Wednesday 27 December 2017

Chelsea v Stoke City Match Preview (30/12/17): Eden to Sound Hazard Warning to Stoke

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It’s been a fairly satisfactory festive period for Chelsea so far, and victory against Stoke here – and a positive result against Arsenal on January 3 – would complete a very happy new year for Antonio Conte and his team.

Okay, so the performance levels in the 0-0 draw with Everton were below par, but we always expected the Toffees to be a stubborn opponent under new boss Sam Allardyce. We were rarely troubled, but struggled to find that killer touch in and around the Merseysiders’ goal.

So the return of Alvaro Morata against Brighton on Boxing Day was welcome, and the Spaniard once again showed he isn’t punching above his weight in the Premier League by notching the opening goal just after half time following excellent work from Cesar Azpilicueta.

Marcos Alonso then sealed the three points on the hour mark with a glancing header to secure a 2-0 win that we thoroughly deserved on the back of a much improved second half display.

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So that’s the first half of the festive quartet of fixtures completed with minimal fuss, and next up are a Stoke City side who appear to have rallied of late after defeating West Brom and taking a point at Huddersfield.

But a trip to Stamford Bridge is a completely different test, and Chelsea will be expected to complete another comfortable victory.

Chelsea Team News

Andreas Christensen was withdrawn from the Chelsea squad on the eve of the game against Brighton after he was deemed too unwell to start, and only time will tell if the young Dane is fit enough to start on Saturday.

If he doesn’t then you would expect Gary Cahill to continue in the middle of the back three between Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Will Antonio Conte make further changes with one on Arsenal next Wednesday? It’s possible, and we would expect a couple of rotations to keep key players fresh.

So the likes of Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta could come in, with Cesc Fabregas and Marcos Alonso the most obvious players to be given a rest.

And given that Stoke are struggling defensively with injuries, Conte may want to be two goals or more to the good by half time so that he can substitute others and keep them fresh for the Gunners. So we expect the likes of Hazard and Morata to start, along with possibly Willian, but don’t be surprised if they are withdrawn at the earliest available juncture.

Chelsea v Stoke Head to Head

The Blues have typically enjoyed themselves against Stoke, and that is reflected in a formline of W17 D3 L3 against the Potteries based outfit in recent years.

You have to back to October 1995 to find the last time that Stoke won at Stamford Bridge; since then our record against the visitors reads an incredible W10 D1 L0 on home soil.

Mind you, a word of caution. In amongst our brilliant form from November 2016 to February 2017, it was actually Stoke who gave us one of our toughest tests at the Bridge on New Years Eve, where we eventually prevailed by four goals to two.

How the Match Will Be Won

Ordinarily when discussing how these matches will be won, we discuss tactics, strategy and form as three of the key factors determining where the points will go.

But for this contest, we can list the absent Stoke City defenders to give you a better guide of how this match will pan out: captain Ryan Shawcross has suffered a calf strain and will miss out, and he will be joined on the sidelines by fellow defenders Glen Johnson and Bruno Martins-Indi. Erik Pieters is ‘touch and go’ according to Stoke boss Mark Hughes, while Kurt Zouma can’t play against us under the terms of his loan deal.

So all of the above leads to a very makeshift back three/four for Stoke, and you can hardly blame Hughes if he sends out a side in full damage limitation mode on Saturday.

That will mean plenty of bodies behind the ball, and not for the first time this term the Blues players will be tasked with unlocking what will look to be a locked door for large swathes of the 90 minutes.

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So let’s hope that Conte opts to field as strong an attacking line-up as possible, with natural width and plenty of creative players in deep lying positions to help break down the red-and-white barrier in front of them.

And happily there is some very recent evidence that shows we can defeat sides who sit deep: just look at the win over Brighton last time out. The Seagulls defended in numbers, and while it took 45 minutes to work them out – Conte pushing Moses, Alonso and Bakayoko higher up the pitch – in the end we were comfortable winners.

So let’s hope for a showing of Groundhog Day at the Bridge on Saturday.

Thursday 21 December 2017

Everton v Chelsea Match Preview (26/12/17): Blues to Tough It Out Against In-Form Toffees

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If you can make seven changes to your starting line-up and still win a game of football, then you must be doing something right.

That’s exactly how Chelsea fared on Tuesday night in their 2-1 win over Bournemouth….although the truth is that the performance was befitting of a much-changed side.

The Blues looked disjointed at times as they struggled to see off a game Bournemouth outfit, although that’s not to say there weren’t bright spots. Willian and Cesc Fabregas’ link-up play was excellent all night, with the Spaniard laying on the pass for the Brazilian to open the scoring.

And when we signed Ethan Ampadu from Exeter, there will have been plenty of raised eyebrows, but the dreadlocked defender was outstanding on Tuesday night. He slotted into the sweeper role in the heart of the back three and looked like a seasoned pro, performing his defensive duties admirably and distributing the ball with aplomb. This is a kid with a bright future.

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Antonio Conte clearly wasn’t happy with his side though, and that’s perhaps why he sent on Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Tiemoue Bakayoko within the space of ten second-half minutes. It worked – Morata bagging a late winner – but he then foolishly celebrated like he had just won the World Cup and was booked for his troubles. That means he will miss Saturday’s trip to Everton.

And that’s a huge shame, because Sam Allardyce’s men are in a fine run of form since the burly gaffer took charge. We could have done with our full compliment of players to make the trip, but will have to make do without our prized frontman.

Can the Blues kick on regardless?

Chelsea Team News

As mentioned, Morata is out after accumulating five yellow cards this season – hopefully a moment of madness that won’t come back to haunt him/us.

In brighter news Marcos Alonso will come back into the starting eleven after missing out against Bournemouth courtesy of his own suspension, and others that missed the game against the Cherries – Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, Victor Moses, Thibaut Courtois – will presumably walk back into the side.

Everton like to pack the centre of the pitch, so don’t be surprised if Conte reverts back to that modified 3-5-1-1 system this week. A midfield trio of Bakayoko, Fabregas and N’Golo Kante combines brains with brawn, while in attack Eden Hazard – becoming more and more comfortable in the false nine role, should be ably supported by the in-form Willian.

Everton v Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea’s recent resurgence in form against Everton is most welcome, with four straight wins coming at a goal difference of +11. The most recent of those was the 2-1 victory in the Carabao Cup clash just a matter of weeks ago.

The history books are generally rather kind to us as well, with 72 wins compared to the Toffees’ 54 and 52 meetings ending in stalemate.

That said, we’ve never overwhelmingly taken to the Goodison Park turf: a formline reading W4 D1 L5 tells its own story.

How the Match Will Be Won

The Everton we take on this week will be a very different outfit to the one we beat in the Carabao Cup back in October, that’s for sure. Big Sam hasn’t reinvented the wheel there, but clearly gone back to basics with his tactics and, from a psychological point of view, reminded his players just how talented they are.

So even without a recognised frontman, the Toffees have been able to compile a five-game unbeaten run in the Premier League with four wins and a draw.

What perhaps should be mentioned, for the sake of balance, is that the four victories have all come against sides in the bottom half of the table, and the one match in which Allardyce-era Everton have played a top-half team was the 1-1 draw at Anfield; where they were very lucky to escape with a point.

The bottom line here is that the Merseysiders are much improved under their new management team, but far from unbeatable.

That Liverpool game was eye-catching because Everton’s left back, Cuco Martina, was ripped to shreds by Mo Salah. Now, there’s no shame in that as Salah is an extraordinary talent, but it shows that Martina hasn’t quite adapted to his switch of sides. Hopefully Willian, if he starts, can ensure another nightmare afternoon for the full back.

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Defensively the Toffees have improved – just two goals conceded in five games under Big Sam, which has been driven by the return to form of Ashley Williams, the emergence of Jonjoe Kenny, and a hard-working midfield shield in Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin/Tom Davies.

A front four of Calvert-Lewin, Rooney, Sigurdsson and Lennon has goals in it, but it’s not the kind of attack that will have the Chelsea defenders awake all Friday night. Instead, a clean sheet is likely for us, and victory will be determined by whether we can break down this Everton backline or not. Our guess is that we will.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Chelsea v Bournemouth Match Preview (20/12/17): Blues to Take One Step Closer to Wembley Date

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Antonio Conte made a very valid point in his post-match press conference following the 1-0 win over Southampton on Saturday.

The Italian suggested that the Blues’ excellent form is being overlooked due to the exploits of Manchester City, and really that seems fair enough. But he shouldn’t take it personally, because after eight wins in ten Premier League starts the good ship Chelsea is well and truly back on course.

Even though the scoreline suggests differently, this was a comfortable, routine victory for the Blues against a Southampton side with containment on their mind. A whopping 24 shots at goal yielded a solitary strike – Marcos Alonso’s sublime free kick on the stroke of half time, and while we completely dominated the course of the match it is always twitchy when you don’t get the second goal to kill off a game.

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Happily, the Saints offered very little going forward, enabling us to pick up a very handsome eighth win in ten and 25 points from a possible 30. With Manchester United flattering to deceive, second place this term is starting to look like a very viable outcome.

There’s a slight change of emphasis this week with the latest instalment of the Carabao Cup pairing us with Bournemouth in the quarter-final, and it’s a match that – even allowing for a much-changed starting eleven ahead of the hectic festive schedule – we would expect to be winning nine times out of ten.

And then, another Wembley jaunt would be one fixture away….

Chelsea Team News

Obviously a competition like the Carabao Cup depends on teams taking it seriously as far as their team selection and motivation levels are concerned, and so far Antonio Conte has shown the cup a healthy level of respect.

Sure, players have been rested in each round, but a decent quota of regular starters have been selected. And that trend looks set to continue this week.

“I want to continue to give the chance to players that are not playing with regularity,” he said. “I want to continue this way, but at the same time we want to reach the semi-final.”

So we can expect a decent eleven to take to the field on Wednesday. Players will be rested – Eden Hazard almost certainly, and probably the likes of Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois, while Marcos Alonso is suspended after picking up his fifth booking of the season at the weekend.

But those with a ticket and those watching on from the sofa will be treated to a strong Chelsea line-up with all eyes trained on a Wembley final appearance.

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Head to Head

When Chelsea defeated Bournemouth 1-0 back in October it was the tenth time that the two sides have met – the Blues extended their hoodoo over the Cherries by racking up their eighth win.
An Eden Hazard goal separated the two sides on that occasion, and continued a fine run for the Londoners over the South Coast club.

Indeed, Chelsea have won eight of their last nine games against Bournemouth; the only anomaly being the surprise 0-1 defeat during the disastrous 2015/16 campaign.

How the Match Will Be Won

How Bournemouth approach this game will largely be dictated by the strength of the starting eleven that Eddie Howe decides to select, but right now his priorities must lie elsewhere as his side slips towards a relegation battle.

A run of six outings without a win (W0 D3 L3) has once again witnessed the Cherries slipping perilously close to the bottom three, and their next four league fixtures – away trips to Manchester City and Brighton, home dates with West Ham and Everton – will go a large way to determining how the rest of their season unfolds.

So we wouldn’t be hugely surprised if the Cherries’ boss makes changes for this match, and that a second-string Bournemouth outfit will take to the Stamford Bridge turf on Wednesday.

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And so complacency may just be Chelsea’s worst enemy, although if we too make a couple of changes then the motivation of our own fringe players to put in big performances - and try to force their way into the first team picture – will actually be a bonus.

Bournemouth don’t play an expansive brand of football, hence why only Brighton, Swansea and West Brom have scored fewer goals than them this season, and so it may be Chelsea’s mission to simply break them down.

That will test the likes of Batshuayi and Musonda, and it will be interesting to see if they can rise to the challenge.

But really there is nothing to suggest that this won’t be anything other than a hard-fought Chelsea win….the semi-finals beckon!

Thursday 14 December 2017

Chelsea v Southampton Match Preview (16/12/17): Blues Ready to March to Three Points Against the Saints

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Will the real Chelsea FC please stand up? After the derisory 0-1 defeat to West Ham at the weekend we returned to winning ways immediately with a resounding 3-1 win over Huddersfield on Tuesday evening.

Goals from Tiemoue Bakayoko, the impressive Willian and Pedro sealed the deal for the Blues, and a very satisfying win it was too given that a away day at Huddersfield bears all the hallmarks of the classic ‘banana skin’ fixture….just ask Manchester United.

It was an eye-catching performance, with an attacking flair clear for all to see with Pedro, Willian and Eden Hazard linking up as a makeshift front three. It is that enterprise that we have been crying out for, with Antonio Conte’s flirtation with a 3-5-1-1 system okay when playing the big boys but simply not offensive enough when taking on sides we really should be beating – the West Ham debacle being the perfect case in point.

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A switch back to the 3-4-3 shape that guided us to the Premier League is necessary, and against a Southampton side who come to Stamford Bridge on the back of a 1-4 defeat to Leicester it’s something of a no-brainer!

Chelsea Team News

The Saints game starts a run of six fixtures in just 18 days for the Blues, so there will be some rather necessary squad rotation to come from Conte.

Will the Italian mix things up against Southampton? Perhaps not: the players will have had a full four days to recover from their trip to Yorkshire, and a much more sensible candidate for rotation will be the League Cup quarter-final against Bournemouth on Wednesday.

So we don’t expect too much tinkering on Saturday, although it may be the case that Alvaro Morata is given the afternoon off. He missed the Huddersfield match with a combination of a niggling back injury and tiredness, and if that twinge lingers on then there is simply no reason to risk him against the Saints with so many games coming up in the next few weeks.

Then the choice for Conte will be a straight decision between drafting in Michy Batshuayi, who played the last 20 minutes against the Terriers, as a straight swap, or continuing with that exciting front three of Pedro, Willian and Hazard. Personally we’d prefer the latter, but that’s not for us to say!

Cesc Fabregas had the night off in midweek and should return here, probably at the expense of Bakayoko, with Gary Cahill also set to feature ahead of Antonio Rudiger.

Chelsea vs Southampton Head to Head

Despite a rare blip in the 2000s, Southampton have by and large been a top flight team for the past few decades, and so it’s no surprise to note that this will be the 100th meeting between Chelsea and the Saints.

With our terrible maths that at least enables us to offer you some win percentages: Chelsea triumphing in 42%, Southampton in 30% and the draw occurring in 28% of encounters.

The modern era has been particularly kind to the Blues, and our record of W12 D5 L3 certainly stands up to scrutiny.

Against Southampton at Stamford Bridge, our last ten record reads W5 D3 L2.

How the Match Will Be Won

Southampton’s recent form of W1 D3 L4 will not exactly have the club’s supporters going wild in the aisles, although some mitigation can be sought. In amongst that eight they have played Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and of course Burnley – all top seven sides in the Premier League.

So for the sake of context we can say that they have had a pretty unlucky run of fixtures, although we must note that they saved their worst performance of the season for Wednesday in that 1-4 defeat to Leicester.

It has to be said that the way Southampton set up suits our style to the ground. They play with out-and-out wingers (probably Dusan Tadic and Sofiane Boufal) but they drift inside, which will see them running into plenty of blue traffic. Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand will provide the width for the Saints, but that will put them in a one-on-one battle with our wing backs.

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Up front Charlie Austin – a brilliant finisher, lacks the pace to get in behind, meaning Conte can pick Cahill and Rudiger if he so chooses, and a midfield containing the likes of Oriel Romeu – another who, like Bertrand, plays against his former club, and Steven Davis is combative but lacking guile.

But, as is often the case, our joy will come in those half spaces between the midfield and defence, and also just to the sides of Southampton’s defensive midfield pairing. A front three of Hazard, Pedro and the in-form Willian really could make mincemeat of the visitors.

It’s a match tailormade for a comfortable Chelsea victory.

Monday 11 December 2017

Huddersfield Town v Chelsea Match Preview (12/12/17): Can Chelsea Banish the Winter Blues in Yorkshire?

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It’s hard to really pick the bones of Saturday’s 0-1 defeat at West Ham. We neither dominated the game nor deserved to lose; we struggled to create chances without ever looking in trouble at the back.

It just so happens that the one moment of quality during the game came from West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic, whose goal sealed the three points for his side in yet another hammer-blow for our hopes of retaining the title – especially with Manchester City beating their local rivals United to extend their lead to eleven points.

And yet, to some extent, our downfall was our doing. Antonio Conte spoke of tiredness in the ranks after the game, so why did he pick essentially the same side as that who battled with Atletico Madrid in the pulsating Champions League clash last week?

“Our start was bad but we played a bit tired. To face one game every two days always with the same players is very difficult. And we have just started this period,” he said afterwards.

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So why didn’t he make any changes? The situation is that now, realistically, with three points dropped on Saturday we have to head north to take on Huddersfield Town with probably a much-changed side, with the Terriers themselves enjoying a good win at the weekend.

That four-hour journey could be hellish with the current weather doing the rounds, and so really we face a hiding to nothing against the buoyant Yorkshire outfit. It could be a baptism of fire at the John Smith’s Stadium on another bitterly cold night.

Chelsea Team News

Surely Antonio Conte will make changes to his side for this game? If suggestions of tired legs are true then a dust-up with an up-for-it Huddersfield on a cold northern night is not the best medicine.
The only two squad members who are struggling for fitness are David Luiz (knee) and Danny Drinkwater, who missed out against the Hammers at the weekend after being struck down with illness.

But even so, there are plenty of options for Conte. Victor Moses will surely return in place of Davide Zappacosta, while the quick turnaround may mean that Gary Cahill is rested.

And let’s hope that Conte plays a much more attacking shape against Huddersfield, with Cesc Fabregas – if he starts – enjoying a far more advanced role than the withdrawn figure he was at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

It would be folly to rest both Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata during the same game – that’s the majority of our goal threat wiped out right there, so expect the former to be given a watching brief from the substitutes bench, with Pedro possibly pipping Willian to a starting role.

Huddersfield Town vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is Huddersfield Town’s first ever season in the Premier League and their first in the top flight since the 1970s, so it’s no wonder we haven’t met in a league game since 1984!

There have been three meetings between the sides since then, with Huddersfield wining a League Cup clash in 2009 before succumbing to FA Cup defeats against the Blues in 2006 (1-2) and 2008 (1-3).

How the Match Will Be Won

Huddersfield are a big side, and Chelsea will need to match them both in the physical battle and in terms of endeavour.

A side effect of their height and power is their threat from set pieces: both of their goals against Brighton on Saturday came directly or from a second phase of a set piece. We need to be aware of their routines and runs, and be prepared to match them when the ball comes in.

It is going to be a cold night in Yorkshire, and the boys in blue will need to be up to the challenge. The hosts will put a few tackles in to try and unsettle us, and their supporters will be boisterous and rowdy in an attempt to throw us off our natural game.

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Nine times out of ten Chelsea beat Huddersfield Town, but this fixture has the feel of one of those odd occasions where the conditions level the playing field. The Blues, whether a first choice starting eleven is selected or otherwise, will need to match their opponents’ passion early on and quieten the crowd.

Because over the course of 90 minutes we should, realistically, be winning this match. The Terriers are decent at home but resounding defeats to Tottenham (0-4) and Manchester City (1-2) are an indicator of what may just happen if Chelsea take their A-game to Yorkshire.

Thursday 7 December 2017

West Ham v Chelsea Match Preview (09/12/17): Expect Blues to Dish Out Capital Punishment to the Hammers

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It wasn’t quite meant to be for Chelsea on Tuesday evening, and despite dominating against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League we couldn’t quite make our authority pay.

The 1-1 draw with the Spaniards wasn’t enough for the Blues to top Group C – that honour went to Roma, who defeated Qarabag as expected – and so we know face a last 16 clash against one of PSG, Barcelona or Besiktas. But this is the most elite club tournament in the world, and so there are no easy games in the latter stages.

Saul Niguez opened the scoring against the run of play for Atleti, and that goal was a cruel blow at a time when the Blues were really dominating proceedings. The midfield trio of N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas were well on top of their opponents, and Eden Hazard was looking likely to make something happen every time he got the ball.

Saul’s goal was a real kick in the teeth then, and when Antonio Conte sent on both Pedro and Willian it was all-out attack from his men as wave after wave of blue-shirted hordes charged forward.

Thankfully, our aggression was rewarded as Stefan Savic scuffed Hazard’s cross into his own net to give Chelsea a much-deserved point – to be honest, all three would have been justified such was our dominance over Diego Simeone’s side.

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No matter: the draw makes life more difficult in the next round, but then there were some high quality sides finishing second in their group as well, so topping the pile would not have guaranteed an easier time of it anyway.

With the Champions League done and dusted until the new year, attention now turns back to league matters. We have another Saturday lunchtime kick off this week, and our hosts will be beleaguered West Ham in the ever mouth-watering derby.

The Hammers are without a Premier League win since September and have lost four of their last five, so Chelsea can relish the prospect of rubbing their opponents’ noses in it yet further at the weekend.

Chelsea Team News

There is a set of Premier League fixtures in midweek, with Chelsea travelling to Huddersfield on Tuesday evening. That may just help to inform Conte’s team selection here.

After an energetic battle with Atletico we can expect some changes to the starting eleven on Saturday. What those will be precisely remains to be seen, but we can expect Marcos Alonso, Danny Drinkwater and Antonio Rudiger to come in. Davide Zappacosta, Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill are the most likely to make way.

Conte may decide to hand a rest to one or both of Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard too. The Italian will be reluctant to make wholesale changes, but a chance to give one or two of his key performers a day off will not be taken lightly.

The only definite absentee is David Luiz, who is still working hard to rehabilitate his injured knee.

West Ham vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is a well-storied rivalry that dates back nearly a century, with more than 100 meetings taking place in all that time.

It’s not a massive surprise to note that Chelsea boast a head-to-head lead of 49 wins to 39, aided by a remarkable run in this past decade or so. Since January 2006, the Blues’ record against the Hammers reads W16 D4 L3!

Chelsea also did the double over West Ham last season – with the Iron gaining a tiny amount of revenge with a win in the League Cup. Hazard and Diego Costa bagged the goals in a 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium back in March.

How the Match Will Be Won

West Ham’s struggles can be attributed partly to their lengthy injury list, which has foiled David Moyes’ attempts to name a full strength side ever since he took over at the helm.

This week the Hammers will be without Jose Fonte, James Collins and Sam Byram in defence, with Winston Reid struggling with a tight hamstring. The combative Cheikh Kouyate has a hamstring strain of his own and won’t take part, while Andy Carroll’s knee injury keeps him sidelined too.

So rather than facing a trial by air as we might have done had Carroll been fit, instead West Ham’s strategy will change with Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini as their main attacking outlets. Edimilson Fernandes and Arthur Masuaku will provide the width, and the rest of the Hammers will be tasked with shutting down the middle of the pitch and restricting Chelsea’s chances.

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So there’s no harm in Antonio Conte being a bit more adventurous with his team selection, posting Pedro and Willian high up the pitch to occupy the deep-lying West Ham rearguard. They will play something akin to a 4-4-1-1 formation, and so our best hope of breaking them down will come from occupying the space between the lines.

We can push on our two wider centre backs as well when in possession, allowing Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses to play as orthodox wingers. As such, we will hopefully get round the back of West Ham’s defence, with low crosses and cutbacks our likely route to goal.

With minimal attacking threat coming from the opposition, the onus will be on Chelsea to make their dominance count once again.

Monday 4 December 2017

Chelsea v Atletico Madrid Match Preview (05/12/17): Blues to Secure Top Spot at the Bridge

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On the face of it, there is very little to be gained from Chelsea’s Champions League encounter with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday evening.

Progress to the last 16 has already been secured, and with Antonio Conte speaking of tiredness in the ranks of late there is perhaps more to be gained by rotating his squad and keeping legs fresh ahead of the hectic festive schedule.

But on the flipside, you could look at it another way: if the Blues finish top of Group C, they will avoid a meeting with the other first-placed finishers in the next round – a list which features the likes of PSG, Barcelona (probably) and Manchester City, while serving up potential clashes with one of Porto/RB Leipzig, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla or Basel/CSKA Moscow. So to that extent, there is plenty of value in making sure we give it our all on Tuesday.

Another reason for not taking Atleti lightly is the confidence that maintaining our unbeaten run will give the players. That’s seven games without defeat now in the Premier League following Saturday’s resounding 3-1 win over Newcastle.

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The Magpies took a surprise early lead, but that only served as a wake-up call to the Blues, whose intensity increased exponentially thereafter. Eden Hazard produced a nigh-on flawless performance, netting twice – including a Panenka-style penalty – to go with a strike from Alvaro Morata which secured a comfortable three points.

Let’s hope the boys can take that level of performance into Tuesday’s clash with the belligerent Spaniards.

Chelsea Team News

As far as the current injury list goes, only David Luiz is a player that would be considered a first team option at this moment in time.

The Brazilian has a sore knee caused by fluid on the joint, and it may be a couple of weeks before he is spied in a blue shirt again.
Charley Musonda and Kenedy – the most obvious replacement for Marcos Alonso, are both also sidelined.

Otherwise Conte can pick and choose who he likes, and the assumption is that Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Andreas Christensen will all start against Atletico as they were subbed off against Newcastle on Saturday; presumably to give them a bit of rest.

So we anticipate a midfield three of Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko, with Hazard playing just off the shoulder of possibly Michy Batshuayi, probably Alvaro Morata.

Is Victor Moses it enough to play 180 minutes in the space of four days? He may not be, so don’t be surprised if Davide Zappacosta gets the nod on the right, while at the back the preferred defensive trio of Christensen, Gary Cahill ad Cesar Azpilicueta is likely to be deployed.

Chelsea v Atletico Madrid Head to Head

There have been six prior meetings between these two sides, and the records show a perfectly symmetrical W2 D2 L2 run for both.

Chelsea’s 1-2 win in Madrid was our first win against Atleti in five attempts however, and the last time the teams met at Stamford Bridge it was the Spaniards who triumphed 3-1.

How the Match Will Be Won

The very fact that Atletico must win this game to have any chance of progressing to the last 16 should inform us of how it will play out, but don’t expect the Spaniards to charge forward with a gung-ho strategy.

That really isn’t their style under the conservative Diego Simeone, who has built a brilliant side that has reached Champions League finals in two of the last four years based upon sound defensive principles.

So they are more likely to win this match 1-0 as they are by any other scoreline, and it will be up to the boys in blue to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Both of Atleti’s away dates in this Champions League campaign have ended 0-0 (Roma and Qarabag), and that suggests chances will be at an absolute premium. And that’s why we really rate Chelsea’s chances of winning this match: they have a creator (and finisher) in Eden Hazard who is in red hot form at present, plus a striker in Alvaro Morata who rarely requires more than one invitation to find the net.

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So can Chelsea break the Spaniards’ stranglehold? Absolutely, and as such they will simply need to stop an impressive Atleti forward line from finding the net. The outstanding Antoine Griezmann will be supported by one or more of Kevin Gameiro, Angel Correa, Yannick Carrasco and that man Fernando Torres, so our back three will have their work cut out.

But we can reference the game against Roma at Stamford Bridge, which we bossed, to give us confidence. The Blues ran up a 2-0 lead against a in-form Italian outfit, and we really should have won that match comfortably. Surely we won’t make the same mistake again on home soil….

Thursday 30 November 2017

Chelsea v Newcastle United Match Preview (02/12/17): Back the Blues to Blast Beleaguered Magpies

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In our preview of the match, we had suggested that Chelsea would enjoy a narrow win over Swansea on Wednesday night and so it proved – although in truth the margin of victory could and perhaps should have been far greater.

The Blues fired in ten shots on target at the Welsh side’s goal and their keeper, Lukasz Fabianski, was named man of the match, and as if that wasn’t enough our attacking play also earned 15 corners.
Basically, this was a hammering in all ways bar the scoreline.

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You can forgive Antonio Conte for getting a little hot under the collar then given the frustration of watching his side dominate without turning that into goals, and the Italian was sent to the stands on the stroke of half-time after arguing with the match officials a little too vehemently.

“I apologise for this,” he said in his post-match interview. “I was frustrated. For sure I made a mistake. During the game I suffer. With my players I suffer. It's a pity.”

Conte will now have to wait and see if an FA-sanctioned touchline ban will keep him from the dug-out for Saturday lunchtime’s game against Newcastle. We hope not, as it often detracts from the match itself – a match the Blues really ought to be winning against a Magpies side without a win in five outings.

Chelsea Team News

Conte managed to rest his key players, by and large, against Swansea in order to keep them fresh for Saturday’s action.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Tiemoue Bakayoko were given the night off, while Eden Hazard came on for the final ten minutes or so as the Blues sought a second goal to kill off the game. All three will surely start on Saturday.

Victor Moses came on for the final 15 minutes, and that’s a great sign in his recovery, although it remains doubtful that he is ready to start a match as yet.

Conte may also be keen on handing a rest to Marcos Alonso, who continues to work diligently down the left flank. The Spaniard has played a lot of games already this season, and while his natural replacement – Kenedy – is injured, Conte may try to conjure a way to let Alonso put his feet up this week….possibly with one of Pedro or Cesar Azpilicueta filling in as a makeshift wing back.

Otherwise, it will be all systems go for the Blues as they seek a sixth win in seven Premier League outings.

Chelsea v Newcastle United Head to Head

There have been 160 recorded meetings between these old foes, with this week’s encounter coming almost exactly 110 years to the day of their first encounter!

Chelsea have the edge with 69 wins to 52, although to be fair the Magpies have more than held their own against the Blues in recent times.

Newcastle are something of a bogey side for us, and our record of W4 D1 L4 is below-par when compared to our head-to-head stats against teams of a similar level. Why? Answers on a postcard!

Maybe the key stat to come from examining the recent battles is that Chelsea have won four on the bounce against the North East outfit at Stamford Bridge, with twelve goals scored and just one conceded.

How the Match Will Be Won

Newcastle United had lost four Premier League games on the spin prior to Tuesday’s trip to West Brom, and when they went down 0-2 to the Baggies they must have been fearing a fifth.

But the Magpies rallied well, netting twice in the second half and dominating the final half-hour in particular.

So they will have something of a spring in their step heading down the M1 to London, although that could be quickly extinguished as soon as they are reminded of their wretched recent record at the Bridge.

The uncompromising Alexander Mitrovic made a big difference when he came on for Newcastle at Saturday, and he will be Newcastle’s main outlet on Saturday.

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That’s largely due to the injuries suffered by Christian Atsu, the tricky winger who can really make things happen, and captain Jamaal Lascelles. It’s no coincidence the Magpies’ form has deteriorated without that pair in the side.

Conceding goals has been Newcastle’s Achilles heel lately: they’ve kept just one clean sheet in ten outings, and shipped in their last three. Messrs Hazard, Morata, Willian and co will be rubbing their hands together in anticipation.

The key to winning this match will be subdue Newcastle in the opening 10-15 minutes. They will be on a high after their midweek result – which will feel like a win, all told – and so if we can outplay them early and start to sow the seeds of doubt in their minds, it should be a comfortable enough afternoon’s work for Chelsea.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Chelsea v Swansea Match Preview (29/11/17): Expect Blues to Canter Home Against Shy Swans

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Parcheggiare l'autobus is the Italian translation for ‘park the bus’ (or the Google Translate version of it, anyway). And that might well have been a phrase that Antonio Conte uttered to the Chelsea players prior to their 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday.

He fielded the usual back five plus three defence-minded midfielders in N’Golo Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater, creating a wall of blue designed to stifle Liverpool’s attacking forays.

And it worked, by and large, as the Reds were restricted to just four shots on target.

The Blues fired in three shots of their own as they counter-attacked well with Eden Hazard pulling the strings and Alvaro Morata sniffing around dangerously. Ironically, it was a complete mishit from Willian that levelled the scoring after Mo Salah had given Liverpool the lead.

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After a week of long flights and early mornings following the midweek trip to Qarabag, this was very much a point earned, rather than two lost, at Anfield.

But there’s no rest for the wicked, with a rare midweek set of fixtures in the Premier League bringing Swansea to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

It has been a hectic few weeks for the players, so Conte will need to handle his squad effectively, but there’s no reason why we won’t win comfortably against a Swansea side that has lost six of their last eight outings.

Chelsea Team News

We were completely spot on with our assessment of the Liverpool game – the manager switching to the 5-3-1-1 formation that we had suggested he might, but he won’t show so much respect to Swansea in midweek.

We’ll be playing the favoured 3-4-2-1 system, and with only Michy Batshuayi definitely out injured Conte has a full deck to play from.

He may opt to rest Hazard – the Belgian was visibly leg-heavy towards the end of the Liverpool match. There really is no need to push him too hard ahead of the hectic festive schedule.

So that would presumably bring Pedro and Willian back into the side, and surely Cesc Fabregas will return in midfield to add a greater attacking emphasis.

Is Victor Moses ready to make a return to the starting eleven? He was on the bench at Anfield, but with the game in the balance there was no ideal moment to bring him on. Expect the Nigerian to get some minutes on Wednesday; but he may have to make do with a place on the bench again behind the impressive Davide Zappacosta.

There is a slight chance that Conte may rest Cesar Azpilicueta too, although this is clearly a player he adores.

Chelsea v Swansea Head to Head

Swansea have been rather late bloomers in the beautiful game, and so there are only 33 previous meetings between the two teams to call upon.

Chelsea have won 15 of those with 11 draws, so it’s fair to say the Blues have enjoyed the best of things against the Welsh outfit.

If we take the last ten in isolation, we note a resounding W6 D3 L1 record in Chelsea’s favour, with the Blues winning four of the last five at the Bridge. Indeed, other than a League Cup victory, Swansea’s only win at Chelsea came back in 1925!

The pair last met in February, where goals from Fabregas, Pedro and Diego Costa secured a 3-1 triumph.

How the Match Will Be Won

So what does this Swansea side bring to the table? The truth is very little. They’ve failed to find the net in more than 270 minutes of Premier League action, have lost their last three away games and, in six games on the road this term, have scored just three times.

As such, complacency could be the Chelsea players’ biggest obstacle here, but playing at home should render any fears of them taking their foot off the gas obsolete – the Stamford Bridge faithful simply won’t allow any slacking!

Swansea’s best attacking outlet is one of our own, the on-loan Tammy Abraham, and he isn’t allowed to play on Wednesday as part of those loan terms. That means an already shot-shy Swans side will have to make do without their top goalscorer.

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They’ll have to rely on Wilfried Bony to lead the line, supported by one of either Jordan Ayew or Renato Sanches.

Defensively, Swansea have conceded at least once in 8/13 matches this term, but only two or more in five of those thirteen, which suggests they are a tougher nut to crack than many give them credit for.

The problem on Wednesday is that they will allow Chelsea to have plenty of the ball, and you would think by law of average that the Blues will ultimately break them down and find the net.

The fact that the Welsh outfit plays with a flat back four will be music to the ears of Alvaro Morata, and we’d expect him to score in a conservative victory for the home side.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Liverpool vs Chelsea Match Preview (25/11/17): Can Blues Halt the Reds’ Attacking Quartet?

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It was very much a case of job done in Azerbaijan, with Chelsea overcoming Qarabag 4-0 to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a game to spare. The fact that the match with Atletico Madrid is now a dead rubber is a real bonus.

We were aided by Qarabag going down to ten men early on Wednesday, of course, with Rashad Sadygov, bamboozled by Willian’s run, sent off after just 19 minutes. Eden Hazard despatched the resulting spot kick, before the Brazilian bagged a brace in a performance we can file under ‘food for thought’ for Antonio Conte.

Cesc Fabregas notched the fourth, again from the penalty spot, to seal a good night’s work for the Blues.

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The problem now for Chelsea is overcoming the 5,000 mile return trip from Azerbaijan in time for Saturday’s evening kick off against Liverpool, who of course have an extra 24 hours to recover after they played their Champions League encounter against Sevilla on Tuesday.

It would be churlish to label that ‘unfair’, as a fixture backlog is the price of success in football, but you can forgive Conte for feeling rather aggrieved in his post-match press conference.

“Someone has to help us. As you know very well the English league is very tough. There are six top teams that fight for the title. I don't want to complain, but this is the reality, he said.”

“Now we have to travel five hours and a half, and then rest one day, and then prepare the game against Liverpool.”

At least the Italian will have some fresh legs to call upon. He rested Gary Cahill, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alvaro Morata for the trip east, and all can expect to come back into the starting eleven for what is a serious test of credentials at Anfield.

Chelsea Team News

Alongside the rested players, the most notable selection against Qarabag was the restoration of David Luiz in defence.

The Brazilian was put on the naughty step by Conte prior to the international break after a couple of below-par performances, but he was restored to the line-up in Azerbaijan and played with his usual assured authority.

Does this mean that he is back in Conte’s plans for good? It’s possible, but who would be surprised if Andreas Christensen was drafted back into the side to combat Firmino, Salah, Mane and co on Saturday.

Otherwise it’s very much as you were. Victor Moses could be fit enough for a place on the bench, but he surely won’t be risked against a firing Liverpool outfit. Michy Batshuayi is also out for the foreseeable future with an ankle injury.

So now, Conte must decide how he tackles this free-scoring Liverpool side. We can see him reverting to the 3-5-1-1 system he has used in big matches this season, and that will help to shut down the middle of the pitch – an area where the Reds are so dangerous.

Both Sadio Mane and Mo Salah play as inside forwards, so their natural instinct is to cut in from the wing into the middle third, where they join the likes of Roberto Firmino and Phil Coutinho.

So it’s imperative that the Blues shut down the middle third, and as such we expect Conte to draft in Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas in a tight trio in the centre.

Liverpool vs Chelsea Head to Head

There have been more than 175 meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool, with the first taking place a mere 110 years ago!

The history books tell us that the Reds have enjoyed more success against the Blues than vice versa – 77 wins to 61, but that is skewed slightly by Liverpool’s dominance throughout the 1970s and 80s.

Even so, the modern era has proven kind to the Merseysiders. They are unbeaten in five Premier League outings against Chelsea (W2 D3 L0), and if we flick back through the history books slightly further we note that the Blues have won just five of their last eighteen games against Liverpool!

That said, our record at Anfield isn’t too bad. We’re actually unbeaten in six there, with four draws backed by consecutive victories in 2014. The first of those was the scene of the infamous ‘Steven Gerrard slip’ that blew open the title race and ultimately handed the trophy to Manchester City.

How the Match Will Be Won

Can we stop Liverpool from scoring? That’s the big question here, as they are so poor defensively that we would expect to find the net ourselves with a fit and firing Alvaro Morata back leading the line.

Manchester United escaped from Anfield with a goalless draw, and that was due largely to Jose Mourinho’s grand parking of the bus routine. Whisper it, but there might just be something in that….

As mentioned, we really need to close down those spaces in the middle third of the pitch. Mane and Salah can have the ball in wide areas, but as soon as they drop that shoulder and cut infield we need a mass of bodies in place to shut down the room in which they can operate.

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Even with this perceived defensive formation of 3-5-1-1 Chelsea will be fancied to score, especially with Hazard and Morata linking up so nicely against West Brom last weekend, and the Belgian will be absolved of all defensive responsibilities in this system. Playing on the shoulder of Jordan Henderson, he will be granted the freedom of Anfield.

And that, ultimately, could prove the difference between these contrasting teams.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

FK Qarabag vs Chelsea Match Preview (22/11/17): Blues to Book Place in Champions League Last 16

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In his pre-match press conference, Antonio Conte labelled this as Chelsea’s ‘most important game of the season’, and you can see where the Italian is coming from.

The Blues will confirm their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with victory against the Azerbaijani minnows, although Conte himself isn’t taking anything for granted.

We have to play the most important game of the season from the start until now," he said in interview.

“If we are able to win against Qarabag, we can go through to the next round of the Champions League and this is very important because this period from now until January is very busy, so it is very important to win the game.

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“For sure it won’t be easy because in the last two games they drew twice against Atletico Madrid, and before that they lost the game but Roma were struggling a lot to win against them so it is very important to be focused, to work and to try to win the game.”

At least Chelsea go into the game in high spirits following the 4-0 demolition of West Brom at the weekend. A brace from Eden Hazard plus further goals from Alvaro Morata and Marcos Alonso secured a comfortable victory and lifted us up to third in the Premier League table.

Chelsea Team News

There are no new injury doubts, which means that only Victor Moses (thigh) and Michy Batshuayi (ankle) are missing for the Blues.

Moses may be fit enough to return at the weekend, but surely won’t be risked here, and otherwise Conte has a full deck to play with.

So how will he line his side up? Well, as he’s mentioned, this is a must win game, and victory will render the Blues’ potentially tricky game against Atletico Madrid meaningless.

As such, Conte will play his strongest side here….but what does that look like?

Combined, Qarabag managed just two shots on target in their other two home Champions League ties against Atleti and Roma, although at least they tried to play football by commanding an average of 47% possession across those two games.

But the Azerbaijanis surely don’t have the weapons to hurt us, so expect the usual back five (Zappacosta in for Moses), with Cesc Fabregas slotting in alongside N’Golo Kante in midfield.

Expect Pedro to come into his usual Champions League role in attack alongside Hazard and Morata.

Qarabag vs Chelsea Head to Head

The reverse fixture was actually the first time that these two sides have met, and it turned into something of a baptism of fire for the Azerbaijanis!

Chelsea strolled to a 6-0 victory, firing in seven shots on target and hitting the woodwork. With seven shots blocked and seven corners won, the margin of victory could have been even greater.

But Qarabag have bounced back well from that hammering and given Atletico and Roma, two excellent sides by any measure, a real good game in front of their own supporters. Chelsea can expect a similarly determined opponent on Wednesday.

How the Match Will Be Won

If the possession stats from their last two Champions League games are anything to go by, Qarabag will give it a go on Wednesday night.

They scored against Roma and even managed to net away from home against Atletico too, which is no mean feat, but by-and-large their attacking play is pretty limited.

So the main task from Chelsea’s perspective will be finding that winning goal, and hopefully Álvaro Morata and Eden Hazard’s fine link-up play will continue. They looked in fine fettle against West Brom on Saturday, and if they can replicate that form there is no reason why they can’t contribute with a goal or two here.

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When teams defend deep, and in numbers, it is essential to stretch the play as wide as possible. That is hopefully why Conte will opt for Zappacosta on the right flank ahead of Azpilicueta, who is perfectly serviceable there, but the Italian offers a greater attacking edge.

Expect Cesc Fabregas to dictate play from deep, and his ability to pick a defence-splitting pass will be crucial. Pedro too, for his work rate and eye for goal, will need to be at his best.

Famous last words, but there is little chance of Chelsea losing this game. And as long as our four or five key attacking personnel are at the races, there’s every chance we’ll take all three points back to London.

Thursday 16 November 2017

West Brom vs Chelsea Match Preview (18/11/17): Blues Prepared for Trial by Air at the Hawthorns

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Three Premier League wins heading into the international break meant that Antonio Conte could afford to feel pretty satisfied with his work in his fortnight off, but now it’s back to business with a week that could help to define the Blues’ season.

Okay, so a trip to the Hawthorns to take on West Brom doesn’t exactly sound like an all-important fixture, but Conte will learn a lot about the heart and character of his side in the West Midlands given the physical onslaught he can expect his players to face.

And then on Wednesday we have the trip to Azerbaijan to take on Qarabag; victory there would secure our passage into the last 16 of the Champions League, and render the probably tricky game with Atletico Madrid meaningless.

The good news is that the Blues squad has reconvened from international duty in largely good health. Michy Batshuayi pulled out of the Belgium squad with a foot injury and is likely to miss out on the West Brom game, but otherwise Eden Hazard, Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz appear to have shaken off knocks.

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Ah, David. Dropped for the Manchester United game, he had to watch on as replacement Andreas Christensen put in a composed display and helped to shackle Romelu Lukaku in a fine 1-0 win. For now at least, you would assume that means the Dane is Conte’s first choice sweeper.

Three points against the Baggies could life Chelsea as high as second in the league table; let’s see if the doom-mongers are as vocal then.

Chelsea Team News

So Batshuayi is definitely out of Saturday’s game, and unfortunately Victor Moses hasn’t fully recovered from his thigh tear either and will sit out again.

Otherwise, Conte has a full deck to play from with Hazard, Luiz and Bakayoko shaking off knocks picked up on international duty.

So the manager will now to need to pick a starting eleven based upon the task in hand at the Hawthorns, and with a nod to the Qarabag game on Wednesday. The two fixtures are likely to be something of a contrast….

West Brom are a physical side who will play on the back foot and look to make the most of any set pieces that they earn. They will provide aggressive resistance, particularly in midfield, and so Conte’s team selection will surely account for that.

Qarabag, meanwhile, will play on the break and look to frustrate Chelsea, and the onus will be on the Blues to prise open the Azerbaijani’s resilient rearguard effort. Again, that will give Conte some pointers as to team selection, and the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Willian will probably make the eleven on Wednesday, but not here.

West Brom vs Chelsea Head to Head

There have been more than 130 meetings between these two sides dating back more than a century, and while West Brom are one of those sides that have a ‘bogey team’ style quality about them, the good news is that Chelsea rarely fall prey to their charms.

The Blues have lost just one of their last nine against the Baggies (W5 D3 L1), and while our record at the Hawthorns in recent years has been mixed – W2 D1 L3 – the good news is that our last two trips have both ended in victory.

You may just recall the last trip to the West Midlands: that was back in May when Michy Batshuayi’s goal secured a 1-0 win and the Premier League title!

How the Match Will Be Won

There are no frills and no surprises as far as West Brom are concerned, and their switch to a 3-4-3 style system earlier in the campaign has done little to change their conservative approach.

Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evens and Ahmed Hegazi is an uncompromising a back three as you will see, and they will need to be beaten on the ground and with pace rather than aerial brawn. Allan Nyom and Kieran Gibbs will probably play at wing back, and while both have pace to spare neither should hurt us in an attacking sense.

In midfield Tony Pulis can call upon the fantastic Grzegorz Krychowiak, surely one of the most under-rated signings of the season, alongside the evergreen Gareth Barry and Jake Livermore, with two of Nacer Chadli, Jay Rodriguez, Matty Phillips, Hal Robson-Kanu and Solomon Rondon afforded the opportunity to express themselves in attack.

It is, in essence, a man-for-man representation of the Chelsea system, although the Baggies’ midfield three will sit deeper to protect their backline.

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The point is that West Brom shouldn’t have the tools to hurt Chelsea from open play, and as long as we defend set pieces effectively we should be fine – if Conte selects Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger that will help.

In their last two home games the West Midlanders have shipped five goals against Manchester City and Watford, so there’s every hope that Chelsea can also breach this stubborn defensive line and take the three points back to London.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Manchester United vs Chelsea Match Preview (05/11/17): Can Blues Find Way Past Mourinho’s Parked Bus?

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It’s not something we’ve had to become accustomed to in the past year or so as Chelsea supporters, but our defending was absolutely wretched on Tuesday night against Roma.

There have been little signs of incompetence this term, not least the fact we’ve conceded at least once in 9/14, and the seeds were sewn as early as the first game of the season, back when Burnley ran riot at the Bridge.

So perhaps a bit of a thrashing has been due, and we certainly got one of those on Halloween night in Rome.

The die was cast rather early in the piece: Stephan el Shaarawy netting the Italians’ opener after just 39 seconds – the sixth fastest goal in Champions League history – after good work from Edin Dzeko, before el Shaarawy bagged his second after making the most of Antonio Rudiger’s error.

Diego Perotti made it three after slack defending from Pedro, and even then the hosts had chances to extend their lead.

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It is arguably a hammering that can act as a wake-up call ahead of the trip to Old Trafford on Sunday, although the continued speculation about the future of Antonio Conte – one tabloid suggested he was on his way out this week to be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti – coupled with the poor performance does set tongues wagging. It is probably just typical newspaper mischief; let’s hope so anyway.

To be fair, it’s not all doom and gloom anyway. Atletico Madrid could only draw with Qarabag on Tuesday, which means that we are still in pole position to escape Group C and will do so if we bet the Azerbaijanis next time out.

And so we turn our attention to Sunday’s meeting with Manchester United, and a trip north to see the Special One. The Blues suffered defeat at Old Trafford last time there, and so revenge will certainly be a tasty dish after a turbulent week for the club.

Chelsea Team News

The news that Tiemoue Bakayoko is playing through the pain barrier at the moment further accentuated the need for N’Golo Kante to return to full fitness sharpish.

Bakayoko has never fully recovered from the effects of his knee surgery in the summer, while Cesc Fabregas has looked tired after playing a lot of minutes for the club already this term.

Kante flew to Rome with the squad but decided late in the piece that he wasn’t ready to take to the field as yet, so let’s hope that’s a sign he’s saving himself for the United encounter on Sunday.

Gary Cahill was substituted off after 56 minutes in Rome but for tactical reasons only, so he will be fit and needed to help tackle the physical presence of Romelu Lukaku. On that note, we might expect Rudiger to keep his place despite his error on Tuesday; he matches up well with Lukaku from a physical perspective.

Will Kante come into the side? We certainly hope so, and while both Bakayoko and Fabregas could do with some time off the international break is on the horizon, so we’d expect the latter to miss out for tactical reasons.

The last decision Conte will need to make will be on Alvaro Morata. After a red-hot opening to the season, the Spaniard has looked off the pace of late and missed a couple of glorious chances in Rome and at Bournemouth. Michy Batshuayi is poised for a call up….but he may have to wait should Conte keep faith in his summer signing.

Manchester United vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is one of the most storied fixtures in English football, with more than 175 meetings between the two sides and many of those high stakes clashes.

Historically it’s United who enjoy the upper hand with 76 wins to 52, with 49 draws. But the tables have certainly turned of late….

Chelsea have lost just one of their last thirteen matches against the Red Devils, with seven wins and five draws.

Five of the last six meetings between these two at Old Trafford have ended in stalemate.

How the Match Will Be Won

For anybody who watched Manchester United’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, or their 1-0 win over Spurs, you will already know how Mourinho will set his side up here.

He will post big Lukaku up front and play off him; largely with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and – as he showed with his late winner against Tottenham – Anthony Martial.

So the key is to ensure that Lukaku does not go unchallenged; make sure plenty of pressure is applied to him so he can’t flick away those headers or passes to midfield runners. That is perhaps why Conte will opt to keep Rudiger in the side.

Little was made of it by the pundits, but United actually switched to a back three last week with Bailly, Jones and Smalling in the centre and Valencia and Young acting as wing backs, with Rashford playing off Lukaku through the centre.

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That will play into Chelsea’s hands, as it will create more one-on-one battles across the pitch. We would anticipate that the Blues would get the better of most of those when comparing the players man-to-man.

We particularly like the thought of Eden Hazard just playing off Ander Herrera’s left shoulder. The Spaniard is rash in the tackle and occasionally finds himself out of position – Hazard could well be Chelsea’s match winner on Sunday….which will no doubt please Mourinho no end!

Monday 30 October 2017

Roma vs Chelsea Match Preview (31/10/17): No Scares for the Blues Ahead of Halloween Trip

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If you could pick the perfect manner in which to head into a key Champions League encounter, then Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Bournemouth was exactly it.

The Blues were scarcely troubled by their hosts – the Cherries’ first shot on target came in 92 minutes, and if the scoreline appears close then bear in mind Chelsea had a goal disallowed and also missed a couple of gilt-edged chances.

The icing on the cake is that Antonio Conte was able to take off Pedro and Alvaro Morata with around 15 minutes to play, and gave Gary Cahill the afternoon off in order to prepare for Tuesday’s trip to Roma.
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Conte had been incensed in the build-up to the Bournemouth game that his methods had been questioned, and that his players were unhappy with his training sessions and management style. The win on the south coast was the perfect rebuttal.

So on to Tuesday’s trip to Rome, where an in-form Roma side await. They’ve won five of their last six in Serie A, keeping a clean sheet in four of their last five, and the whole club has undergone a sea-change under Eusebio di Francesco – and gone, largely, are the entertaining, high scoring but ultimately disappointing, for them, matches.

Well, almost. They were dragged back to their dark days in the reverse fixture, with Chelsea dominating the opening 40 minutes and opening up a two goal lead.

But back came Roma, courtesy of Edin Dzeko’s wonder goal, amongst other things, to claim a point and leave Group C neatly poised.

All Chelsea must do in Rome is avoid defeat; easier said than done, of course, but that is the bottom line. Do so, and the last 16 of the Champions League beckons.

Chelsea Team News

How’s about this for a slice of good news: N’Golo Kante participated in a full training session on Monday alongside his Chelsea teammates.

Whether the Frenchman is fit enough to play a full part in Italy remains to be seen, but the fact that he is clearly on the mend is a great sign.

There are no new injury concerns and so Conte has a full deck to choose from – albeit accounting for the absence of Victor Moses.

We anticipate that he will opt for the 5-4-1 formation he has tended to use in big games against tough opposition, with Eden Hazard operating just behind Alvaro Morata and Pedro in a more withdrawn central role alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas (assuming that Kante is not fit to start).

Conte may also choose to use Cesar Azpilicueta in the right wing back role, stiffening his back three with Antonio Rudiger alongside David Luiz and Gary Cahill.

Roma vs Chelsea Head to Head

The reverse fixture between the two sides was just the fifth meeting between the pair, with Chelsea extending their unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge against the Italians to three matches.

It also means that the Blues have only lost to Roma once; although that came in their last meeting on Italian soil in 2009.

How the Match Will Be Won

Remarkably, Roma have kept nine clean sheets in thirteen matches this season, and their defence-minded policy suggests that the 3-3 draw in the reverse fixture between these two sides was something of an anomaly.

So expect a cagey affair at the Stadio Olimpico, and with a draw arguably suiting both teams (we each still have a game against Qarabag to play in Group C after all) it wouldn’t be a surprise is a stalemate ensues.

We saw the best and the worst of Roma at Stamford Bridge a couple of weeks ago, with their negative play exposed brilliantly by the Blues in the first half before the quality Roma have going forward – when they choose to express themselves – was clear for all to see as they netted three times.

But with the main motive being to avoid defeat, we’d expect all 22 players on the pitch to be comfortable simply going through the motions.

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If Kante plays then that’s a huge fillip for Chelsea, but if he doesn’t then not to worry. Cesc Fabregas will sit in alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko – and let’s hope he hasn’t been mentally scarred by Garth Crooks’ scathing attack on him (tongue firmly in cheek there) – while Pedro will presumably be detailed with a deeper role than normal to help shut down the middle of the pitch, where Roma’s most gifted players roam.

This could be a classic Italian ‘chess on grass’ style encounter, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up 0-0 or 1-1 to be perfectly honest.