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to use in big games against tough opposition, with Eden Hazard operating just behind Alvaro Morata and Pedro in a more withdrawn central role alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko and Cesc Fabregas (assuming that Kante is not fit to start).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.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Bournemouth vs Chelsea Match Preview (28/10/17): Cherries Ripe for Picking at Teatime

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Ah yes, the fickle nature of football. Less than a week after ‘speculation’ about Antonio Conte’s job, amid rumours of a ‘rift’ with the players, Chelsea respond in the best way possible by claiming two wins in the space of four days.

Really, we should know better than to give any credence to the tabloid twaddle, but there were signs that Conte was feeling the heat at the Bridge. A few subtle digs at the chairman haven’t helped as injuries mount, and the frustration that the Italian has been feeling has been evident in his demeanour and strange grey-ish pallor on the touchline.

The last thing we needed was a potential banana-skin against Watford on Saturday then, but the players responded to Conte’s prompting, and if not with flying colours they did at least pass this latest test of their credentials.

The Carabao Cup could be construed as a nuisance, rather than having any actual value to those involved, and we all have differing opinions on that. Conte’s viewpoint, judging by his team selection against Everton on Wednesday, is one of general indifference.

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Even so, he must have been delighted that his side were able to pick up the win. Goals from Rudiger and Willian did the job against a spirited Everton performance, who seem to have a bit of fire back under caretaker boss David Unsworth. It was excellent to see young Ethan Ampadu make his first start in a blue shirt, and an assured performance from Danny Drinkwater, slowly working his way back to full fitness, was the icing on the cake.

Saturday teatime’s trip to Bournemouth can be made with relish then, and hopefully another winning performance can afford Blues fans the perfect excuse to toast another three points on the south coast.

Chelsea Team News

The good news is that the treatment room is clearing. Drinkwater’s hour-long cameo confirms that he is nearing full fitness, and that’s a fantastic fillip given the ongoing injury problems to N’Golo Kante.

The prognosis is good for the diminutive Frenchman, however, who has returned to light fitness work and should be fit for the Manchester United game on November 5.
Victor Moses’ return date is a little more open ended, and so we will have to wait on further updates to his condition.

Otherwise, it’s all hands on deck for Conte ahead of the trip to the Cherries.

Bournemouth vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea vs Bournemouth is not an especially storied rivalry given that the Cherries’ development as a top flight side has only come in recent times.

As such they have only met seven times in the past, with four of those encounters coming after the turn of the Millennium.

At least the Blues boast a strong record against the south coast outfit, with three wins and one defeat since Bournemouth ascended to the Premier League. Especially pleasing is the nature of those three triumphs, which have all come in the last trio of meetings, with scorelines ending 3-0, 3-1 and 4-1.

How the Match Will Be Won

Confidence in the Bournemouth camp must be shot to pieces at the moment with six defeats in nine this term, and if Chelsea can withstand a pressurised first ten minutes or so they should be able to kick on with aplomb from there.

You can see it now: a televised game on Saturday evening, a lively home crowd after an afternoon spent in the various hostelries of the area, and a fast and frenetic approach. Yep, the Cherries will be a handful in the early going, but if we can keep them quiet and silence the fans then we expect Chelsea’s quality to shine through as they grab a foothold in the game.

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Bournemouth have kept just one clean sheet this season, and with Jermain Defoe on the treatment table their attacking options are severely limited too. They are there for the taking on Saturday.

Their record against the ‘big six’ since the start of last season reads W1 D4 L10, and so clearly they struggle to contain elite-level opposition. There may even be a crisis of confidence too – the Cherries climbed up the league ladder at a rapid rate – with players suffering from low self-esteem when tackling the top boys. That might sound naff, but how else can you explain that poor run against the big six.

So, like we say, weather that early storm on the coast and Chelsea should be able to ease themselves into the game. From there, they will be a heavy favourite to go on and make it three wins on the spin.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Chelsea vs Everton Match Preview (25/10/17): Blues to Edge Out Manager-less Everton

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What a difference 34 minutes can make. That’s all it took for Michy Batshuayi, on as a substitute for Alvaro Morata, to score two goals, help create another and set the wheels of a fantastic comeback in motion on Saturday against Watford.

The Hornets had forged ahead 1-2, despite Pedro’s sublime opener, and in truth Chelsea didn’t look like getting back into the contest.

That was until Batshuayi was sent forth from the bench, and despite showing few signs of quality in the year or so at the club the Belgian really came to the party on Saturday lunchtime. His first was a powerful header from a Pedro cross, while his second was a determined effort in which he refused to give up until the ball was nestling in the back of the net.

It was a fantastic tonic for Antonio Conte, who has been looking rather glum of late, but his joy was evident as he dived into the crowd to celebrate the fourth goal. The naysayers will say ‘but it was only Watford’, but go and ask Liverpool or Arsenal fans what they think of the Hornets’ improvement this term under Marco Silva.

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There is respite, of sorts, in midweek with Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash with Everton. The Toffees have just relinquished manager Ronald Koeman of his position, with David Unsworth stepping into the fold as caretaker. If the Merseysiders play in Unsworth’s mould, they will be determined and uncompromising at the Bridge, and desperate to prove their doubters wrong.

We suspect Conte will make changes to his starting eleven and hand out some rests where possible, although the pessimists will tell you that this is Chelsea’s best chance of getting their hands on some silverware this season. Only time will tell on that!

Chelsea Team News

This preview was written prior to Conte’s pre-match press conference, and so we are left guessing as to who will feature in his starting eleven on Wednesday.

If you remember back to the last round of this competition – the 5-1 win over Nottingham Forest – you may recall many fringe players getting a go. Willy Caballero, Andreas Christensen, Davide Zappacosta, Kenedy, Charly Musonda and Batshuayi all started, with Omari Sterling and Ethan Ampadu coming on from the bench.

We might expect something similar against Everton, particularly with N’Golo Kante still out and David Luiz battling an ongoing knock. Conte may want to rest the Brazilian and Tiemoue Bakayoko, who is Kante’s only real deputy in the Chelsea squad.

Chelsea vs Everton Head to Head

These two sides have met on some 177 occasions, and it is Chelsea who have taken most of the spoils with 71 wins to 54 (52 draws).

In the modern era – let’s say the past decade, Chelsea’s formline against the Toffees reads W14 D7 L7, although we note that Everton haven’t won at Stamford Bridge in seven attempts (W6 D1 L0).

Oddly, Everton have won two of their last three cup matches against the Blues, so the history books offer few clues as to how this one will go.

How the Match Will Be Won

There are two obvious discussion points governing this match: how strong will the team be that Antonio Conte puts out, and how will the Everton players react to the departure of Koeman.

As far as the first point goes, you can see from the image above how we think the Blues will line up. It’s a decent side, although you would worry about Ethan Ampadu on his first Chelsea start up against a Toffees side that has routinely played four central midfielders in their starting eleven this season.

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Fans of 90s football will remember David Unsworth as being a fairly uncompromising centre back, although the suggestion is that he is rather more dynamic and progressive as a manager. He has led the club’s Under 23 side for a number of years, and helped to produce a number of talents that have or are just starting to break into first team plans.

We would expect some kind of a reaction from the Everton players, too. It became apparent in Koeman’s last weeks as Toffees boss that the players weren’t exactly rooting for their manager, and so often a change is as good as a rest. As an old-school Scottish centre half, Unsworth won’t take any prisoners.

We’d hope that Batshuayi would continue his fine form on Wednesday, and that players like Willian – who is still yet to nail down a guaranteed first team place – would come to the party and show Conte exactly what they are about.

We’ll take Chelsea to just edge a low scoring affair.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Chelsea vs Watford Match Preview (21/10/17): Blues To Take the Sting Out of Hornets

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While for the neutral the 3-3 draw between Chelsea and Roma must have made for outstanding viewing, for Blues fans themselves it was rather more of a frustrating spectacle.

Things looked set go swimmingly when David Luiz put us in front with a stunning strike in the eleventh minute, and when Eden Hazard doubled the advantage we really should have closed the game out from that point on.

But the Italians scored three times in a 30 minute spell either side of the break to take the lead, and the looks of exasperation on Chelsea fans’ faces told the whole story.

Eden Hazard did equalise shortly after, and the good-feeling that Chelsea fans had courtesy of that late goal was enhanced yet further with the news that Atletico Madrid had been held to a goalless draw at Qarabag.

So the overall result of Wednesday evening is, arguably, one of positivity: Chelsea should really romp into the last 16 from here. But to look at the minutiae – we were staring down the barrel of a third consecutive defeat at one point, which would have been the first time since 2006 that we would have suffered the fate. We’re conceding goals liberally, and to make matters worse Conte hinted after the match that both David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko picked up knocks.

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So it’s less than ideal then that we have to take on a Watford side buoyed by their own 2-1 victory over Arsenal last time out. Hopefully Conte can summon up a decent (and fit) starting eleven, because we might just need it against the buzzing Hornets on Saturday.

Chelsea Team News

"When we changed in the second half the situation was changing. David Luiz had a little problem in his calf and in this moment I can't risk my players, we are playing always the same players."

Those were the post-match words of Conte, and whether his substituting of the Brazilian was just precautionary or the sign of something more sinister, we could really do with him on the pitch at the weekend.

Luiz was deployed as a makeshift midfielder against Roma, but against Watford he would presumably slot back in at centre half, with Cesc Fabregas dropping deeper and either Pedro or Willian coming into the side. That’s assuming that he is fit, of course.

The fact that Bakayoko played the full 90 suggests his condition is manageable, while Hazard and Davide Zappacosta were taken off for tactical reasons rather than anything else.

So the only confirmed absentees are Victor Moses and N’Golo Kante, with Danny Drinkwater back in training but a month or so away from pulling on the blue shirt for the first time.

Chelsea vs Watford Head to Head

Watford might be buzzing at present but they still have a terrible head-to-head record against Chelsea to overcome.

The Blues are unbeaten in 12 in all competitions against the Vicarage Roaders, winning nine of the dozen. Indeed, Chelsea have only lost once to Watford in 17 encounters dating back to 1987!

The Hornets’ last win at Stamford Bridge came back in the old Division One in 1986 – otherwise, Chelsea’s home record reads W6 D4 L0 since and W3 D1 L0 from 2010 onwards.

How the Match Will Be Won

Watford are performing manfully at the moment given their list of absent defenders: Prodl, Cathcart, Kaboul, Hoban and defensive midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah are all waylaid by injury.

So a few expected Arsenal to breach their backline more than just once last Saturday, and the fact that Heurelho Gomes in the Hornet’s goal was named Man-of-the-Match perhaps speaks volumes. The stopper had six shots to deal with as the Gunners arguably dominated proceedings before going down to a late penalty.

That’s why Chelsea must be bold and attack with gusto on Saturday: a Watford back three of Adrian Mariappa, Christian Kabasele and Miguel Britos is, frankly, there to be got at.

Roberto Peyrera and Richarlison will provide lively competition in Chelsea’s final third, and the pace of Andre Gray will need to be well-marshalled – expect David Luiz to play a little deeper as an old fashioned sweeper to deal with balls into the channel.

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The stats would suggest that Watford’s best work has come away from home this term – which may suggest a penchant for a counter attack or two. They’ve picked up ten points from a possible twelve on the road, although a kind fixture list of Bournemouth, Southampton, Swansea and West Brom highlights perhaps something of a charmed life for Marco Silva’s men so far.

So, what do we know? We know that Chelsea will provide Watford’s sternest away test of the campaign, and that they are missing a number of key defensive players. If the Blues are fit and start quickly on Saturday lunchtime, there’s no reason why they can’t take the sting out of the Hornets in convincing fashion.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Chelsea vs Roma Match Preview (18/10/17): Patched Up Blues Ready for the Italian Job

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It was one of those games of football where it is hard to explain exactly how it was lost, but Chelsea’s 1-2 reverse at the hands of previously winless Crystal Palace was another example of the Blues’ regression so far this term.

The Eagles’ opening goal, a bizarre own goal that deflected in off Cesar Azpilicueta, was unlucky to say the very least, but Wilfried Zaha’s winner could have been prevented with some smarter defending.

That’s two Premier League defeats on the bounce now, which leaves us some nine points behind leaders Manchester City – a side not making rudimentary errors, unlike the Blues.

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It’s a relief then to have a short break from domestic duty in midweek as we welcome Roma to Stamford Bridge for the latest instalment of the Champions League. Top of Group C with two wins in as any matches, this competition was the scene for our best performance of the season at Atletico Madrid, and let’s hope those memories inspire the lads back to winning ways on Wednesday.

The cause should be aided by the return of Alvaro Morata, who was photographed on Monday training alongside his teammates after seemingly shaking off the thigh injury that ruled him out of the trip to Selhurst Park.

In a fortnight of bad news, we have to take every silver lining we can get.

Chelsea Team News

As first feared, Victor Moses tweaked his hamstring against the Eagles and will be out for the next couple of weeks.

There has been no major advancement in N’Golo Kante’s diagnosis, with Conte suggesting the midfield dynamo could be out for ‘three, maybe four weeks’.

At least Morata’s return offers an attacking outlet so sorely lacking on Saturday, and his link-up play with Eden Hazard will be vital as the Blues seek a third straight victory in the Champions League.

A rather tepid display from Willian may just have cost him his place in the starting eleven, with Pedro impressing when he came on as a 57th minute substitute. The Spaniard may just get the nod on Wednesday.

Chelsea vs Roma Head to Head

Chelsea and Roma have only ever met four times – and those were both double-header fixtures in continental competition.

You have to go back to 1965 for the first set: Chelsea winning 4-1 at home in the Fairs Cup before a 0-0 stalemate ensued in the return leg in Italy.

For those of a more contemporary persuasion, the pair last met in 2008. Chelsea won 1-0 at the Bridge before Roma gained revenge with a 3-1 victory on home soil.

How the Match Will Be Won

The concern for Chelsea fans, quite simply, is the form that Roma find themselves in heading into this encounter.

After a sluggish start they had won five Serie A matches in a row prior to the weekend, where they were beaten 0-1 by runaway leaders Napoli. The Italians have got off to a decent start in the Champions League too, drawing 0-0 with Atletico before triumphing 2-1 over Qarabag.

That latter scoreline doesn’t really tell the whole tale, either. Qarabag scored with their only shot on target, while Roma plundered nine shots of their own at their hosts’ goal and won nine corners into the bargain. It was a truly one-sided affair, as you might expect.

It’s always interesting to look at a team’s away form to see if they change their philosophy when playing at home or on their travels. Judging by Roma’s away form in Serie A – W10 D0 L0 GF31 GA6 – the answer is a resounding no.

But their record on the road in the Champions League is not nearly as impressive: W1 D4 L5 tells its own tale. They have shipped two or more goals in 6/10, and scored one or fewer themselves in 7/10. Those figures suggest opportunity knocks for the Blues on Wednesday.

It was a tough summer for Roma as a number of their key players left: we know all about Antonio Rudiger, of course, plus they lost Mo Salah to Liverpool and Leandro Paredes to Zenit St Petersburg.

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When you look at their starting eleven it is hard not to get excited about Chelsea’s chances. Roma actually wanted to sell defender Juan Jesus in the summer but had to keep him following the sale of Rudiger, while Aleksandr Kolarov was deemed not good enough for Premier League football by Manchester City – as was frontman Edin Dzeko. Centre half Federico Fazio was bombed out of Spurs too, so there’s a pattern emerging of players at Roma who are, in essence, English top flight cast offs.

They do boast a combative midfield trio of Daniele De Rossi, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman, so it may well be the midfield battleground where this match is won or lost. If the Blues can gain the upper hand here, they can certainly find goals against a pretty average Roma backline.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Match Preview (14/10/17): Blues Ready to Clip Beleaguered Eagles’ Wings

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The international break is done and dusted, and we can allow ourselves a tinge of excitement at the action set to unfold in the next week or so.

First up on Saturday is a trip across the capital to Crystal Palace, Roy Hodgson’s hapless new employer that is still yet to score in 630 minutes of Premier League action this term.

And then next Wednesday we welcome Roma to Stamford Bridge, in what is surely set to be a crunch Champions League encounter that goes a long way towards deciding the fate of the two teams involved.

It is with a naturally heavy heart that we head into that double-header of fixtures without N’Golo Kante, and possibly Alvaro Morata.

The frustration that managers feel towards international matches during the season is well documented, and Antonio Conte must have been apoplectic when the news came through that Kante had tweaked his hamstring while playing for France. The diagnosis for the diminutive Frenchman is not a good one, with The Telegraph reporting that he may miss the whole of October.

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The news regarding Morata appears to be slightly healthier, however. The Spaniard hurt his hamstring in the defeat to Manchester City, and was sent home from his country’s training camp. But it appears the striker’s injury is less serious than first feared, and The Metro reported that he returned to training on Wednesday morning.

Whether the in-form frontman is risked against Palace is doubtful, but we would expect him to take to the field against Roma next week.

Chelsea Team News

David Luiz’s suspension is thankfully over, and the Brazilian will return to the heart of the defence on Saturday.

He may not be joined by his usual accomplices though. You may recall that Conte rested Gary Cahill ahead of the last Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid, and he may do likewise against the Eagles. Antonio Rudiger is the most likely replacement.

The midfield two picks itself with Kante absent – Bakayoko and Fabregas the two probable incumbents, while in attack will Conte hand Michy Batshuayi the start he so desperately craves? For our money, that’s a more logical strategy than deploying one of Eden Hazard, Pedro or Willian as a makeshift striker.

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Head to Head

You could argue that the head-to-head stats between these two sides are of little consequence given just how poor this present Crystal Palace outfit is. Are they likely to improve under Uncle Roy?

You may recall that last time Chelsea took on the Eagles they ended up on the wrong side of a 1-2 defeat back in April. That was a shock result fired by the excellence of Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha – fortunately, both will miss Saturday’s clash through injury.

The Blues have won on each of their last three trips to Selhurst Park, and taken home the three points on six of their last seven encounters with Palace on their own turf.

How the Match Will Be Won

You don’t need a degree in psychology to know that Palace’s players will be expecting another thumping here, given that in their last two outings they have shipped ten goals without reply against the two Manchester clubs.

The international break has probably done them some good; they’ve been able to get away from the spotlight for starters, and Hodgson has had a chance to work on something – anything – that will end this torturous run of form.

Ordinarily, we would offer the argument that playing at home will do them good as well – their supporters should be itching to get back into it after a fortnight’s break. But look at Palace’s form at Selhurst Park since the start of last season: W6 D2 L14. It’s no wonder their fans are an unhappy bunch at present.

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They haven’t had a goal to cheer in quite some time either, and progress on that front is hampered by the absence of Benteke and Zaha. Against Manchester United last time out, Hodgson opted to use the outclassed Bakary Sako – a winger by trade – through the middle, and he was supported by the wasteful Andros Townsend and the underwhelming Jeffrey Schlupp. It’s not exactly a recipe for success.

Chelsea will know that, in all likelihood, they will only need to find one goal to win this game, and even in the absence of Morata that should present no problems. Batshuayi is hungry and determined to prove he is up to the task in a blue shirt, while Hazard was bubbling up to some fine form just prior to the international break.

It would be a huge surprise if Chelsea didn’t win this match, and it should provide the perfect tonic ahead of the crunch clash with Roma on Wednesday.