Thursday 27 December 2018

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Match Preview (30/12/18): Consistency Now the Key for Topsy-Turvy Blues

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Have you heard the one about the team that, in December, lost at Wolves and at home against Leicester, but also beat Manchester City and Watford (away)?

At least Chelsea, if nothing else, have proven to be wholly unpredictable in the past few weeks.
The performance against Watford on Boxing Day was a good one against a physical side who often make life uncomfortable for their opposition, particularly on home soil.

Surprisingly Maurizio Sarri named his strongest available eleven despite all the matches to come in the next couple of days, but it was a decision that paid dividends with a much-needed three points joining the Blues on the team bus home.

The deadlock wasn’t broken until injury time at the end of the first half, when Eden Hazard showed his twinkle toes to round Ben Foster and slot home his 100th goal for the club. He wouldn’t have to wait long for 101.

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But Roberto Peyrera spoiled the celebrations by volleying home just two minutes later, meaning the sides went into the break level at one apiece despite the opening 45 minutes being goalless.

Hazard would not have to wait too long to add to his goal tally, dusting himself down to score from the penalty spot after he was unceremoniously taken out by Foster.

We might have expected the Hornets to throw the kitchen sink at us in pursuit of a late equaliser, but in truth that never materialised and indeed the Blues arguably could have added a third, with Kante missing a decent chance and Willian hitting the woodwork late on.

It was a very satisfying win given the inconsistency of recent weeks, and one which stabilised the club ahead of another distinctly-winnable tie against Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“We have to try to stay close to the top four. The target this season could only be to stay close and to enter into the Champions League,” Sarri said afterwards.

Chelsea Team News

The only downside to the win on Boxing Day was an injury to Pedro, who had to be substituted in the first half.

The Spaniard won’t be risked against Palace unless he is 100% fit, so a reshuffle in attack may see Olivier Giroud come in with Hazard switching to the left. If Sarri wants to keep the Belgian in his false nine role, either Ruben Loftus-Cheek or the emerging Callum Hudson-Odoi could come in on the left flank.

The normal back four and the first-choice midfield three all played against Watford, so will the manager want to freshen things up against the Eagles?

It’s tricky to second-guess Sarri’s selections, and he may instead opt to field his perceived best eleven to try and build some momentum.

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Head to Head

Some 112 years ago, Crystal Palace demolished Chelsea 7-1 in the first recorded meeting between the sides.

Since then, the Blues have enjoyed the better of things against the Eagles, with 26 wins and 11 defeats, with 15 ending in a draw.

Chelsea have won 12 of the last 15 encounters too, although it should be noted that Selhurst Park hasn’t always been our happiest of hunting grounds. We tasted defeat here in April 2014 and October 2017; our last trip to the Eagles’ lair.

How the Match Will Be Won

Palace come into this one on the back of victories over Manchester City and Leicester and a draw with Cardiff, so confidence will not be in short supply.

They are a strong, athletic side packed with aggressive talents both in their tackling and in their direct running. Wilf Zaha remains an outstanding talent, while Max Meyer is starting to blossom on English soil. Andros Townsend, as ever, is capable of excellence and mediocrity seemingly in the blink of an eye.

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Like Watford, Palace will play with three tough-tackling midfielders; probably Luka Milivojevic, Cheikh Kouyate and James McArthur, while full backs Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Patrick van Aanholt will attack with gusto.

That’s the concept, but the reality is that the Eagles’ home record – W2 D3 L4 GF5 GA8 – is not the stuff to instil fear in our lads.

This will be a war of attrition, by all accounts, and the onus will be on our creative players to break down this well-drilled Palace side.

At the other end of the pitch, Zaha will need to be well marshalled, but he is the hosts’ only real goal-threat – Townsend’s speculative long range shots are as likely to land in Row Z as they are nestle in the back of the net, and so there’s every chance of a Chelsea clean sheet here if we defend with responsibility.

Then, we will need the red-hot Hazard and co to come up trumps in attack.

Monday 24 December 2018

Watford vs Chelsea Match Preview (26/12/18): Time for the Blues to Show Some Fight on Boxing Day

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Will the real Chelsea FC please stand up!?

A fortnight after playing Manchester City off the park in a 2-0 win, we were defeated by Leicester 0-1 on Saturday to lose our first league game of the campaign at the Bridge.

As Maurizio Sarri noted afterwards, we played well for 55 minutes and nearly took the lead when Eden Hazard hit the crossbar.

Even after going a goal down, we still pressed and had two outstanding chances to level matters: Antonio Rudiger nodding wide when well placed and Marcos Alonso somehow hitting the post when one-on-one with Kasper Schmeichel in the dying embers.

It was points lost for sure, and hugely frustrating given that Manchester City lost, and we were unable to move closer to them in second, and that Tottenham won to open up a two-point lead in third with a game in hand.

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“I think that, of course, in some situations we were unlucky but we could have done something better,” Sarri said afterwards.

“After the goal the reaction was not the right reaction. We reacted a little shocked and with mental confusion. We had to only keep playing like we did before the goal, there was time to recover.”

Many of us suffer from mental confusion at this time of year – it has nothing to do with the industrial quantities of turkey and brandy butter imbibed, of course – but the boys in blue have no chance of suffering from a similar level of inner chaos.

A trip to Watford on Boxing Day is sure to be a physical battle, before a trip to Selhurst Park four days later and a home date with rejuvenated Southampton on January 2 completes the festive line-up.

It is a week or so that could make or break our season.

Chelsea Team News

There might be a temptation to rotate the squad in the coming days, and the aggressive and upwardly mobile nature of Watford’s play may just dictate Sarri’s thinking.

We thought that Gary Cahill might get the nod against Leicester, and he may yet be brought in at the expense of David Luiz to help combat the Hornets’ physicality.

In midfield legs will be required, so it’s quite possible that Ruben Loftus-Cheek could be brought in for the more prosaic Mateo Kovacic.

In attack, Olivier Giroud’s strength will be a great help, and then the manager must decide between Pedro and Willian for the right wing berth.

Watford vs Chelsea Head to Head

It was a regular fixture in the 1980s, was Watford vs Chelsea, but there is little history between the sides before and since – or until the mid-2000s anyway, when the Hornets returned to the top flight.

And so there are only 33 recorded meetings between the sides, with Chelsea holding a 17-10 lead (six draws).

The picture looks good for Blues fans since turn of the Millennium – we’ve won 10 of the 14 played, although in this fixture last season Watford gave us a bit of a pasting in a 1-4 defeat back in February.

How the Match Will Be Won

Last time out Watford rode their luck, but they came away with a much-needed 2-0 win from a trip to West Ham.

Their starting line-up had something of the beauty and the beast about it. On the flanks, Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Peyrera are delightful to watch, and both bless the kind of talent that can light up any old game of football.

But in midfield, Hornets boss Javi Gracia tends to start with three hard-working ‘big lads’ in Sunday league parlance, typically Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure and last week Ken Sema.

It’s going to be a physical battle in midfield, make no mistake, and the Blues will need to be up to the task.

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But there is a feeling that Watford’s full backs, Kiko Femenia and Jose Holebas, are there to be got at, and so hopefully Hazard and Willian can isolate themselves in wide areas and stay clear of the midfield battleground.

In attack, Troy Deeney is one of those annoying, buzzing strikers that makes life hell for defenders, but he doesn’t have the pace to run in behind so at least that’s one less worry on the minds of Rudiger and co.

Watford’s form at Vicarage Road (W5 D0 L4) is indicative of an inconsistent outfit who you never quite know what you’re going to get from, but one thing is for sure: if Chelsea aren’t willing to mix it with them in terms of work rate and physicality, it could be a rather awkward afternoon for us.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Chelsea vs Leicester City Match Preview (22/12/18): Blues to Supply Plenty of Festive Cheer to Stamford Bridge Faithful

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We took a step closer to Maurizio Sari’s first piece of silverware on Wednesday evening with a 1-0 win over Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup quarter-final.

The winning goal took its sweet time in coming – Eden Hazard steering a shot home in the 84th minute, but in truth it was no less than we deserved. The Blues enjoyed 73% possession and fired in 13 shots on target in a night of almost complete dominance over the Cherries.

The semi-final draw has paired up with Tottenham, with two legs to be played in January.

It was testament to Sarri’s desire to bring success back to the club that he fielded a strong side for what might be considered a ‘mickey mouse’ cup game, although the upshot is that we are now 180 minutes from a Wembley final.

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We hurtle onwards into the festive period and a run of four Premier League fixtures in the space of ten days. Saturday’s clash against Leicester at the Bridge is followed by trips to Crystal Palace and Watford on Boxing Day and December 30 respectively, before we welcome Southampton to the capital on January 2.

It’s a cliché, but it’s that time of year where points can be lost in the blink of an eye, and so it’s all hands on deck for a crucial juncture in Chelsea’s season.

Chelsea Team News

As mentioned, Sarri fielded a strong side on Wednesday, and that could have repercussions as to who is involved against the Foxes at the weekend.

Only Marcos Alonso was given the night off in defence, and so he will return at left back with possibly Cesar Azpilicueta on the right and David Luiz and Gary Cahill in the middle.

In midfield there should be starts for N’Golo Kante, against his former club, and Jorginho, and you suspect they will be joined by either Ross Barkley or Mateo Kovacic; whoever recovers quickest from Wednesday’s outing.

All three of our wingers shared the load against Bournemouth, with Hazard (30 minutes), Willian (55) and Pedro (35) all enjoying light duties. You wonder if Sarri will opt to play all three of them on Saturday, with Olivier Giroud barrelling his way through another physical 90 minutes.

Chelsea vs Leicester City Head to Head

With the first Chelsea vs Leicester City fixture taking place back in September 1905, it goes without saying that the two teams have a long and storied history!

Happily, the memories are largely good ones for Blues fans as we hold a 56-25 head-to-head lead, with 31 draws.

Since the start of the 2001/02 campaign it has been a fantastic ride for us against the Foxes, with 13 wins from 16 matches, two draws and a solitary defeat.

Last season we took Leicester on in three separate matches, winning 2-1 at their place in the league, drawing 0-0 at the Bridge in the reverse fixture and triumphing 2-1 on their patch in the FA Cup.

How the Match Will Be Won

Leicester have slipped into the bottom half of the Premier League table following a run of just one win in six outings, and the pressure is starting to build on boss Claude Puel.

It’s his tactical decision-making, as much as anything, that draws the ire of the Foxes faithful. Even though he deploys an attacking-looking 4-2-3-1 system on paper, the wingers and the number ten are tasked with tracking back and helping defensively, which is perhaps why Leicester have scored just eight goals in their last ten games.

But having conceded in 12 of 17, the conservative approach is not serving Puel all that well.

The dangers from Leicester are obvious. Jamie Vardy’s pace when running in behind is a nightmare for defenders to deal with, while attacking midfielder James Maddison clearly possesses quality.

The defensive midfielders will work hard, and full backs Ricardo and Ben Chilwell are decent operators going forward. Oh, and there’s Harry Maguire causing chaos at set pieces.

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But they are a side that is there for the taking, proven by their recent form, and as long as Chelsea turn up with some hunger in their belly we should do very well.

Leicester have taken the same number of points from their away games as they have on home soil, so clearly a more counter-attacking style on the road suits them. Our defenders will need to nullify the pace of Vardy on the break.

But really, that is the pessimistic view of the fixture. The reality is that we should be winning this one with ease.

Monday 17 December 2018

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Match Preview (19/12/18): Blues Buoyed and Up for the Cup

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It’s not a position he favours, but once again Eden Hazard showed his worth in the ‘false nine’ role against Brighton on Sunday.

The Belgian scored one and made another as the Blues bettered the Seagulls 2-1 to remain in fourth place and stay eight points behind leaders Liverpool. Perhaps even more crucially, the gap to Arsenal in fifth is now a full three points.

Hazard’s brilliance presented a tap-in for Pedro early on against Brighton, and that was his ninth assist of the league campaign; more than any other player in the top five European divisions.

His own strike was one that any striker would be proud of. Hazard latched onto a through ball from Willian and raced clear of the Seagulls’ defence, before supplying a clinical finish past Mat Ryan to put Chelsea two-up.

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There were some nervy times in the second period when Solly March found the net for the hosts, but Brighton rarely threatened and were restricted to just two shots on target by our well-organised midfield and defence.

Terrifyingly for defences up and down the land, Maurizio Sarri believes there’s more to come from his talisman in the coming weeks and months. “I think that Hazard could have played better because his level is a very high level,” he said. “He can do more for him and for us.

“But I think after the two injuries, he lost the physical condition. Now he's improving. In one or two matches he'll be back at the top.”

We may have to make do without the Belgian for Wednesday’s League Cup quarter-final against Bournemouth at the Bridge. The frontman limped off on Sunday after being cleaned out by Dale Stephens, and with a hectic fixture list upcoming – six games in the next 18 days, to be precise – there’s no sense in risking him here.

But this is a fantastic opportunity to take one step closer to some silverware, and it’s one you wouldn’t expect Sarri to take lightly.

Chelsea Team News

Ordinarily, you might expect some rotation from Sarri for a midweek game sandwiched in-between two league encounters.

But the carrot of a Wembley final is within touching distance, and so he may opt to field a sort of ‘mix and match’ team to a) get the job done but b) give rests where required.

We know that Alvaro Morata is out for the foreseeable and that Hazard may not be risked, while in goal usual cup deputy Willy Caballero should come in for Kepa.

The normal defence could continue, although Marcos Alonso isn’t quite at his best at the moment and so perhaps Emerson Palmieri will be given a chance to stake his claim on the left back slot.

An embarrassment of riches in midfield means the manager can rotate as he wishes, and we reckon he may opt for Ross Barkley and Cesc Fabregas alongside Mateo Kovacic.

Olivier Giroud can lead the line to continue his recent goalscoring streak, while on the flanks we may see Pedro – who was taken off after 66 minutes against Brighton – on the right and Ruben Loftus-Cheek given the chance to roam from the left, with Willian happy to put his feet up on the subs bench.

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Head to Head

Incredibly, there has only ever been 13 meetings between these two sides; a nod to Bournemouth’s history as a lower-league side prior to their amazing assault on the top flight.

There was a gap of eleven years between an FA Cup meeting in 1994 and the first Premier League encounter between the pair in 2015, so we’ll focus on the latter engagements.

Of those, Chelsea hold a nice record of six wins in eight and two defeats, with the last meeting on September 1 ending 2-0 in our favour courtesy of goals from Hazard and Pedro.

How the Match Will Be Won

These are tough times for Bournemouth; they’ve now lost six of their last seven Premier League games.

A distraction of a cup run will surely be welcomed by Eddie Howe, although a squad hit by injuries will be stretched to its limit in the weeks ahead.

Defenders Adam Smith, Simon Francis and Tyrone Mings are all sidelined – the Cherries have shipped 16 goals in their last seven outings, and the mood isn’t aided by the absence of midfielders Dan Gosling and Lewis Cook.

And so we can surmise that Bournemouth are their for the taking right now, and a strong Chelsea side should have no problems making the necessary breakthrough.

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A word of warning, however: the Cherries have some outstanding attacking talents at their disposal.

Callum Wilson is a proven goal-getter at this level, and he is aided by an exciting supporting cast including Josh King, Ryan Fraser and David Brooks.

So it’s a simple case for Chelsea on Wednesday: play your normal game and you should have no problems troubling the scorers. But be wary of counter attacks, because this Bournemouth outfit does have goals in its ranks.

Friday 14 December 2018

Brighton vs Chelsea Match Preview (16/12/18): Blues Hoping to Swim Not Sink on Seaside Trip

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Thursday’s game against MOL Vidi was one of those annoying fixtures that come along every once in a while.

Already assured of a place in the knockout round of the Europa League, we travelled to Hungary with the sole aim of giving fringe players a run out.

What followed was a catalogue of grievances. An injury to Gary Cahill in the build-up to the game meant David Luiz had to travel to Hungary as a substitute, when ideally the Brazilian could have been at home putting his feet up ahead of the hectic festive fixture list.

And an injury to Alvaro Morata, who hurt his knee, meant that Olivier Giroud – now our only fit out-and-out striker – had to enter the field of play for the second half.

In fairness, at least it allowed us to witness the unlikely scenario of the brutish Frenchman, known for his robust leading of the line, curling home a free-kick with all the finesse of a Parisian artiste. Many an eye was rubbed in disbelief!

Giroud’s goal provided the equaliser in a 2-2 draw in which Willian – another who ideally would not have been involved, opened the scoring before the Hungarians pegged us back with two goals of their own.

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There were starts for youngsters Ethan Ampadu and Callum Hudson-Odoi, but those were the only bright spots on a night that we really could have done without.

Nevertheless, the ten changes to his starting eleven that Maurizio Sarri made at least ensures we have some fresh legs in the camp for the trip to the south coast to take on Brighton on Sunday.

It’s imperative that we take all three points there; chiefly to build on the excellent win over Manchester City last time out, and also to ensure we remain in contention with the leading pack in the Premier League title race. You suspect there may be plenty more twists and turns to come!

Chelsea Team News

As mentioned, Morata picked up an unspecified knee injury in Hungary and now could face a spell on the sidelines.

Will Sarri go with Giroud, who played 45 minutes against MOL Vidi, or play Eden Hazard through the middle again? You’d like to think the former option, given how prolific the Frenchman has been lately, would be the one he opts for.

Otherwise it will surely be business as usual. Kepa will come back in goal, and Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz and Alonso will return to defence from right to left.

Jorginho and N’Golo Kante will make up two of the midfield three, but there are still question marks regarding the fitness of Mateo Kovacic, who has a thigh injury. Either Ross Barkley or Ruben Loftus-Cheek will deputise, depending on who recovers the quickest from Thursday evening.

Brighton vs Chelsea Head to Head

When Chelsea and Brighton met on Boxing Day last year, it was the first collision between the two teams since they inhabited the old Division Two back in the late 1980s.

The Blues took the spoils that day 2-0 thanks to goals from Morata ad Alonso, and they followed up later in the 2017/18 campaign with a 4-0 victory at the AMEX courtesy of a brace from Hazard and strikes from Willian and Victor Moses.

That extended our stranglehold on the Seagulls to eight wins, one draw and a solitary defeat.

How the Match Will Be Won

Brighton are one again having a fantastic season, primarily thanks to the shrew leadership of Chris Hughton, and they continue to exceed expectations with a comfortable mid-table spot.

That is built upon a foundation of defensive stability, with his 4-4-1-1 formation devised to ensure the maximum solidity is achieved.

They play with a traditional back four, although Lewis Dunk’s usual centre half partner, Shane Duffy, is suspended and misses out.

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Then it’s your usual pair of holding midfielders, with Pascal Gross playing slightly further forward and in behind either Glenn Murray or Florin Andone.

The good news is that their weakness comes down their right flank, where Anthony Knockaert is not known for his endeavour. If he leaves Bruno exposed at right back, Hazard and Alonso will have a field day.

The danger will come from set pieces. Brighton have scored the third most goals from headers this season (six), with all 19 of their goals coming from inside the box.

And that aerial challenge can come from all angles, with the Seagulls playing some 1,122 long passes, as defined by the Premier League’s official stats, this season; the third highest tally in the division.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

MOL Vidi vs Chelsea Match Preview (13/12/18): Dead Rubber But No Let Up from Hungry Blues

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As a parting shot to our Manchester City preview, we asked the slightly rhetorical question ‘can we beat them?’.

Our own response was yes of course, but we would ‘need to produce both a defensive masterclass and a performance of tactical precision to get the job done’.

Well, we’re happy to report we were right on both counts!

It wasn’t the perfect performance by any means, and in that first half we did ride our luck a few times, but that’s to be expected against a City side as good as this.

Maurizio Sarri pulled off a tactical coup in playing Eden Hazard as a false nine striker. It’s a role that the Belgian doesn’t particularly enjoy, but it does allow him to get on the ball more and it was his pass that N’Golo Kante raced onto to put us ahead on the stroke of half-time.

David Luiz scored sealed the deal after 78 minutes with a header, and the second period was one we marshalled with much greater effect.

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Did we deserve to take all three points? Sarri certainly believes so. “I am very happy with the win because it is not very easy to win against Manchester City or Pep Guardiola. I am happy with the mentality of the team in this match,” he said.

“It is difficult for us to find motivation but when we have it, we are a very strong team. Today we played with a very good level of application, determination and the right level of aggression.

“My players have to continue like this. We started well in the second half and in the end we deserved to win.”

We return to domestic action on Sunday with a trip to Brighton, but first we have what is in essence a dead rubber in the Europa League against MOL Vidi.

We have already won Group L come what may, while the Hungarians can still sneak second place if they better BATE Borisov’s result. There’s the old football code that says you can never take it easy while there’s something to play for, and so we can expect a committed showing from Chelsea’s second string on Thursday.

Chelsea Team News

The starting eleven in these Europa League matches has picked itself of late.

Sarri seems to prefer Kepa in goal for all matches, rather than giving him a rest for these low-key outings, so we can expect the Spaniard between the sticks here.

The rotational back four – Zappacosta, Cahill, Christensen and Emerson – comes in, while in midfield we would expect Cesc Fabregas, Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to start.

The only question marks are in attack. Pedro played 90 minutes against Manchester City but may still get the nod here, while on the left flank there’s a chance that Callum Hudson-Odoi could be brought in to showcase his skills.

Then it’s a straight choice between Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata through the middle. The latter – not even in the squad against City – desperately needs a goal, so perhaps he will be given the chance of a morale-boosting run-out.

MOL Vidi vs Chelsea Head to Head

Our only previous meeting with MOL Vidi came in the reverse fixture back in October, which we won 1-0 courtesy of an Alvaro Morata goal.

Since then the Hungarians have done alright, winning home and away against PAOK but losing both clashes with BATE Borisov.

They have only scored three times and conceded five in a quintet of Europa League outings, so they will be looking to keep it tight on Thursday before sneaking a winner.

How the Match Will Be Won

It’s an intriguing match up this, with MOL Vidi desperate to get the win and Chelsea’s fringe players enjoying another start in the competition.

There are ways and means of getting three points, of course, and just because the hosts need the win don’t expect them to change their normal style. They will defend deep and in numbers, before looking to grab the all-important goal. Remember, you get the same number of points for a 1-0 win as you do a 3-0 hammering!

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The good thing with this Chelsea reserve side, as we can loosely call it, is that a) it features some outstanding players, and b) there’s a nice balance to it, with everyone playing in their best position and no obvious weaknesses.

So fans making the trip to Eastern Europe, or those watching on from the armchair, can expect a disciplined, high quality performance from a set of players who will want to give Sarri a nudge ahead of a hectic festive fixture list.

Thursday 6 December 2018

Chelsea vs Manchester City Match Preview (08/12/18): Blues Must Bounce Back Quickly….or Face Potential Humiliation

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“I am really worried” are not the words you want to hear coming from your manager’s mouth.

But that’s exactly how Maurizio Sarri summed up the devastating 1-2 defeat at Wolves on Wednesday evening.

After taking an early lead from the red-hot Ruben Loftus-Cheek, we dominated the first half and could have extended our dominance but for some wasteful finishing and excellent defending.

As you tend to fear in these cases, the Wolves players may have been given something of an earache by manager Nuno Espirito Santo during the break, and they responded by netting twice in a second period full of frustration for the Blues.

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The stats may look nice: 70% possession, 17 shots, a 5-1 ‘win’ in the corner count, but they don’t explain a team willing to bend over backwards to let a lead slip. That also means we’ve lost in back-to-back away outings.

“I am really worried not for the result, but for the fact that we didn’t react to the first goal of the opponent,” Sarri said afterwards.

“After the first [Wolves] goal – that was an accident because we were in full control of the match – we were suddenly another team, without the right distances, without our football. I don’t know why.”

What nicer way could we lead-in to Saturday’s game with leaders Manchester City at the Bridge, then. Immediate improvement is not ideal but imperative.

Chelsea Team News

With such a busy schedule, it wasn’t surprising to see Sarri make changes to his starting eleven against Wolves.

Mind you, the changes he did make arguably gave us near-enough our strongest eleven right now. Cesc Fabregas and Loftus-Cheek started – both are not far from being first-choice picks given their form, while Willian came in for Pedro on the right flank. Andreas Christensen in for David Luiz was the only real eyebrow-raiser.

Up front, Alvaro Morata came in for Olivier Giroud – we’re not sure even Sarri knows who his best option is up top at present, and so rotation can not be used as an excuse for a night of misery in the West Midlands.

Of course, nothing but the best will be good enough against Manchester City. We would expect Luiz and Jorginho to return, with the manager facing a tough choice between Loftus-Cheek and Mateo Kovacic for the third midfield spot. Ross Barkley continues to struggle with an ankle injury.

At this moment in time, the physicality of Giroud will surely be more unsettling to the City defenders than the perennially-offside Morata.

Chelsea vs Manchester City Head to Head

This is a fixture indelibly linked to money.

For decades both us and City were brassic, but at the turn of the millennium things changed when big money was pumped into both clubs by cash-rich owners.

So from a head-to-head perspective, let’s focus on games played since September 2008: the Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour years.

On that front our record against them reads W9 D3 L13, which can be broken down into W7 D1 L3 for matches played at Stamford Bridge.

Last season we lost 0-1 home and away, and also suffered a 0-2 loss in the Community Shield back in August.

How the Match Will Be Won

How do you tame a beast like Manchester City? It’s a good question, and one that nobody in the Premier League has been able to answer so far this term.

Even without the injured Sergio Aguero and Kevin de Bruyne, they still ooze quality. We expect a front three of Sane, Sterling and Mahrez to take to the turf at the Bridge on Saturday, with a midfield three of David Silva, Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho. It’s mouth-watering stuff.

But we have to remain positive, and take solace in the fact that they have also conceded in four of their last five Premier League outings.

One area in which we can profit is down our right flank. Benjamin Mendy is out injured, and so Pep Guardiola will presumably either play Fabian Delph at left back or shuffle Aymeric Laporte across.

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Neither is ideal, and you would really fancy Willian or even Pedro to get the better of Delph in particular. With Azpilicueta sitting deep to prevent the pace of Sane getting in behind, we need a big shift from the Brazilian.

N’Golo Kante may play in a more defence-minded role we became accustomed to last season to help Jorginho in dealing with the midfield runners. That will put an onus on the third midfielder to break clear and join Giroud in attack, and by that token perhaps the legs and energy of Loftus-Cheek might be preferable to the more prosaic Kovacic.

Can we beat Manchester City? Absolutely. But we will need to produce both a defensive masterclass and a performance of tactical precision to get the job done.

Monday 3 December 2018

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Chelsea Match Preview (05/12/18): Blues Hoping to Profit from Wounded Wolves

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After the disappointment of the result and the performance against Tottenham, what we needed was a routine victory over bottom club Fulham last time out to steady the ship.

And that’s exactly what we got, fortunately, with a comfortable 2-0 success at the Bridge on Sunday.

An early goal from Pedro was the perfect settler, and in truth from that point on we were never really pushed despite a spirited showing from the Cottagers.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek added the gloss late on, and as Maurizio Sarri would say afterwards ‘today was about the result’.

“We gave more attention to the defensive phase to get the win. Now we have to start to improve and play our football in a better way,” he said.

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That defensive outlook resulted in a fairly meandering performance in attack, where despite some bright moments from the likes of Olivier Giroud we never quite hit the heights expected.

Nevertheless, the win’s the thing, and that enabled us to hang onto the coattails of a Manchester City side whom we meet on Saturday.

But first we go dancing with Wolves on Wednesday evening in the West Midlands. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side are currently in the doldrums with five defeats in their last six Premier League starts, and while they will be awkward opponents a lack of confidence on their part certainly plays into our hands.

Chelsea Team News

That clash with Manchester City is certainly something that Sarri will have in mind when making his team selection here.

But defeat at Molineux would be catastrophic for our title chances, and would render Saturday’s clash with the league leaders a must-win game.

So we cannot afford to take chances on Wednesday, and as such we don’t expect wholesale changes to the starting eleven.

Having played a lot of football from Thursday to Sunday, it’s quite possible that Giroud and Pedro will be given the night off against the boys in gold.

There may be one change in midfield, with Cesc Fabregas for Jorginho one option, although we expect Mateo Kovacic to start after having the final half-hour off against Fulham.

Marcos Alonso was subbed off against the Cottagers after a difficult afternoon, but he will surely be restored to the side on Wednesday.

Ross Barkley wasn’t left out of the squad against Fulham; he had picked up a niggle in his ankle against PAOK and it was considered best not to risk him at the weekend. He may return to the fold here, or be held back for the clash with City on Saturday.

Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Chelsea Head to Head

Given Wolves’ lengthy hiatus from the Premier League, it’s been a while since we locked horns.

There was an FA Cup tie in February 2017, which we won 2-0 courtesy of goals from Pedro and Diego Costa, but then you have to go back to the 2011/12 campaign for the last league meetings.

Overall, we’ve just about got a winning head-to-head record against the Midlands – 41 wins to 38, with 26 draws, although most of Wolves’ victories came during their golden period between 1930-1960.

We’ve since won ten of our last eleven meetings with them, including five of the last six at Molineux.

How the Match Will Be Won

Wolves will presumably line up in their now traditional 3-4-3 formation, with Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho the key figures in the centre of midfield.

They have pace to burn on the flanks, with two of either Adama Traore, Ivan Cavaleiro and Helder Costa starting, but none of that trio naturally revels in their defensive duties. That means we could double up in wider areas, with the full backs supporting our wingers nicely.

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With a numerical advantage in midfield, too, there should be plenty of space for the Blues to exploit, and just recently Wolves have shown defensive fragility; shipping two or more goals in four of their last six outings.

They have talented players going forward, but there seems no reason why we can’t go to Molineux and produce our best attacking football.

The positioning of Eden Hazard will be key. There will be pockets of space for him to exploit, both in behind Wolves’ right wing back Matt Doherty and in the inside left channel where the Midlanders’ midfielders will have a hell of a job keeping tabs on all those in a blue shirt.

The Belgian may well prove to be the match winner then in a game Chelsea will be expecting to triumph in.

Friday 30 November 2018

Chelsea vs Fulham Match Preview (02/12/18): Blues Must Regroup to Avoid Capital Banana Skin

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Thursday was a night of overwhelming positivity for Chelsea.

The 4-0 win over PAOK Salonika in the Europa League secured top spot in Group L, which should see us enjoy a comfier draw in the last 32, and there were some top performances from players knocking on the first team door.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was awarded the Man of the Match award for his guile in the middle of the park, while Maurizio Sarri was full of praise for Cesc Fabregas as the Spaniard once again showcased his craft in midfield.

“Cesc Fabregas played very, very well, especially in the first half. I said that in the central position of the three midfielders I prefer a very technical player like Jorginho or Cesc but N'Golo Kante has never played with me in this position, he has always played on the right of centre, he can do very well in that position,” he said.

There was a brace of goals for Olivier Giroud, and that’s four in his last three in a Chelsea shirt for the burly frontman to go with recent strikes for France. Is he set to become the first-choice striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, who himself bagged (hopefully) a confidence-boosting goal against the Greeks?

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And finally, a word for Callum Hudson-Odoi, who notched his first Blues goal and created another for Morata. The 18-year-old has been linked with move to Bayern Munich – this is a proper talent we’re talking about here, but given the way he played against PAOK he clearly has a bright future at Stamford Bridge.

Attention now turns to Sunday’s game against Fulham at the Bridge, where the Blues are expected to get back to winning ways on the domestic front. Sarri has some interesting decisions to make regarding his team selection against the Cottagers.

Chelsea Team News

Reports suggest that Eden Hazard will be fit to take to the field against Fulham.

In his press conference on Wednesday, Sarri said: “He [Hazard] will not be able to play [in the UEL], but I think he will be able to recover for the Fulham match.”

The Italian split the wing workload between Pedro and Willian on Thursday night, with Sarri perhaps hedging his bets that that the Belgian won’t recover in time. But knowing Hazard, he will be chomping at the bit to get back on the field.

Will the manager deploy any of the players who shone so brightly on Thursday evening? You would think the normal back four would return, while in midfield you suspect that Jorginho and N’Golo Kante are inked onto the teamsheet. But could Ross Barkley or Loftus-Cheek get the nod ahead of Mateo Kovacic? It’s quite possible.

This, surely, is the time to start Giroud through the middle as well. On paper he doesn’t fit our possession-based system, but they say that quality strikers will score goals in any team, and right now the Frenchman has to be the better option than Morata, who is savagely short of confidence.

Chelsea vs Fulham Head to Head

This will be the first time that the two sides have met since the 2013/14 campaign, when Fulham were last in the Premier League.

The Cottagers won’t have fond memories of playing against Chelsea, indeed their supporters will need excellent recall to remember the last time they beat us: March 2006!

That was 18 meetings ago, in which time the Blues have compiled a handsome W10 D7 L0 record since.

And here’s a fun pub quiz question: the last time Fulham won at Stamford Bridge? October 27, 1979!

How the Match Will Be Won

Nothing has been easy on their return to the top flight for Fulham, who sit bottom of the Premier League table having compiled just eight points from thirteen starts. To make matters worse, they have the worst defensive record in the division.

The Cottagers did secure a morale-boosting 3-2 win over Southampton last time out, and with Claudio Ranieri now at the helm – a manager that players simply love playing for – our capital neighbours should not be underestimated.

The power of Aleksandar Mitrovic up front will need to be well marshalled, while the pace of Ryan Sessegnon down the left flank needs to be managed too.

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And of course, we already know about Andre Schurrle’s gift for the game.

This is one of those matches where we must play on the front foot. Sideways passing is fine to recycle possession, but we need to attack incisively and in vertical lines too; feeding the ball into Hazard and Willian as quickly as possible.

Fulham are a side who can’t defend, really, as evidenced by their goals conceded column, and so hopefully Maurizio Sarri will instruct his players to grasp the nettle and go and make things happen on Sunday.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Chelsea vs PAOK Match Preview (29/11/18): Blues to Bounce Back from Spurs Debacle in Style

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There were many different words used on social media to describe Chelsea’s performance against Tottenham on Saturday, ranging from the salty to the downright extreme.

It’s hugely frustrating when you go down to a local rival and a side who you are clearly competing with for a top four finish. But there’s ways of losing well and ways of losing badly….and the Blues’ effort was firmly in the latter camp.

When you go 0-2 down to a side of Tottenham’s class after just 16 minutes you are always up against it, and in truth we never really looked like getting back into the game.

We can point the finger of blame at individuals, and it’s true there were some abject displays at Wembley, but the reality is that Spurs’ high press stifled our possession game and simply didn’t allow us any time on the ball to settle.

The fact we could only muster two shots on target – and just one up to the point when Olivier Giroud netted an 85th minute consolation – speaks volumes.

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“I am disappointed because we played very badly. I think we played very badly in all directions - physically, mentally, technically and tactically,” was Sarri’s post-match reflection.

“I knew we had some problems and with this performance today it was clear to everybody we have problems to solve. I think in the last three or four matches we have started not really very well.

“Today I did not like anybody.”

There must be some temptation on Sarri’s part to field a strong side against PAOK in the Europa League on Thursday then. It would certainly be an apt ‘punishment’ for Saturday’s efforts.

But then again he might want to have a look at some of his squad players with an eye on making changes to his normal starting eleven against Fulham on Sunday.

Chelsea Team News

As if the performance and the scoreline against Spurs weren’t bad enough, there was also the sight of Eden Hazard limping around the Wembley turf.

Happily, the prognosis isn’t too concerning. “My injury I think is not something bad,” the Belgian said. “I think I just twisted my ankle, but it’s like every game, it’s the same. I am used to [it] and I will be back soon.”

It is unlikely that Hazard will be risked against PAOK, with Pedro deputising, and we anticipate changes elsewhere too.

Kepa was excellent in goal against Spurs, and he might just be treated to the night off given how many games he has already played this term. Willy Caballero stands by to deputise.

Sarri can and possibly will change the whole back four too: Zappacosta, Christensen, Cahill and Emerson Palmieri all possibly coming into the side.

There could be a new look in midfield too, with Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic possibly being joined by Cesc Fabregas, with Willian given a rest and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – knocking on the door of the first team – coming in.

And Olivier Giroud is back amongst the goals for club and country; he will be given a chance to stake his claim for a regular starting berth.

Chelsea vs PAOK Head to Head

The first meeting between these sides in the Europa League, which the Blues won 1-0, is the only encounter we have had with the Greek outfit.

Since then their campaign has been in tatters, with home and away defeats against MOL Vidi quite possibly ending their hopes of qualification for the next phase of the competition.

How the Match Will Be Won

This match is a distraction, nothing more, but Maurizio Sarri will be expecting much more than a distracted performance from his players.

There are, quite possibly, places up for grabs ahead of Sunday’s tie with Fulham, and if the boss impresses that upon the starting eleven here we can expect a dedicated and lively performance.

We may field a side featuring players with plenty to prove and lots to gain: Giroud, Pedro, Barkley, Loftus-Cheek and co. As such, we’re expecting a commanding Chelsea display.

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We don’t know a huge amount about PAOK, and while they were stubborn enough in the reverse fixture a trip to Stamford Bridge is a whole different kettle of fish.

As such, Chelsea will surely win this game and win it well. Even if wholesale changes are made to the starting eleven, our fringe players have proven already in this competition that they are up for it and ready to produce a committed, disciplined performance.

Expect them to provide plenty of food for thought to Sarri on Thursday.

Thursday 22 November 2018

Tottenham vs Chelsea Match Preview (24/11/18): Blues Poised to Inflict More Misery on Injury-Hit Spurs

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Once again, Chelsea have proven the benefit of relying on European players over their South American or African counterparts.

While the latter groups have been off to all corners of the globe during the international break, the Europeans have been plying their trade close enough to our London base.

Indeed, our only South American on international duty, Willian, played for Brazil against Cameroon not at the Maracanã, oh no, but at the home of sexy football: Milton Keynes’ Stadium: MK!

It really is an advantage to have the majority of your squad on the continent in what feels like an increasing number of international breaks. No jet lag, no hours lost sat on planes, and more time spent on the training ground working on tactics for the game ahead.

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And what a match we have in store: a trip to Wembley to take on Tottenham on Saturday evening.

Spurs are beset by injury problems, with Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele definitely out and Davinson Sanchez, Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose all struggling to some extent to be fit in time.

That’s great news for us, naturally, and the thought of playing a top-four rival without a quartet of key defenders and their midfield general is pleasing indeed!

Chelsea Team News

As mentioned, it was a good international break from Maurizio Sarri’s perspective.

Kepa, Cesar Azpilicueta and Alvaro Morata all played less than 90 minutes in Spain’s 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday, while Marcos Alonso didn’t even get the call-up.

David Luiz is also being overlooked by Brazil at present, with Willian barely leaving the capital while representing his country.

Antonio Rudiger played a full part for Germany as their Nations League campaign ended in disappointing fashion, but he should hopefully have recovered fully from Monday’s 2-2 draw with Holland come Saturday.

N’Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud were both involved for France, but the extent of their travel is getting back from Paris, so again no headaches there.

Jorginho played for Italy in the 0-0 draw with Portugal on Saturday, but was subsequently rested for the friendly victory over the USA on Tuesday.

Ross Barkley was subbed off after an hour of England’s triumph over Croatia, and the only other worry is Eden Hazard, who played 90 minutes in Belgium’s shock 2-5 defeat at Switzerland on Sunday.

All of the above could start against Spurs, with the only confirmed absentee being Mateo Kovacic. He picked up a muscle strain in training while on Croatia duty, and will miss out on the Wembley trip.

Tottenham vs Chelsea Head to Head

Fixtures in English football don’t come much more storied than Chelsea vs Tottenham.

It’s a rivalry that extends beyond mere geography to pride and prestige; our 2-2 draw with Spurs back in May 2016 ultimately costing them a chance of winning the Premier League title.

Our formline against our London rivals is a mixed bag, although we do still come out on the positive side of a W5 D2 L3 run.

There are no real trends or patterns to be observed in our encounters, although one thing we might expect from Saturday’s game is goals: the last six clashes have ended 1-3, 2-1, 4-2, 0-2, 2-1 and 2-2.

How the Match Will Be Won

It could be a case of two attacks getting the better of their opposition’s defence here.

The historical data shows that goals tend to follow when these two teams meet, and given Spurs’ defensive injury woes we have no reason to suggest that the Blues won’t flourish in the final third.

Particularly interesting is Eden Hazard’s record against our capital rivals: in 13 matches against Tottenham, the Belgium has scored five times, assisted four more and enjoyed a win ratio of 46%.

Mind you, the naysayers will point to our record against the other ‘big six’ teams this term and be lining up to criticise our defensive record. We shipped two each against Arsenal and Manchester United, and another against Liverpool.

That means that 63% of the goals we have conceded in the Premier League have come in that trio of games; we’ve shipped just three in nine against non-elite sides.

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The takeaway point is that we have tended to struggle defensively against the best operators, and if Kane, Eriksen and Alli are fit then we can put Spurs in that bracket.

So how will Saturday’s game unfold? You might see two teams trying to outscore each other, if the stats are to be believed. Given Tottenham’s injury woes, we’d certainly like to think that Chelsea can nick all three points.

Friday 9 November 2018

Chelsea vs Everton Match Preview (08/11/18): Blues to Spit Out Homesick Toffees

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We got exactly what we wanted from Group L of the Europa League.

Progression to the knockout phase of the competition was the bare minimum of course, but to achieve that with two rounds of matches to spare is the ultimate reward for Maurizio Sarri taking the tournament seriously.

Now, he can rest players and get some game-time into squad members against PAOK (home) and MOL Vidi (away).

Early qualification was secured with a 1-0 win over BATE Borisov, who once again proved themselves to be game but limited opposition.

On the mark was Olivier Giroud, who rose to head home Emerson’s cross and give himself a real bolt of confidence heading into the second third of the campaign.

“I'm pleased for him,” Sarri said afterwards. “I know strikers want to score. And so for his confidence, I think it's very important.

“I don't want him to be worried about scoring, because for us he's very important, a very, very useful player for the team.”

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The Frenchman took the headlines then, but the bigger story was the return of Eden Hazard to the starting line-up.

The Belgian had missed the last three games, by and large, with a back injury, and so it was a relief to see him get through an hour or so against BATE. That little sharpener should stand him in good stead for a domestic return on Sunday.

Everton are the visitors to the Bridge on Remembrance Sunday, and while the Toffees are certainly a capable outfit they do seem to struggle somewhat on their travels, with only one win in five on the road this term.

As such, we are hoping that the Blues can land yet another win to maintain the pressure on Manchester City at the summit of the division.

Chelsea Team News

The good news with the approach that Maurizio Sarri has taken in the Europa League means that we always head into Premier League games in decent shape.

The first choice back four all got a rest on Thursday, and so messrs Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger and Alonso will all come back into the side in front of the impressive Kepa between the sticks.

Cesc Fabregas has been ill this week, and that kept him out of the BATE Borisov game with Jorginho deputising.

Whether the Spaniard is fit for Sunday is touch and go, so we expect Ross Barkley, who was voted Man of the Match against the Belarussians, to continue alongside N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic.

Hazard and Willian were both given lighter duties in midweek, so they will surely start on the flanks, while even the temptation to start Giroud, back among the goals, must be tempered to enable the flourishing Alvaro Morata to come into the side once more.

Chelsea vs Everton Head to Head

These two sides have been almost perennial top flight outfits in the past century or so, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that this will be the 180th competitive meeting between them.

We have the upper hand with 72 wins to 54 defeats (and 53 draws), and that’s a theme that tends to preside in the modern era, with Chelsea winning 11 of the last 17 encounters with the Toffees (W11 D2 L4).

Everton haven’t won at Stamford Bridge since 2011, and last season they lost twice in the space of eight weeks at our home ground; 0-2 in the Premier League followed by 1-2 in the Carabao Cup.

How the Match Will Be Won

There won’t be any surprises from Chelsea here; why change a winning formula?

We will pass the ball, dominate possession and look to create openings in wide areas courtesy of Hazard, Willian and the overlapping full backs.

Marco Silva hailed Everton’s 3-1 win over Brighton last weekend as their ‘best performance of the season), and yet these soft Toffees could only muster three shots on target during the game.

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They will play with a fairly traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, with Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne offering width from full back and Michael Keane and Yerry Mina, making his first start for the club with Kurt Zouma barred from playing against his parent club, in the middle.

The midfield will be anchored by Andre Gomes and Idrissa Gana Gueye, with Gylfi Sigurdsson as the old-fashioned number ten in front of them.

Theo Walcott and Bernard will probe down the wings, while Richarlison – assuming he shakes off an ankle injury – will lead the line.

That’s all well and good, but with one win five away from home Silva clearly hasn’t found a working strategy for his side on their travels.

They lost 0-2 at Arsenal and 1-2 at Manchester United, in addition to dropping points at Wolves and Bournemouth.

Everton are a functional yet hardly life-affirming football team in their present guise, and you would have to back Chelsea to find a way past them on Sunday.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

BATE Borisov vs Chelsea Match Preview (08/11/18): Blues to Advance in Style in Belarus

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We had wondered in last week’s preview of the Crystal Palace game just how long it would take us to make the all-important breakthrough.

Half an hour or so, all told, when Alvaro Morata – confidence seemingly returning – slotted home from Pedro’s pass.

But as we predicted, this was not an easy game, with the Eagles making life plenty difficult for us despite our overwhelming occupation of the ball.

Roy Hodgson’s side drew level in the second half when Andros Townsend got clear and fired home impressively, and at that point we really did need some divine intervention to find that second goal.

It came from the garden of Eden – well, his right foot actually, as Hazard’s introduction from the substitute’s bench brought an instant return. His free kick eventually found its way to Morata, who drilled home.

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We managed to complete the scoring when Pedro finished so emphatically from Marcos Alonso’s pass, and while it was tremendously hard work we still found a way to claim all three points against a stubborn Palace side. Victory took us above Liverpool on goal difference, and two points adrift of leaders Manchester City.

Our next Premier League outing comes on Sunday when we entertain Everton in the last game before the next international break, but prior to that there’s the matter of a trip to Belarus on Thursday to take care of.

A point or better against BATE Borisov will secure our passage into the knockout phase of the Europa League, and you sense that Maurizio Sarri will be desperate to clear that particular bridge at the first available opportunity.

Chelsea Team News

The manager has continued to field strong sides in this competition, and while he will surely take it easy with some there will still be game time for others.

Kepa has typically been the first choice keeper in the Europa League, so he may well start behind the rotated back four of, from right to left, Zappacosta, Christensen, Cahill and Emerson.

Getting the balance right in midfield will be key, and the fact that Ross Barkley was subbed off after 64 minutes suggests that either he or replacement Mateo Kovacic will join Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the middle of the park.

Will Sarri treat Hazard with kid gloves? There’s no real reason for him to start against BATE, and while he is likely to travel with the squad you would wager that Pedro and Willian are better options unless the Belgian’s skills are needed to break the deadlock late on.

Up front, the manager has a tough decision to make. Does he continue with Morata, who is starting to get among the goals again and who will want to keep his hot run going, or bring in the fit-again Olivier Giroud?

BATE Borisov vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea’s 3-1 win over BATE Borisov a fortnight ago was the first meeting between the two sides.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s hat-trick did the damage in a match in which we won the shots on target count by a commanding 9-1.

How the Match Will Be Won

There wasn’t a huge amount about BATE Borisov at the Bridge the other week that suggests we need to be fearful ahead of the meeting in Belarus on Thursday.

They tried to pass the ball around, but lacked the class to really make any inroads into our defence, and but for a bit of luck and some tigerish defending our 3-1 margin of victory would surely have been greater.

The boys from Belarus lined up in a compact 4-3-3, with former Arsenal man Aleksandr Hleb the focal point in the middle of the park.

In truth, they were simply trying to limit the damage by going man for man in the middle of the park, and it remains to be seen if they adopt a more progressive, front foot approach on home soil.

They were stuffed 1-4 by PAOK in their other home match in Group L so far, and so perhaps we need to focus less on them and more on what we do!

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The great thing about this Chelsea squad is that even with rotation, it’s still a tremendously strong set of players.

The back four is strong, and a midfield three of Kovacic, Fabregas and Loftus-Cheek is strong enough to grace any side in the Europa League.

Goals are not in short supply regardless of the front three Sarri names, and so the only conclusion we can draw is that Chelsea should win this game with the same level of comfort with which they triumphed in the reverse fixture.

Thursday 1 November 2018

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace Match Preview (04/11/18): Eagles Preyed Upon By Bloodthirsty Blues

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It’s been a pretty good week for Chelsea FC by all accounts!

After extending our unbeaten run to ten in the Premier League, victory over Derby in the Carabao Cup in midweek sends us into the quarter-finals of that competition as well. A win over Crystal Palace on Sunday would round things off rather nicely!

The 3-2 triumph over the Rams was a strange old affair, but a win is a win and when it keeps our unbeaten run going who are we to argue.

All five goals came in the first half, with two of those own goals contributed by Derby players: Richard Keogh and the on-loan Fikayo Tomori, who did not enjoy the happiest of returns to Stamford Bridge.

After an early strike from Jack Marriott, the Rams fought back again through Martyn Waghorn, but Cesc Fabregas settled the tie before half-time with a trademark cool finish.

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David Nugent hit the post late on for the visitors, and so there was a sense of relief when the referee blew the full time whistle shortly after.

Victory takes us into the last eight of the Carabao Cup, where we have been drawn at home against Bournemouth.

Attention turns back to league matters and the visit of Crystal Palace. Roy Hodgson’s men have actually beaten us in two of our last three meetings, and so we simply cannot afford to rest on our laurels when the Eagles come to town on Sunday.

Chelsea Team News

Maurizio Sarri fielded a surprisingly strong side against Derby on Wednesday, with Willian, Alvaro Morata, Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante all playing 90 minutes.

It hints that Eden Hazard will be fit to start on Sunday, and also that Ross Barkley will be given another 90 minutes as his development into an outstanding midfield player continues under Sarri.

Otherwise, Kepa will come in for Willy Caballero between the sticks and the traditional back four – Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger and Alonso – will be reunited.

Barkley will join Jorginho and, presumably, Kante in midfield, with Hazard to the left and Willian, if his legs can handle a third game in a week, on the right.

Through the middle, Giroud might get the nod despite struggling with a niggling injury – unless Morata recovers well from the Derby outing.

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace Head to Head

As mentioned, Palace actually have a pretty good record against us.

They have won on two of their last three trips to the Bridge. The first came in August 2015, when a Radamel Falcao goal – remember him! – was cancelled out by strikes from Bakary Sako and Joel Ward.

Then, in April 2017, they triumphed by the same scoreline, with Zaha and Benteke doing the damage for the visitors.

We gained revenge back in March with a 2-1 win of our own, but those former defeats – allied to yet another 1-2 reverse at Selhurst Park in October 2017 – suggests we have reasons to go overboard in our confidence on Sunday.

How the Match Will Be Won

The thing about this Crystal Palace side is that, without Christian Benteke, they lack a genuine frontman to act as an ‘out ball’.

Wilf Zaha is a brilliant performer and a willing combatant when leading the line, but he tends to get isolated and that is reflected in Palace’s ‘goals for’ column so far this season: with just seven in ten, only Newcastle, Huddersfield and Southampton have notched fewer.

The challenge, as is the case against any Hodgson-led side, is to break down their well-drilled defensive lines, which starts with the back four and continues with the defence-orientated central midfielders in front of them.

That’s okay though, with Hazard returning and both Willian and Morata in sublime form at present. Kante will provide pace and directness from midfield, with Barkley joining him in albeit more technical fashion.

With Alonso and Azpilicueta marauding down their respective flanks, it will be something akin to the blue arrows when we spring forward.

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Our natural, possession-based style should also help to draw the Palace players out of their positions, and as long as we move the ball around quickly – rather than more pedestrianised, side to side football – we can get in behind them.

Zaha will be a nuisance in attack. He’s got such good feet, and a willingness to carry the ball, that Rudiger and Luiz cannot afford to rest for a single minute when the Ivorian is around. Happily, he won’t have too much support around him.

And so we’re expecting a Chelsea victory. It may take a while to fashion the necessary chances, but there’s no reason why our sublime passing won’t find a way through an admittedly well-organised Palace rearguard.