Thursday 24 August 2017

Chelsea vs Everton Match Preview (27/08/17): Conte’s Men to Make Up for Lost Time at the Bridge

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Beating one of your fiercest rivals is one thing, but to do so in a fashion as convincing as Chelsea’s 2-1 triumph over Tottenham is all the more satisfying.

Okay, so the scoreline doesn’t read as a comfortable victory, but don’t forget that Spurs’ ‘one’ came from an inexplicable own-goal from Michy Batshuayi, while at the other end of the pitch Willian rattled the woodwork and Alvaro Morata missed a glorious chance to nod the Blues in front.

Given how the season began with the 2-3 defeat against Burnley and the suspensions suffered by Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, and with the ongoing riddle of Diego Costa’s future, this victory showed tremendous character from the boys from the blue.

But one man should take the majority of the credit, and that’s Antonio Conte. He knew that with key players missing he would need a Plan B against Tottenham, and so he did exactly that: deploying an old Italian favourite, the ‘Catenaccio’ defensive shape.

Catenaccio translates in Italian as ‘the chain’, and basically revolves around all eleven players playing their part defensively before counter attacking as a unit. Andrea Christensen dropped deep to sweep up any lose balls, while David Luiz – starting ostensibly as a midfielder – would drop into the backline to help deal with Harry Kane and Dele Alli. In midfield, N’Golo Kante and Timeous Bakayoko fought fire with fire against Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama, while Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses went man-to-man against their counterparts down the flanks.

The result? Spurs’ attacking threat was counteracted, and as mentioned Chelsea looked more likely on the counter.

It’s not a system that Conte will deploy all that often this season, and frankly he won’t need to as his side will dominate most matches, but what a treat it was to see the grand old master tactically outwit Mauricio Pochettino.

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Conte will duke it out with another highly respected manager this week in the form of Ronald Koeman, who guided his Everton side to a decent draw against Manchester City on Monday night after an opening day win over Stoke.

Chelsea will be desperate to get back to winning ways at Stamford Bridge, and a return to the 3-4-3 system should help in that quest no end.

Chelsea Team News

The good news for Conte is that Fabregas will return from his one game ban, and while the temptation might be to name an unchanged line-up from that which beat Spurs, the talk is that Bakayoko was rather rushed back from his thigh injury and needs more time to get fit for the new campaign.

The manager will be keen to revert back to his tried and tested 3-4-3 shape as well, so the return of Fabregas will enable that.

David Luiz will revert back to his central defensive position, probably at the expense of Andrea Christensen, while in attack Pedro – who came off the bench to assist Alonso’s winner at Wembley – will surely be given the nod.

Up front, Conte will presumably stay loyal to Morata, who missed a sitter against Tottenham but whose movement and link-up play has been excellent so far. He is a much more rounded player than Batshuayi is, at present.

Chelsea vs Everton Head to Head

These two perennial top flight outfits have met an incredible 178 times in their respective histories, with Chelsea enjoying the upper hand with 70 wins to 54 (53 draws).

Perhaps the most illuminating statistic heading into this fixture is that Everton haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in six years – that’s a record of W0 D1 L5 in the intervening period. Indeed, the Toffees have only scored in two of those half-dozen matches.

Last season Chelsea did the double over the Merseysiders and by some margin too; the home leg was won 5-0 followed by a 3-0 victory at Goodison Park.

How the Match Will Be Won

The fact that the Blues so dominated Everton last season cannot be overlooked, and while both teams have been re-shaped, to some extent, over the summer, there is no reason to suggest that Chelsea can’t prosper once again.

Everton’s set-up is rather basic and lacking fluidity: there’s three centre halves, wing backs, two midfielders marshalling the defence and then Wayne Rooney and Tom Davies dovetailing behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

It’s not a system that should cause us too many headaches. Everton recorded an Expected Goal count of just 0.68 against Stoke – highlighting their inability to create chances, and their tally of 0.7 against Manchester City, and just two shots on target, is paltry given that the Citizens played the second half with just ten men.

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So you could perhaps accuse Everton of a lack of ambition going forward, and that will certainly aid Chelsea’s cause.

Perhaps the key battle will come out wide, with Alonso and Moses fancied to have the beating of Evertonian counterparts Mason Holgate and Leighton Baines, while in midfield Rooney may be pressed into action deeper on the pitch to counter for the loss of the suspended Morgan Schneiderlin.

It will be a game in which the onus will be on Chelsea to provide the attacking impetus, and as long as Morata has his shooting boots on we should record our first home win of the campaign.

Thursday 17 August 2017

Tottenham vs Chelsea Match Preview (20/08/17): Blues to Make Life Awkward for Bitter Rivals

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As footballing disasters go, Chelsea’s 2-3 defeat against Burnley last time out was right up there with the best of them.

Starting your reign as Premier League champions with a defeat on home soil is one thing, but to have two key players sent off the in process – who now miss a key game this Sunday – is quite another.

So yes, club captain Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas will miss the trip across the capital to Wembley in a huge game against Spurs, and it has to be said that Antonio Conte’s decision to let Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek has been cruelly exposed even at this early stage.

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There really aren’t that many plus points to take away from the game against Burnley. Clearly having your captain sent off after 14 minutes is going to change the nature of a fixture, but the Clarets were the better side for much of the game regardless.

Alvaro Morata scored on his debut and looked to have taken to English football with aplomb; his movement and touch was outstanding. But really there is little else to be said about the Burnley match – let’s draw a line under it and move on.

Ordinarily we’d be licking our lips in anticipation at a meeting with Tottenham, but without two of our three recognised central midfielders, and our creative spark in Eden Hazard, it is going to be a very difficult task indeed. Let’s hope Spurs’ Wembley hoodoo strikes again.

Chelsea Team News

Let’s not beat about the bush: Chelsea are short staffed in the middle of the park. Without Fabregas and injured new signing Tiemoue Bakayoko, N’Golo Kante is starting to look rather lonely in midfield.

And that’s a worry, because that is where Tottenham are at their best with the outstanding Mousa Dembele joined by Eric Dier to his side and Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen in front.

So Conte must find a solution, and he has only three real options: hand 19-year-old Kyle Scott his full Chelsea debut, rush Pedro back from his ankle injury and slot him in the middle, or source another alternative, such as the versatile Cesar Azpilicueta, to play there. Of the three options, the latter is most likely with Andreas Christensen coming in at centre back and Victor Moses returning from suspension.

The other problem is that, with Eden Hazard out until September following ankle surgery, we are short in those attacking midfield areas as well – particularly if Pedro doesn’t recover in time. Conte handed a start to Jeremie Boga against Burnley, but he would surely be loathe to use the youngster at Wembley.

One solution is a slight tweak to the 3-4-3 formation, which Conte tried in the International Champions Cup against Inter Milan. Rather than having two attacking midfielders dovetailing, the Italian selected Morata and Michy Batshuayi through the middle together, with Willian slotting in just behind. That might be the way he goes against Spurs.

Either way you look at it, the Blues are in a pickle right now and Conte is right: we need new players….and fast.


Tottenham vs Chelsea Head to Head

Well, what a storied past these two teams share. They’ve met more than 150 times in the past in all competitions great and small, and Chelsea have just about taken the bulk of the honours with 67 wins to 51 (40 draws).

The recent history has been littered with controversial moments, and of course that clash at the Bridge in May 2016, when the Blues ended Spurs’ hopes of winning the Premier League title courtesy of a Hazard double. It kicked off big style that day, and the two subsequent encounters between the pair have been feisty, to say the least.

The two sides met three times last season, sharing the honours in the league (0-2 at White Hart Lane and 2-1 at the Bridge) before Chelsea won in the FA Cup semi-final at Tottenham’s new Wembley home 4-2.

How the Match Will Be Won

Antonio Conte’s team selection will go a long way to defining how this match pans out. If he brings Azpilicueta into midfield then that will add a sturdy base from which to build, and at least gives us hope that Spurs’ attacking midfield trio won’t dominate proceedings.

The thought of Morata and Batshuayi as a pair up front is intriguing – the former’s guile and footballing brain mixed with the latter’s pace and brawn could be a heady mix. Conte deployed the 3-5-2 system to good effect when manager of the Italian national side, so that could be his trump card on Sunday.
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Victor Moses will return on the right, and with Marcos Alonso on the left that is some quality in wide areas that the Blues will hope to exploit. Tottenham utilise wing backs in all but name in Kyle Walker-Peters and Ben Davies, with the former still learning his trade and the latter still not convincing at this level. This could be an area that Conte seeks to exploit.

Perhaps the Wembley factor will come into play as well. The pitch there is longer and wider than at White Hart Lane, and perhaps that partly explains Spurs’ troubles there in the Champions League last term.

Many pundits will write Chelsea off this weekend, but let’s not be too hasty to jump on that bandwagon – the champions of England are chomping at the bit to bounce back.

Thursday 10 August 2017

Chelsea vs Burnley Match Preview (12/08/17): Champions to Start Title Defence in Best Possible Way

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So here we are then: after three months of rest and recuperation, the Chelsea boys are ready to defend their Premier League title.

The history books suggest we’ve got our work cut out: nobody has successfully recaptured the title since Manchester United in 2009, but these boys in blue showed enough class last season to at least hint at the prospect of back-to-back glory.

It has been a mercifully quiet summer transfer window, with Antonio Conte tinkering rather than overhauling the playing squad. The departure of Nemanja Matic is a shame in a sense – he showed glimpses of his best last term, and was a driving force in the last quarter or so of the campaign.

But Conte has his own ideas of how he wants Chelsea to play, and Matic’s replacement – Tiemoue Bakayoko – is certainly a quality addition. He’s young, athletic and powerful, and statistically he was one of the best defensive midfielders across any of Europe’s top leagues last term. His numbers, remarkably, were up there with N’Golo Kante’s! With that pair shielding the back three, we can see our own blue wall being erected that will be almost impossible to break down.

Antonio Rudiger is another smart capture. He’s another young talent with a bright future, and he will provide necessary cover at the back to deputise for Conte’s first choice trio or allow Cesar Azpilicueta to fill in at right wing back when Victor Moses is absent (as he is this weekend).
Embed from Getty Images Rudiger’s capture also enabled Conte to ship Kurt Zouma out on loan – he will get plenty of game time at Stoke, and that will be crucial to his development.

The vast majority of Chelsea fans await their first sighting of Alvaro Morata with interest. The lanky Spaniard has never quite hit it off at Real Madrid or Juventus, but a career goal tally of 103 strikes in 271 appearances suggests promise. His style of play echoes that of Diego Costa, with powerful hold-up play and clinical finishing suggesting he could be an adequate like-for-like replacement for his fellow countryman.

Ah, Diego. Many of us had suspected that he wasn’t happy at the club ever since the whole China debacle kicked off around Christmas time, and you would presume that his and Conte’s working relationship crumbled at that particular time.

Technically Costa is still a Chelsea player, although having been told to stay away from the Chelsea camp he has been training in Brazil and is expected to complete a move back to Atletico Madrid soon; even though the Spanish outfit have a transfer ban in place. Answers on a postcard about that one!

Following a non-event of a defeat in the Community Shield, attention turns to the season proper and the visit of Burnley as Stamford Bridge’s curtain-raiser on Saturday. The Clarets have sold two of their best players and were hapless on the road last season – surely the Blues will start the 2017/18 campaign with a win, won’t they?

Chelsea Team News

Ideally, you’d like to be at full strength for your seasonal opener, but unfortunately that luxury is not available to Conte this week.

Eden Hazard is still some way from full fitness following ankle surgery, and he hasn’t kicked a ball in anger for three months. September is his pencilled in return date, so the Blues will have to make do without their talisman for the time being.

Victor Moses is suspended after carrying over a ban from last term, and he will have to watch on from the stands. With no obvious replacement at wing back, expect Azpilicueta to shuffle out there and Rudiger to make his debut in what should be a straightforward enough game.

Tiemoue Bakayoko’s full debut is also on the back burner after the midfielder suffered a knee injury in pre-season. He is also expected to return alongside Moses next week. Happily, Cesc Fabregas is a more than adequate replacement.

Chelsea vs Burnley Head to Head

Chelsea are unbeaten in six starts against Burnley (W4 D2 L0) in a run dating back to November 2008.

They’ve only actually played each other seven times in the past 30 years, with the first meeting of those ending in a Burnley victory in the League Cup.

But the Blues have lapped up the Clarets ever since, winning 3-0 at the Bridge in the first meeting last season before settling for a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor in February.

How the Match Will Be Won

Burnley will have presumably done all they could to keep quality centre back Michael Keane from leaving the club, but the lure of an offer from Everton was enough to tempt the England international away from Lancashire.

The loss of Andre Gray could be a big one too. He may only have notched nine league goals last season, but his pace was crucial to the counter-attacking style that Sean Dyche prefers; especially for tough away trips like this.

Burley’s attacking options are now Sam Vokes and Jon Walters, and neither of those will be giving the Chelsea defenders nightmares.
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So the question that remains is can Chelsea break Burnley’s resistance? We certainly have the players with Cesc Fabregas orchestrating attacks from deep and Pedro and Willian looking lively in pre-season. This is a textbook fixture for Morata to make his debut in, and naturally we’re not going to expect miracles from a player that won’t have experienced anything quite like a Burnley welcome before.

The Clarets lost 14/19 away games last season, and that is symptomatic of a side that struggled to resist quality opposition on their travels. A rudimentary Chelsea victory is expected.