to separate the sides.

It was our third consecutive away win – the first time since September we’ve managed that feat, and the game marked the continued resurgence of Eden Hazard, who looks somewhere close to his best at the minute. He was given a free role behind Olivier Giroud and ahead of a midfield trio of Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko, and it seemed to bring the best out of the Belgian, who caused havoc in the Swans backline and assisted Fabregas’ winner.

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“We got three points and it was very important for us if we wanted to achieve Champions League football,” Antonio Conte said in his post-match interview. “The situation is not in our hands, but the only way to put a bit of pressure on Tottenham is to get three points in every game.

“You know very well football is not simple.”

We can have plenty of confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash with Liverpool then, who may well be experiencing a headache after the colossal celebrations that greeted their Champions League semi-final win over Roma on Wednesday.

With injuries in midfield, the possibility of their minds being elsewhere and less than four days to recover from their trip to Italy, the Reds may well be ripe for the picking.

Chelsea Team News

It’s a case of same old, same old for Conte, with David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater and Ethan Ampadu still on the sidelines.

Indeed, the Italian has just two decisions to make: does he bring Marcos Alonso back in at left wing back after his suspension? Emerson has done a fine job as understudy, so that is a conundrum for Conte to solve.

And he must also decide whether to stick with the 3-5-1-1 shape he has deployed against elite opposition this term (and Swansea), or return to his favoured 3-4-3 set-up. Given the quality of the opposition, we would suggest the latter might be the smart choice.

Chelsea vs Liverpool Head to Head

There have been more than 175 meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool dating back to Christmas Day, 1907!

Historically Liverpool have had the upper hand with 77 wins to 61 (44 draws), and that’s a theme which has largely been extended to the modern era.

Chelsea are without a win in six against the Reds, a run which dates back to January 2015. That includes a trio of win-less outings at Stamford Bridge (W0 D1 L2)

The reverse fixture ended in a 1-1 back in November, with Willian’s late equaliser cancelling out Mo Salah’s opener.

How the Match Will Be Won

Anyone that has paid even a passing interest in English football this season will know that Liverpool have been in outstanding form from an attacking perspective this term.

But there are certain frailties defensively, particularly at centre half, and we have seen Dejan Lovren bullied by physical strikers like Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku this season. It will be interesting to see if Giroud can have a field day against the Croatian.

The Reds will sit back in numbers and then counter attack at pace, which is when they are at their most dangerous. Their most obvious threat comes in wide areas, with Salah and Sadio Mane their main outlet. Both are wide men who like to cut inside on their stronger foot, and so a Chelsea midfield three could help to fill those pockets of space as the Egyptian and the Senegal international drift inside.

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With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana injured, minimal threat will come from the middle of the park.

We’re hoping that Giroud can isolate himself against Lovren and bully the defender, with Eden Hazard buzzing around him to feed on the scraps. Our wing backs will need to have had their Weetabix too, playing a key role in attack (landing crosses on the bone of Giroud) and defence (minimising the space available to Salah and Mane).

It’s a game of tactical contrasts, and that should make for a fascinating encounter at the Bridge on Sunday.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Swansea vs Chelsea Match Preview (28/04/18): Blues to Keep Pressure on Spurs in Race for Fourth

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There is a chance of redemption for Chelsea this term after Sunday’s 2-0 win over Southampton booked our spot in the FA Cup final.

Getting your hands on some silverware is always nice, and with aspirations of finishing fourth in the Premier League being filed under possible rather than probable, winning the FA Cup may also prove to be the perfect swansong for Antonio Conte as Chelsea manager.

It’s been fairly obvious that the Italian has been unhappy in London for several months now, and with media speculation intensifying it is unlikely that he will be at the helm at the start of next season.

Indeed, with Massimiliano Allegri tipped to join Arsenal from Juventus, it’s quite possible that Conte may find himself back in Turin this summer.

We don’t like to dignify mere rumour and tittle-tattle usually, but if rumours of Conte leaving the club are true then at least he has one last chance to get one over on his old nemesis, Jose Mourinho, with the Blues meeting Manchester United in that May 19 final.

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It was courtesy of a fine goal from Olivier Giroud – how good has he been recently by the way!? – that we booked our Wembley date at the expense of Southampton. The Frenchman weaved his way through the Saints’ defence to fire home and break the Saints’ hearts once more; he was the catalyst for our 3-2 win on the south coast a couple of weeks ago after trailing 1-2.

Alvaro Morata came off the substitutes bench to net a second and secure a comfortable 2-0 win for the Blues.

Attention turns back to the Premier League this week with Saturday’s tea-time trip to Swansea. We can still finish fourth, even if the chances are slim, and so we must continue to accumulate points in the hope that Spurs slip up in the last few weeks of the campaign – it wouldn’t be the first time….

Chelsea Team News

It would seem that the experiment with two strikers has been jettisoned, and so you would expect the in-form Giroud to lead the line ahead of Morata on Saturday.

There’s no obvious reason to rest players, so Eden Hazard and Willian will surely start along with N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas and Victor Moses. Emerson will presumably deputise for Marcos Alonso once more.

Thibaut Courtois returns between the sticks, and so the only real decision Conte has to make is between Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen at centre back. For now, it appears the Englishman has the Italian’s support.

Swansea vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea have a reliably good record against the Swans, losing just one Premier League game against them since the Welsh side reached the top flight in 2011.

That equates to a formline of W8 D4 L1 in league outings since, and that should give Conte something to be cheerful about.

We won the reverse fixture 1-0 back in November courtesy of Antonio Rudiger’s goal, with Conte sent to the stands after a particular fractious afternoon.

How the Match Will Be Won

Swansea have become much more resolute under Carlos Carvajal, and a formline of W4 D5 L4 since the start of 2018 confirms that they are tough to beat even if they are not prolific winners.

The concern for the Swans is that they have been victorious just once in seven attempts, and that has dragged them back into the relegation mire. The pressure is firmly on them come Saturday.
That should lead to a fraught and nervy atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium, and that is the perfect setting for a Chelsea smash-and-grab raid.

The Swans are the joint-lowest scorers in the Premier League this term, and that mans that we can expect to have plenty of the ball on Saturday. The Welsh side don’t press high or assert themselves on the game – indeed, they enjoyed just 17% possession of the ball against Manchester City last time out. They are a passive, counter-punching outfit….and that suits us down to the ground.

Swansea will actually match us man for man too, with three centre halves, wing backs, two central midfield players and then a couple of inverted wide men supporting a lone striker. And so this will be a game of individual battles; but who will win the war?

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The physical confrontation between Giroud and Alfie Mawson will be one to behold for fans of old-fashioned clashes between rugged strikers and defenders, but it’s actually Eden Hazard and Willian who interest us the most.

That dynamic duo can play wide of Swansea’s midfield pair and force the Swans’ centre halves out of position; that will leave plenty of space in behind.

Unless the Welsh side surprise with their tactics and attacking demeanour, this match surely has a Chelsea victory writ large.