Thursday 28 September 2017

Chelsea vs Manchester City Match Preview (30/09/17): Can the Blues End City’s Unbeaten Streak?

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After racking our brains, we can’t think of many – if any – better away day performances from Chelsea than the 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

The Blues were outstanding from first whistle to last, and finally got the three points they deserved with Michy Batshuayi’s late, late winner. It condemned Atletico to defeat in their first game in their new home – their first European loss at home in 12 and the first time they have ever been beaten by an English side in Madrid.

Chelsea were colossal, no doubt about it, and much of the credit should go to Antonio Conte for his tactical tweak. He brought in Cesc Fabregas in place of Pedro, deployed Tiemoue Bakayoko in a deeper anchorman role and let Eden Hazard roam free in the classic number 10 position.

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The result was that the Belgian ran the show, hitting the post with an effort of his own before teeing up Alvaro Morata for Chelsea’s opener. It was an intriguing tactical switch from Conte, and one we suspect he may continue with against Manchester City on Saturday.

The Citizens appear to be in almost unstoppable form at present, but in a Champions League week anything is possible with tired legs and a sure-to-be raucous atmosphere at the Bridge. One thing that is for sure, is that if Chelsea play as well as they did against Atletico then they stand an excellent chance of ending City’s unbeaten streak.

Chelsea Team News

There is every likelihood that Antonio Conte will stick with the same set-up as that deployed against Atleti. Manchester City’s biggest threat comes through the middle, with David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne dovetailing with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, and so shutting down this area is key.

Of course, David Luiz will have to make way given he still has one match of his suspension to run. The Brazilian will likely be replaced by Andreas Christensen, whom Conte entrusted with the role against Stoke. Christensen delivered a mature performance at the heart of the back three, and there is no reason to suggest he isn’t ready to tackle Aguero and co.

Hazard is expected to continue in a more advanced role almost alongside Morata in attack, and the Belgian will likely cause huge problems to the City rearguard.

Chelsea vs Manchester City Head to Head

Chelsea’s recent record against Manchester City is fairly good with five wins, two draws and three defeats in their last ten head-to-head meetings. Of all the Premier League sides, the Blues have been the least effected by City ‘coming into money’ in the past decade or so.

The Blues’ run at Stamford Bridge against City is also pleasing on the eye at W6 D2 L2, and they really do have nothing to fear.

You may just recall Chelsea doing the double over Saturday’s opponents last season as well. We triumphed 3-1 at the City of Manchester Stadium in a bad-tempered affair in which Aguero and Fernandinho were sent off, before taking the honours 2-1 in the return fixture where Hazard played an absolute blinder with a brace.

How the Match Will Be Won

We had suggested that a moment of magic would be needed to win the game against Atletico Madrid in midweek, and that’s exactly what Michy Batshuayi did when popping up in the right place at the right time to net a 94th minute winner.

Against Manchester City, the modus operandi will be simple: disrupt their attacking play and disjoint the game as much as possible.

It would be foolish for Chelsea – or any side, for that matter, to think that they can outplay Manchester City, as that’s just not possible at the moment. Pep Guardiola’s men have bludgeoned 21 goals in six Premier League appearances, and that really does speak for itself.

So shutting down the middle of the park will be key – closing down those little pockets of space that Silva and De Bruyne thrive in, and cutting off the supply to Aguero and Gabriel so that they get frustrated and start dropping deeper and deeper in order to get a touch of the ball.

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It sounds wholly negative, and it is to some extent, but it was a tactic deployed to absolute perfection against Spurs both in last season’s FA Cup semi-final and the league game earlier this term. We all know that the Blues won those.

The silver lining is that City have been less impressive on their travels than they have been at home. Okay, so they beat Watford 6-0 on their last away day, but the Hornets were without five first choice defenders and the toil clearly showed. Otherwise, City just about scraped past Brighton (2-0) and Bournemouth (2-1), and neither of those were vintage performances.

Can Manchester City be stopped? Yes they can. And it will take a well-disciplined Chelsea side to do it.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea Match Preview (27/09/17): Expect a Low-Scoring Battle in Spanish Capital

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The 4-0 win over Stoke City on Saturday was incredibly satisfying for a number of reasons, but the real battle comes on Wednesday with the trip to Madrid to take on Diego Simeone’s Atletico.

The ruthless efficiency that the Blues showed in their triumph at the Bet365 Stadium, scoring with each of their four shots on target, is a mark of the continued improvement and evolution of the team under Antonio Conte. With Alvaro Morata imperious in attack – he netted a hat-trick on Saturday, the Italian can rest easy that his side is in fine fettle at both ends of the pitch.

And they will need to be up against Atletico Madrid, the Spanish side who have reached the final of the Champions League in two of the last three years. Their style of play is well suited to tense, all-or-nothing games, and their players tend to perform better than the sum of their parts – thanks largely to the cajoling of boss Diego Simeone.

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Atleti have just moved into their new home, the Wanda Metropolitano, and they will be hoping that they can replicate the form they showed at their former Vicente Calderon home. There, they lost just one of their last 22 Champions League outings.

Watching on from the stands will be one Diego Costa, who looks set to pen a deal taking him from Chelsea to Madrid in January. It would be a shame if we rubbed his nose in it with victory here, wouldn’t it!?

Chelsea Team News

Happily, there are no new injury concerns for Antonio Conte to consider, with Thibaut Courtois given the all-clear despite taking a nasty fall against Stoke.

“I spoke with our doctor about Thibaut, above all about whether I could make a different substitution and he said Thibaut was okay and you can make another substitution," Conte said. “Now he is okay and ready to play the next game against Atletico Madrid.”

The decision to rest Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard has paid dividends – the Spaniard may have to make do with a place on the bench, with the other pair starting, while of course David Luiz comes into contention. He is not suspended for European matches, and will play with his broken wrist in a cast.

Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea Head to Head

There is a storied history developing between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, with all five of their encounters taking place in the past decade.

They were paired together in the group stage of the 2009/10 Champions League, with Chelsea winning 4-0 at the Bridge before gaining a creditable 2-2 draw in Madrid.

Their next meeting came in 2012, when they locked horns in the Super Cup – that traditional season curtain-raiser that pits the Champions League winner against the UEFA Cup champion. On that occasion Atleti ran out 4-2 victors.

And then, in 2013/14, the two sides met in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Heartbreakingly, it was Atleti who booked their place in the final with a 3-1 win at the Bridge following a 0-0 draw at the Vicente Calderon.

The architect of Chelsea’s downfall that day? Mr Diego Costa, who netted a 60th minute penalty to put his side clear. Let’s hope for the sweet taste of revenge on Wednesday.

How the Match Will Be Won

It won’t be easy for either side to claim the three points, that’s for certain. Atletico’s brilliant home form in this competition is based upon their defensive work: they’ve kept an incredible 16 clean sheets in their last 20 Champions League starts on their home turf.

Of that 20, six ended 1-0 to the Spaniards and two 0-0, and of their last 20 Champions League matches home and away 14 have witnessed two or fewer goals.

So that gives a good flavour of how Diego Simeone likes his team to play. This is conservative, no risk football, with two banks of four when out of possession and an unwillingness to throw too many bodies forward when attacking.

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Atletico boast the prodigious talents of Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Carrasco, and in midfield the likes of Koke and Saul Niguez are as disciplined defensively as they are dangerous on the attack. At the back, the likes of Diego Godin, Stefan Savic and Juanfran constitute what is a fantastic defensive unit.

Would Chelsea be happy with a point in Madrid? You’d expect so, not that that will be Conte’s explicit message to his troops. But with the Blues defence-minded to some extent, with five defensive players backed by a midfield shield of N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko, this game could descend into a real grind.

One moment of magic could win it; let’s hope it’s somebody in a blue shirt that produces it.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Stoke City vs Chelsea Match Preview (23/09/17): Blues Confident Ahead of Tough Potteries Trip

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As midweek run outs in fairly meaningless cup competitions goes, Chelsea’s 5-1 win over Nottingham Forest on Wednesday was absolutely perfection.

There was the confidence-inducing authority of the scoreline, no injuries or suspensions, a morale-boosting hat-trick for a young striker learning his craft, a first 90 minutes of the season for the talisman, game time for some fringe players who will be needed this term, and an opportunity to see a trio of future stars make their debut in a blue shirt.

It’s hard to think of a way that the Carabao Cup encounter could have gone any better!
Michy Batshuayi will take the headlines for his treble – a much-needed boost for the youngster whose first-team appearances have been limited, but it was the performances of Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas that should really take the plaudits.

The former assisted two of the goals and enjoyed his first full 90 minutes of the campaign, while the Spaniard had a hand in three goals as he once again delivered a virtuoso midfield performance.

Charly Musonda bagged a goal on his full competitive debut – we told you to watch out for the fleet-footed attacker, and Kenedy also netted after smart work from Antonio Rudiger.

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The home faithful also got a glimpse into the future as Jake Clarke-Salter, Ethan Ampadu and Dujon Sterling all made their first senior team appearances off the bench.

So as long as Hazard did not suffer any reaction to playing the full 90 then Wednesday evening went perfectly, and Antonio Conte will be feeling pretty chipper ahead of the trip to Stoke on Saturday.

The Blues have had a mixed bag of form at the Britannia Stadium, losing on three of their last five visits there, but the players could not be in better spirits ahead of Saturday’s game.

Chelsea Team News

Danny Drinkwater is still working his way back to full fitness after suffering a pre-season injury, and it is thought that late October is his target date for a return.

Pedro suffered an ankle injury in the game against Arsenal on Sunday, although The Standard is reporting that the Spaniard should be in contention to be fit for Stoke.

All of which leaves David Luiz as the only confirmed absentee for the Potteries date. The Brazilian suffered the double-whammy of being sent off against the Gunners and breaking a bone in his wrist after earlier crashing into the advertising hoardings on the brink of half-time.

Luiz was suspended for last night’s Carabao Cup clash and will also miss the Premier League games against Stoke and Manchester City next Saturday.

So how will Conte combat the loss of his key defender? One option would have been to move Cesar Azpilicueta into the central ‘free’ role, and bring in Antonio Rudiger to his right, although it seems that the manager prefers to trust in Andreas Christensen.

“Christensen is a very young player but I think he is a good player and I trust him,” Conte said. “Now he has the possibility to play and now he has to prepare very well to play.”

The other question for the Italian is will he start with Hazard again so soon after the Forest match? Being the pragmatist he is, Conte will leave everyone guessing until the last minute about that, but with the Champions League encounter with Atletico Madrid on the horizon he may choose to use the Belgian as an impact sub here.


Stoke City vs Chelsea Head to Head

As mentioned, Chelsea haven’t always enjoyed the best of it at the Britannia Stadium – three defeats in their last five trips to the Potteries confirms the fact.

But some context is required. Two of those losses came within a fortnight of one another in October/November of 2015 – which will forever be known as the sad, mad last days of Jose Mourinho as manager.

In Antonio Conte’s first trip to the Britannia in March, he oversaw a 2-1 win with a delicious free kick from Willian and a late winner from Gary Cahill firing the Blues a step closer to the Premier League title.

Chelsea have won 14 of their last 20 games against Stoke home and away, and will be confident of adding to that haul despite a record at the Britannia which reads W5 D2 L3.

How the Match Will Be Won

When Chelsea last played Stoke away from home the Potteries side aimed to make life as difficult as possible for the Blues, and even seemed to target Diego Costa in a deliberate attempt to wind up the Spaniard. It’s an allegation that Mark Hughes strongly denied, but the fact his defender Phil Bardsley was sent off – largely for a campaign of hate against Costa – speaks volumes.

Alvaro Morata seems a rather more placid chap than his countryman, and so that’s one tactic that should give the hosts less joy this time around.

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Hughes has worked hard to shake off the ‘long ballers’ tag he inherited from Tony Pulis, bringing in the likes of the classy Xherdan Shaqiri and Jese Rodriguez. But no doubt the manager will be whispering in the ear of the likes of Darren Fletcher and Geoff Cameron to ‘leave a bit on’ Chelsea’s creative talents in an attempt to stifle them.

It has worked already this term against Arsenal, whom Stoke deservedly beat 1-0, and Manchester United – Stoke bringing their perfect start to the campaign to an end in a 2-2 draw.

They will surely test the aerial prowess of Azpilicueta and Christensen courtesy of long balls to Eric Choupo-Moting and possibly even Peter Crouch off the bench, and so the midfield will need to make sure they track any Stoke runners feeding off the knock downs.

But all in all, Stoke offer precious little from an attacking sense. They have not enjoyed shot supremacy in any of their five Premier League outings to date, and have yielded numerous shots on target in their pair of home outings so far. Chelsea are likely to thrive in such conditions.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest Match Preview (20/09/17): Blues Fans to Witness Next Generation of Stars at the Bridge

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In what could have been the perfect weekend to bookend a fine week, instead Blues fans were left feeling a tad frustrated following the 0-0 draw with Arsenal on Sunday.

The Gunners had their chances, but really it was Pedro who had the golden opportunity to break the deadlock in the first half but he couldn’t beat Petr Cech.

A point against Arsenal is not a bad result, all things considered equal, but they are a side that historically we have the better of at Stamford Bridge so you could understand Antonio Conte’s slightly tetchy post-match interview – particularly after witnessing David Luiz get sent off for a silly tackle on Saed Kolasinac near the end of the game.

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That frustration could well be exacerbated by this EFL Cup fixture on Wednesday against Nottingham Forest – a competition which has become a bit of a nuisance by all accounts for clubs battling it out on more pressing fronts.

Mind you, it might be an opportunity for Eden Hazard to get his first full 90 minutes under the belt in quite some time, and for Stamford Bridge patrons there is likely to be a chance to see the next generation of Chelsea stars strut their stuff.

Chelsea Team News

The EFL Cup is the ideal breeding ground for youngsters to get a taste of life in a Chelsea shirt, and so it has been no surprise to see the likes of Charly Musonda, Ethan Ampadu and Jake Clarke-Salter training with the first eleven in the past few days.

Whether they start or not remains to be seen – it’s quite possible that Musonda will get the nod, with the other two on the bench, and he may just link up with Eden Hazard in attack. The Belgian looked strong in his 20-minute cameo against Arsenal, but needs more game time with pressing matters on the horizon and he may well start here.

Tiemoue Bakayoko was another second-half substitute against the Gunners and he too impressed with his physicality and forward motion. The summer signing could do with a full 90 minutes, so he may take to the field on Wednesday.

Otherwise it is likely to be fringe players that make up the rest of the starting eleven, with a full competitive debut for Willy Caballero in the offing.


Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest Head to Head

There was a time back in the 1970s and 80s when Nottingham Forest were one of the best teams in Europe, but mismanagement and bad intentions off the field have, unfortunately, rendered the Tricky Trees as nothing more than a mid-table Championship side at best these days.

The overall head-to-head lead is 37-26 in the Blues’ favour, although you have to go back more than a decade for the last time these two sides met. That was a 3-0 FA Cup win at the Bridge in January 2007, and that fixture came some seven years after the last encounter between the teams.

How the Match Will Be Won

Nottingham Forest’s players will come to the Bridge with more ambition and quality than FK Qarabag did in the Champions League a week ago, but a similar theme is expected.

The Blues’ much-changed side took a while to get going, but when they did they exploded into life. Remember, fringe players have lots to prove and plenty to gain by performing well on nights like this, and so we expect a focused and determined Chelsea to take to the field on Wednesday.

Forest have lost four of their last six matches and conceded two or more goals in each of those, and while their young side will be excited by the challenge of taking on the Blues we are expecting a professional performance from an equally youthful side with plenty to prove.

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Hazard and, quite probably, Michy Batshuayi will bring the goal threat, while Davide Zappacosta won’t mind firing in another spectacular strike like he did against Qarabag!

And keep an eye out for Musonda: the 20-year-old is seriously talented, and his skills could well light up the Bridge on Wednesday.

Thursday 14 September 2017

Chelsea vs Arsenal Match Preview (17/09/17): Blues to Land Knockout Blow on Old London Foe

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There will be tougher tests to come of course – there’s one as early as Sunday lunchtime, for example – but Chelsea’s 6-0 win over Qarabag in the Champions League qualifier on Tuesday was further evidence that the Blues are hitting their stride this term.

The opposition was limited, of course, but often these sorts of contests can descend into frustrating fare as the visitors erect an eleven man wall in front of their own goal.

But Chelsea’s attacking play was so good that that was never likely to be an eventuality, with Pedro opening the floodgates as early as the fifth minute with a sweet strike. Davide Zappacosta doubled the lead with a bizarre goal on debut, before further strikes from Tiemoue Bakayoko, Michy Batshuayi and an own goal sealed the deal.

So that was a satisfying start to the Champions League campaign, and while it was an evening of frivolity at the Bridge as the Blues completely dominated their opponents, we must switch on ahead of another huge test of credentials.

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Arsenal are hurting at present, and the 3-0 win over Bournemouth last time out only partially papers over the cracks. This is a team beaten by Stoke and humbled by Liverpool, and with a Europa League clash on Thursday night against FC Koln they also have 48 hours less recovery time than the Chelsea boys.

So can Antonio Conte’s side pile more misery on the Gunners on Sunday?

Chelsea Team News

The beauty of playing perhaps your easiest Champions League game first up is that you can rest players, and that’s exactly what Conte did on Tuesday with David Luiz, Victor Moses and Alvaro Morata taking a watching brief and Eden Hazard being gently cajoled back into action with half-an-hour in the second half.

So the Blues will be at full strength for Sunday’s game, giving Conte an embarrassment of riches to select from.

Indeed, the only injury worry at present is Danny Drinkwater, who is still recovering from the calf injury that had kept him out of Leicester’s pre-season and early Premier League matches.

Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to Head

These two teams have competed in the top flight of English football almost uninterrupted for the past five decades and more, and so the fact they have met on a whopping 191 occasions should come as no surprise.

Historically the Gunners have had the upper hand with 75 wins to 62, but have they had the better of the recent encounters, and what is their record at Stamford Bridge like?

Their recent record at the Bridge is fairly abject in truth, with Chelsea winning each of the last five games between the pair at the ground with a goal difference of +13.

And it was actually a 0-3 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium almost a year ago to the day that fired Chelsea to the 2016/17 Premier League title – it was here that Conte, at the end of his tether with his underperforming side, decided to revert to the famous 3-4-3 system. The rest, as they say, is history!

The Gunners have gained superiority on the Blues in cup games and off-encounters, winning in the FA Cup final back in May and two Community Shield encounters in the summer and back in 2015.

But in the nitty gritty of the Premier League, Chelsea have undoubtedly had Arsenal’s number in recent times with a return of W7 D2 L1. Other than the match mentioned, the last time we lost to Arsene Wenger’s outfit was that ridiculous 3-5 defeat at the Bridge back in 2011!

How the Match Will Be Won

It is easy to be biased when previewing a match against a fairly bitter rival both in terms of geography and history, but we firmly believe the way this Arsenal side sets up is tailormade for yet another Chelsea victory.

Let’s start at the back, where Wenger continues to shoehorn his troops into a back three. He’s tried various combinations, but for now it looks as if Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal is his chosen trio.

Now, there’s no way in a million years that Monreal is a natural centre-back, and you only need to look at how both Leicester and Liverpool have had him on toast to know that. With Shkodran Mustafi also failing to convince, it’s hardly a firm foundation for Arsenal to build upon.

In front of them, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey is hardly the midfield shield that this leaky backline needs. Ramsey is a more forward-thinking player than his deep role suggests, while Xhaka seems to be tiptoeing the precipice of disaster with his rakish and often poorly-timed tackles. From a defensive standpoint, that’s a disastrous back five.

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Wing backs Hector Bellerin and Saed Kolasinac are functional enough, while attacking spark Mesut Ozil can be outstanding or anonymous depending on his mood.

The pace of Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck – assuming Alexis Sanchez is still black-balled come Sunday – could be a threat, but remember that Chelsea themselves play three at the back, which means we always have one man spare – usually David Luiz – to over across and sweep up any through balls.

When you look at the two teams and how they will probably line up, you have to say that Antonio Conte holds all of the aces. Chelsea’s outstanding record in the league against Arsenal looks set to continue.

Monday 11 September 2017

Chelsea vs FK Qarabag Match Preview (12/09/17): Expect Second-String Blues to Impress on Champions League Bow

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After the opening day defeat to Burnley, it was fair game for Blues fans to ponder whether it was a mere blip or a sign of a forthcoming ‘second season syndrome’ under Antonio Conte. Had the 3-4-3 system been overpowered? Were the players up for the job – remember how the season after the last time they were crowned champions panned out?

Well, put those concerns to bed, tuck them up tight and kiss them goodnight. Three straight victories – without Eden Hazard and Gary Cahill – has put the Chelsea train back on the tracks, and that’s great news ahead of a week which sees us open our Champions League account for 2017/18 on Tuesday evening before entertaining Arsenal on Sunday.

The weekend win over Leicester was a consummate example of the turnaround since that opening day demise at the hands of Burnley. Chelsea played like champions, no less, and while the final score read 2-1 at Leicester, the truth is that the margin of victory could have been even greater: the Blues winning the shot count 18-8, the shots on target tally 6-2 and the corner count 9-2.

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So confidence is high heading into our first Champions League foray of the campaign, and Tuesday’s opponents at the Bridge, FK Qarabag, are likely to be a nuisance rather than a real threat. The Azerbaijani outfit – try saying that after a few real ales – won both of their qualifiers by a single goal margin over Copenhagen and Sheriff, and frankly it’s a banana skin that the Blues should adeptly sidestep with the minimum of fuss.

Chelsea Team News

A date with Arsenal is on the horizon, and while Antonio Conte will not be overlooking this game – he can’t afford to, as six points from the two matches with Qarabag is paramount – he may opt to rotate his squad and offer some game-time to his fringe players.

Gary Cahill will return from suspension and get some much-needed minutes in his legs, and Conte will perhaps opt for his strongest back three as a clean sheet here will almost guarantee victory.

There’s an opportunity to hand debuts to deadline day signings Davide Zappacosta and Danny Drinkwater, and the chance for Tiemoue Bakayoko to get a low intensity hour under his belt must be tempting for the manager.

This fixture is the perfect opportunity to welcome Eden Hazard back to the starting eleven, and after his globetrotting antics in the international break Alvaro Morata may get the chance to put his feet up on the bench and see if Michy Batshuayi can stake a claim for more regular action.

Chelsea vs Qarabag Head to Head

Unsurprisingly really, Chelsea and Qarabag are yet to cross paths in the Champions League or any other competition for that matter. Indeed, there is very little that we have to work with in terms of predicting how this Qarabag side will fare at Champions League level.

But here are two contests of note: they lost 0-1 on aggregate to Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers of 2015/16, while just a matter of weeks ago they bested a Copenhagen side on away goals (2-2 on aggregate). The Danish outfit played in last season’s competition – albeit they’ve lost a couple of players since – and their results were as follows:
  • Porto 1 vs 1 Copenhagen
  • Copenhagen 4 vs 0 Club Brugge
  • Leicester City 1 vs 0 Copenhagen
  • Copenhagen 0 vs 0 Leicester
  • Copenhagen 0 vs 0 Porto
  • Club Brugge 0 vs 2 Copenhagen
Conclusions to be drawn from those results are minimal, but one thing we do know is that Qarabag won’t be pushovers.

How the Match Will Be Won

We can only speculate at this stage on the starting eleven that Antonio Conte will go for on Tuesday evening, but we suspect that this will be the ideal opportunity for fringe players to get some game time into their legs.

That won’t mean a change in the way we play, but there may be an early period of disconnect as the players get used to their roles and the way their teammates play. For someone like Danny Drinkwater, that means not pinging hopeful 50-yard balls into the channels for Jamie Vardy to chase.

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Clearly, whatever side Conte sends out is going to be packed with quality, and should have too much for a Qarabag side that in the past year alone has lost 1-5 at Fiorentina, 0-3 at Slovan Liberec and 1-5 at Brondby.

The actual specifics of the contest are unknown, but we expect a strong Chelsea eleven to claim a straightforward victory against the Azerbaijanis, with a morale-boosting clean sheet into the bargain.

Thursday 7 September 2017

Leicester City vs Chelsea Match Preview (09/09/17): Blues Looking to Make It Three on the Bounce in the Midlands

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It feels like it has been an age since the last Premier League ball was kicked, and we can wave goodbye to the frustrating international break with a cracking encounter at the KP Stadium.

Antonio Conte can sleep easy knowing that his players have returned from international duty in good health, and indeed he has been boosted by the game time afforded to Eden Hazard for Belgium. The forward played 77 minutes in his side’s 9-0 demolition of Gibraltar, getting on the scoresheet in the process, before entering the field as a substitute three days later against Greece to get another welcome 15 minutes under his belt.

And since the Blues last laced up their boots in club football we of course have had transfer deadline day, and while the decision to sign Danny Drinkwater raised eyebrows in some quarters – do we really need to spend £35 million on a fourth-choice midfielder? – the addition of Daniel Zappacosta is most welcome. The Italian will provide much-needed cover for Victor Moses at wing back, and can also slot into the three-man defence when required.

Will either of those players slide straight into Conte’s starting eleven against Leicester? It would be surprising, even if the temptation to reunite Kante and Drinkwater in midfield at the ground they were crowned Premier League champions is there. No, the gaffer will surely want to stick with the same eleven who so comprehensively outplayed Everton in their last start.

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Cesc Fabregas and Alvaro Morata got the goals, while Willian took the man of the match honours from a fixture which Chelsea could have won by four or five goals to nil. Coming on the back of the victory over Spurs at Wembley, the signs are encouraging from the champions.

Chelsea Team News

There’s a selection headache for Conte to solve this week, but aren’t they always the best kind?
Much of the team picks itself, with Thibaut Courtois starting in goal and the same back five as the Everton match taking their places.

In midfield, the manager must decide who partners Kante, although after his performance against Everton there seems no reason for Fabregas to be dropped in favour of Drinkwater or Tiemoue Bakayoko – both of whom are working their way back to full fitness early season injuries.

Alvaro Morata, with three goals in his last four outings for club and country, leads the line, and so then the question is who plays just behind him? Conte must perm two from three of the in-form Willian, the ever-reliable Pedro and the talismanic Eden Hazard. For now, it may just be that the Belgian is given the brief of super sub until fully fit.

Leicester City vs Chelsea Head to Head

The head-to-head record between Leicester and Chelsea is misleading in many ways, given that the Foxes were in football’s wilderness for a number of years prior to their eyebrow-raising title win.

Mind you, that one season in 2015/16 is the only time that Leicester have enjoyed any lasting superiority over the Blues, beating us 2-1 at the KP Stadium in December ’15 before the 1-1 played out in May ’16.

Bit other than that Chelsea have dominated: since the 2001/02 season, the record reads W11 D1 L1 in our favour.

How the Match Will Be Won

It seems churlish to regard a recent Premier League title-winning side as a one trick pony, but that is essentially what Leicester are.

They will play on the counter attack against Chelsea, even on home soil, and will look to spring Jamie Vardy away with balls into the channels. The good news for the Blues is that this tactic should, theoretically, have limited success given that our three centre backs cover more ground than a traditional four-at-the-back system. Ordinarily Vardy does his best work running into space between full back and centre half.

And then there’s the mercurial Riyad Mahrez, who simply hasn’t been the same player in the past 12 months. If you believe the papers, he’s been after a move away from the Midlands since the summer, and even tried to ‘prostitute’ himself around on transfer deadline day. He is a fantastic player of course, but you do wonder if most top flight defences are now wise to his ‘drop the left shoulder and cut in off the right flank onto his stronger left foot’ routine that served him so well in 2015/16.

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Otherwise, Leicester are all of those clich├ęs that pundits like to throw around when talking about average teams: solid, workmanlike, uncompromising….three words that neatly describe Harry Maguire, if nothing else!

The Foxes will be compact defensively and counter at pace, and it won’t be an easy game for us that’s for sure. But our joy will come down the left hand side, with Mahrez unwilling to track back Marcos Alonso and Pedro/Willian/Hazard will have a two-on-one set-up against Danny Simpson, the Leicester right back. That bodes very well indeed.