Friday 30 September 2016

Hull City v Chelsea Match Preview (01/10/16): Expect Blues to Bounce Back in Style

One point, two defeats, three goals scored, seven conceded – that’s how Chelsea are shaping up in their last three Premier League outings following a 0-3 dismantling courtesy of Arsenal. Quite frankly, it’s not good enough.

It’s always easy to point figures in these situations of course, although sometimes a collective acknowledgement of underperformance is required. Yes, defensively we have been shambolic at best in recent weeks, but that mindset begins from the front to the back. Two of Arsenal’s goals last week were partly caused by a lack of application in midfield in breaking attacks down, and so numbers 1-11 should be looking at themselves in the mirror and asking how they can do better.

It’s early days of course and dropped points aren’t the end of the world right now, but ironing out some fairly schoolboy mistakes has to be a priority for Antonio Conte and his team.

There is some good news however: Hull City should provide some respite this week. After back-to-back matches with Arsenal and Liverpool – two teams we should be matching, in truth – at least we can rely on a Hull side in steady decline at the moment to ease the pressure on our stricken backline. Surely three points await for the lads?

Chelsea Team News

Clearly we have defensive issues at the moment, and the return of John Terry should help to solve those. He may slot in at centre half as a straight swap for Gary Cahill, who has been at fault for a couple of goals recently, or Conte may instead opt to play his preferred 3-5-2 formation with Terry and either Cahill or Branislav Ivanovic alongside David Luiz in the three.

This is how we could line up against Hull City:

It’s just an idea of course, but no doubt plenty of Blues fans are crying out for Conte to shake up what has become a rather stale-looking side in the past few weeks. This system would add defensive solidity without blunting the attack, with Michy Batshuayi let off the leash from the start (taking some of the pressure off Diego Costa) and allowing Eden Hazard to roam in a free role. It would be harsh on Willian, the main casualty of a change in shape, but something must be done to get the campaign back on track.

Hull will be without the suspended Ahmed Elmohamady, and with Michael Dawson and Alex Bruce both still inured it means that Jake Livermore will continue at centre half. He is not a natural defender by any means, so pairing Costa and Batshuayi up top will put extra pressure on his defensive capabilities.

Hull vs Chelsea Head-to-Head

Hull City have bobbed in and out of the English top flight over the past few decades, so their head-to-head record with the Blues is rather patchy.

The good news is that in the 44 matches they have played, Chelsea have had the upper hand with 30 wins (ten draws and four defeats). Hull last defeated us way back in 1988, and in the 12 matches played since then our record reads W10 D2 L0. That bodes very nicely indeed.

How the Match Will Be Won

First things first….let’s defend better, for starters! Conceding seven in three is wholly unacceptable, and while pinning the blame on individuals isn’t helpful let’s hope that Conte has been working on a winning formula to resolve that. Whether Terry comes in as a straight replacement for Cahill, or the formation is re-jigged entirely, let’s just get the basics right.

If we can keep a clean sheet here we should be laughing. Hull have conceded nine in their last two starts, are without a recognised right back due to Elmohamady’s red card last week and in Jake Livermore are lacking a defensive general in the form of a Michael Dawson, who is still not 100% fit.

So we should have plenty of chances….but how do you break this Hull side down? Here is how they typically line up:

It is a necessarily defensive line up, and as you can see from the central midfield three there is no real onus on getting forward. The task of supporting Abel Hernandez will fall to the in-form Robert Snodgrass and Diomande, which actually lends itself to playing the 3-5-2 system: our wing backs can track them inside, or let them run into the half back spaces monitored by N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic. Either way, there will be plenty of bodies in place to repel the Tigers.

In an attacking sense, Hazard is likely to be well patrolled by any number of Hull players, and so there will be a need to play wider and stretch the game. Both Azpilicueta and Alonso are handy going forward, and they could theoretically e swinging balls into the box for Costa and Batshuayi to attack against Livermore and Davies. Our money is on the Blue boys to win that particular duel, and to bring the three points back to London.

Thursday 22 September 2016

Arsenal v Chelsea Match Preview (24/9/16): Expect Goals at the Emirates

After all of the optimism, the excitement and the passion, Friday night’s defeat to Liverpool was a real hammer blow and burst the blue bubble that was just threatening to take flight under Antonio Conte’s studious management.

In fairness, Jordan Henderson’s wonder goal deserved to win any game, but the complete absence of any marking for Dejan Lovren’s opener was reminiscent of Chelsea circa 2015/16 under Jose; and that’s a dark place we really don’t want to go back to.

Diego Costa managed to pull one back – his fourth in five Premier League games, incidentally – but it was all too little, too late and in truth a laboured showing from the lads deserved no reward. The match stats, displayed below, don’t tell the real story here:

Into Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie with Leicester we went, not really knowing what to expect. Marcos Alonso was handed his debut, while the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Victor Moses and Pedro were given an opportunity to impress. Fabregas and Moses, in particular, did not disappoint.

But it was defensively, yet again, where we floundered. Both of Leicester’s goals could have been avoided with slicker defending, and in truth it was only our incisive attacking play that gave the scoreline any respectability in the first 90 minutes.

The performance of Moses was very pleasing – he looked pacey and dangerous on the right flank, but it was Fabregas who deservedly took the Man of the Match honours with a brace of goals, an assist and some outstanding medium-range passing. Conte was pleased with what he saw:

"I am pleased for Cesc because he played a good game, he showed me great commitment in the training sessions. I am satisfied when I see this behaviour."

It will be interesting to see how we get on against an Arsenal side in a state of flux on Saturday evening.

Team News

As good a place as any to start with the team news for this encounter across the capital with Arsenal is Fabregas: Conte must surely be considering bringing in the former Gunners man at the expense of Nemanja Matic, who for the past 12 months or so really has been off his game.

Otherwise it is likely to be as you were, with John Terry still missing with a foot injury and Marcos Alonso not quite doing enough to force his way into the reckoning in midweek.


As two titans of the English game, it is no surprise to learn that Chelsea and Arsenal have met a whopping 165 times in the past. Arsenal have the upper hand with 62 wins to 55, but what we’re interested in is the more recent clashes.

In the past five seasons it has been honours even: eight wins for Chelsea, eight wins for Arsenal, and three draws. But what we really like is our record at the Emirates Stadium: W6 D4 L2. That’s very handy indeed.

How the Match Will Be Won

The idea against Arsenal might have to be outscoring them: their defending is almost as bad as ours! They have conceded in four of their five matches in the Premier League so far, and in the one they didn’t they probably should have….how Leicester didn’t get a penalty for this (7:14) is anybody’s guess:

Interestingly, that could be a ploy that Chelsea utilise. Hector Bellerin is the modern kind of defender who is better at attacking than he is his ‘day job’, and a tricky Eden Hazard should have plenty of joy against him if he can stay wide on the left flank and isolate himself against the Spaniard.

It will be good to see Costa play on the shoulder of Arsenal’s new boy Shkodran Mustafi too. He’s still getting adjusted to life in the Premier League after joining from Valencia, and some quick balls into the channel for Costa to chase could yield dividends.

Defensively, it depends on whether Arsene Wenger decides to play Olivier Giroud through the middle or Alexis Sanchez. If Giroud is up top then we can play as normal; just stop the Arsenal wingers getting to the byline and hurling crosses into the box.

If Sanchez gets the nod, he will drift into pockets of space, and it will take discipline from Luiz and Cahill not to follow him. Defending deep will be crucial, and it will also be important for one of our midfielders – probably Oscar – standing on Cazorla or Xhaka (whoever starts), as they will act like a quarter back for all Gunners’ attacks. It might be wise for Costa to drop off slightly too.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Chelsea v Liverpool Match Preview (16/9/16): Blues Could Edge High-Scoring Thriller

Two minutes of madness have cost Chelsea their 100% record in the Premier League: that was all it took for Swansea to score the two goals that condemned the Blues to two points dropped on Sunday.

The less said about Leroy Fer’s blatant foul on Gary Cahill in the build up to the second goal the better, nor the chances that we missed, but our worst enemy in this match was complacency: thinking the deal was done before hands were shook.

Hopefully Sunday’s debacle will act as a wake-up call, because we’ll need it against a vibrant Liverpool side come Friday night at the Bridge.

As the BBC pointed out in their excellent analysis, Chelsea have now earned five points solely from goals scored in the last ten minutes, and while better late than never is a fair cop it would be better for our hearts and blood pressure if the boys could get the job done earlier in proceedings, thank you very much.

Team News

The biggest headache for Chelsea is that John Terry will miss the match with a foot injury sustained in Wales. That would suggest that David Luiz is set to come into the side, and while he has his critics it is quite possible that the Brazilian’s presence will be a benefit to us.

Liverpool’s main attackers – Roberto Firmino is likely to play through the middle – Daniel Sturridge and Sadio Mane are all pacey, tricky and with quick feet, and as we know sometimes that can be a problem for Terry to defend against. Luiz has a lower centre of gravity, a greater turn of pace and is a sound reader of the game, and if, as he assures us, the old rash mistakes have been eliminated from his game, then there is no need to fear the return of Sideshow David.

Other than that Antonio Conte has a full and fit personnel to call upon, and so he won’t change anything from the Swansea game – apart from asking his players to concentrate for 90 minutes, of course.

Liverpool are slightly harder to pin down in terms of team selection, with Philippe Coutinho back and vying for a place in the starting eleven. Roberto Firmino scored a brace last time out so he will surely keep his place, while Sadio Mane ripped us to shreds at the Bridge last season for Southampton, so he is set to be kept in the side to cause Cesar Azpilicueta a few problems. That means that Daniel Sturridge is set to miss out.

Dejan Lovren looks set to be fit, so he will replace Lucas at centre half, with the Brazilian probably moving forward to form a midfield shield alongside Jordan Henderson, James Milner will continue in his new left back role.

Head to Head

These two teams have met an astonishing 164 times dating back more than a century, and historically it is the Reds that have had the upper hand and won 70, with the Blues back on 56 and 38 draws.

What is helping us to sleep at night however is that Chelsea’s contemporary record against Liverpool is outstanding: since the 2012/13 season kicked off, our record reads W3 D6 L1.

If we extend that to matches played at the Bridge then again it is Chelsea in the ascendancy with two wins, three draws and a loss in our last six.

How the Match Will Be Won

Trying to predict how Liverpool will fare is bit of a mug’s game at the moment – they’ve scored four past both Leicester and Arsenal, held Tottenham to a respectable draw and somehow conspired to lost to Burnley.

The Blues have been so comfortable at the Bridge so far, but we will need to be on top of our game here to come away with three points. We may need to sacrifice possession at times to spring them on the break – that’s what Burnley did so well – and again we may need to score two or more goals to bag the win.

Azpilicueta has an important job to do in shackling Sadio Mane, and if he can do that then we will certainly be in prime position. N’Golo Kante will snuff out Adam Lallana – we’re confident of that – while on Liverpool’s left flank both Coutinho and Milner are right footed and so will naturally cut back inside and into traffic.

The key battle could well be Eden Hazard vs Nathaniel Clyne. The Belgian didn’t have his best of games against Swansea, but he will surely fancy the job against Clyne who has a habit of diving into tackles in and around the penalty area. If Hazard can win cheap free kicks around the penalty area then this could well be a decent vantage point from which to gain an advantage.

It feels like a hug game in the context of the campaign, so let’s get behind the lads on Friday night and grab those all- important three points.

Friday 9 September 2016

Swansea v Chelsea Match Preview (11/9/16): Expect Another Three Points Against Vulnerable Swans

It seems like an eternity ago now due to the international break, but Chelsea’s 3-0 romp over Burnley last time out was their most complete performance this season.

Goals from Eden Hazard, Willian and Victor Moses got the job done, and remember this was the Blues’ first clean sheet at Stamford Bridge in 13 games. With 60% possession, ten shots on target and nine corners, the margin of victory could have been even greater.

Onto this week then and Super Sunday, where we travel west to take on Swansea in a 4pm kick off. The Swans have tapered off since their opening day win over Burnley, as defeats to Hull and Leicester suggest. They offered little in attack, and had Lukas Fabiański to thank for saving the penalty that kept the scoreline down to just 1-2.

Historically Chelsea have enjoyed themselves in this part of Wales, so can they continue their 100% start to the campaign on Sunday?

Team News

Antonio Conte will be delighted that his squad reported back fit and healthy from the international break, and that gives him a full complement to choose from with the additions of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso, of course.

Conte confirmed this week that he sees Luiz as a centre back, rather than midfielder, so whether his introduction will facilitate a change of shape remains to be seen. But what is great for the Italian is that he now has two options:

In the first instance Conte will probably persevere with Plan A, the 4-2-3-1 system on the left above, but don’t be surprised if a variation of the 3-5-2 on the right become a factor later in the season.

Head to Head

Swansea and Chelsea have only met twelve times in their respective histories, and it is the Blues that have prospered most with six wins to two (four draws).

Our best spell came from April 2013 to January 2015 when we recorded five straight wins, although last season was something of a nadir as a 2-2 draw at the Bridge was backed by a 0-1 defeat in Wales back in April.

Ironically that was the first time that Swansea had beaten the Blues in six attempts on Welsh soil, with two wins in our favour and three draws previously.

How the Match Will Be Won

The beauty of this match for Chelsea is that Swansea’s style of play suits us rather nicely. From an attacking perspective, Fernando Llorente will plough a lonely furrow through the middle, with wingers Wayne Routledge and Madou Barrow looking to deliver the crosses he needs to thrive. If they are successful, then we have John Terry and Gary Cahill, both colossal in the air, to mop up any damage.

In midfield it is likely that Nemanja Matic will be selected alongside N’Golo Kante to help with the physical battle against Leroy Fer and Jack Cork, while an eye will need to be kept on Gylfi Sigurdsson too.

Willian will stay high and wide on the right flank to help stretch the play, and his one-on-one battle with Swansea left back Stephen Kingsley is likely to yield plenty of rewards.

Oscar and Eden Hazard will reprise their double pivot in behind Diego Costa. The latter has been in sensational form this term, and that’s thanks in part to the freedom he has been given by Conte to roam inside from the left flank. Here’s his touch map from the Burnley match as published by the BBC:

See how Hazard is tracking deeper to receive possession, and yet popping up in central areas in the final third? That makes him a nightmare to plan for defensively, and partly explains why he is running the show at the moment.

Swansea have conceded four goals in their last two starts, and with Costa bagging a brace for Spain in midweek to continue his fine start to the campaign, there is no reason why he and his colleagues can’t take advantage.

The Swans have only scored two goals this season and both of them came via midfielder Fer, so as long as we can avoid giving away free kicks in dangerous areas (Sigurdsson is deadly from inside 30 yards) then there should be no alarms at the back.

All of which suggests that Chelsea have another three points there for the taking.