Tuesday 30 January 2018

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Match Preview (30/01/18): Blues in the Mood to Pop Cherries

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With the transfer window shutting in around 24 hours’ time, it’s perhaps no surprise that the rumour mill is going into overdrive.

If you believe everything you read, Olivier Giroud is set to join us from Arsenal with Michy Batshuayi heading out on loan somewhere, with Borussia Dortmund heavily linked.

Whatever happens, all we can implore Antonio Conte and his recruitment team to do is ensure we leave January as strong, if not stronger, than we entered it. The fact we’re still competing on three fronts should also act as a reminder that strengthening, rather than weakening, is the order of the day.

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Ironically it was Batshuayi who played a pivotal role in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Newcastle in the FA Cup fourth round. His brace of goals in the first half, allied to Marcos Alonso’s sublime free kick in the second, secured a comfortable passage for the boys into the fifth round draw.

We’ve a rare midweek Premier League tie to negotiate this week, with Bournemouth making the trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. It’s a potential banana-skin, make no mistake, so let’s hope the Blues give it their full focus.

Chelsea Team News

With all the transfer talk involving attacking players, it’s easy to forget that Alvaro Morata is still struggling with a back injury, and will most likely make his return against Watford on Monday.

So if Batshuayi does leave we could be in something of a pickle up front; precisely why we expect any deal involving the frontman to be concluded after the game against the Cherries.

Thibaut Courtois may be fit enough to return after rolling his ankle a few weeks ago, although David Luiz (ankle) and Willian (thigh) will miss out.

The good news is that we don’t play again until Monday night, so Conte will presumably explore the possibility of fielding his strongest available eleven here.

That should mean a front three of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Batshuayi, assuming the latter is still at the club at this point, in front of a midfield pair of N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas.

Alonso and Victor Moses on the flanks, and Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen at the back, gives the side a solid feel and hopefully ensure this potential obstacle is overcome with relative ease.

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Head to Head

There have been just eleven previous meetings between Chelsea and Bournemouth; a side effect of the fact that Bournemouth only made their ay up to the top flight in 2015/16.

There were various cup meetings prior to that, but if we focus primarily on the encounters since then we note that Chelsea have won the last five – with the solitary defeat coming back in 2015 at the Bridge (those with a long-ish memory may recall it!).

We’ve taken on the Cherries twice this season, winning 1-0 on the south coast in October courtesy of a Hazard goal, and more recently we prevailed 2-1 in the Carabao Cup courtesy of Morata’s injury time winner.

How the Match Will Be Won

Bournemouth will play a cagey game at Stamford Bridge, and look to utilise the pace of Callum Wilson and Jordan Ibe on the break.

Those quick runs into the channels do occasionally cause us problems – see Jamie Vardy’s efforts for Leicester recently for further evidence, but we expect Eddie Howe to throw so few players forward that even if Wilson does get in behind, he will be so short of support that it won’t be too hurtful.

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Bournemouth have won just two of their twelve away dates this term, and the fact they have scored just nine times offers an insight into their limited expectations on the road. They failed to score at the Emirates, Old Trafford, the City of Manchester Stadium and Wembley, all this season, and that suggests their main aim when playing away from home against the big boys is damage limitation.

The Cherries can be got at, particular through the middle of the park where Harry Arter and Dan Gosling protect a back three of Simon Francis, Steve Cook and Chelsea old boy Nathan Ake. As long as Batshuayi’s movement is good – assuming he plays! – then Bournemouth’s defensive shape can be twisted and pulled out of shape.

On the road, the Cherries have played at four of the ‘big six’ this term: losing to Arsenal (0-3), Tottenham (0-1), Manchester United (0-1) and Manchester City (0-4). Using those fixtures as a guide, we’ll be hoping to win by a couple of goals to nil on Wednesday.

Thursday 25 January 2018

Chelsea vs Newcastle United Match Preview (28/01/18): Blues’ Second String Look to Make Their Mark

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So, that’s that then. With dreams of a trip to Wembley (a proper trip; not Tottenham away) in mind, we headed to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night with dreams of a place in the Carabao Cup final very much in the offing.

What transpired was verging on a nightmare.

Okay, so that’s slightly melodramatic, and we were unlucky to go into the half-time break level with Arsenal after dominating the first 45 minutes: Eden Hazard’s early opener cancelled out by Antonio Rudiger’s cruel own goal.

But there was a certain lack of urgency amongst the Blues players in the second period, and while Granit Xhaka’s winner was a little fortunate it was no less than the Gunners deserved. We were oddly anonymous with a cup final beckoning.

Ah well; we have an instant opportunity to right that wrong with an FA Cup fourth round tie against Newcastle at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

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Of course, Antonio Conte will have one eye on Wednesday’s Premier League meeting with Bournemouth, and with a couple of his squad battling injury we can expect something approaching a second-string side to take on the Magpies at the weekend.

Conte’s domestic cup formula has been consistent: he will rotate his squad until the point we reach the latter stages of the competition. So this is a fine opportunity for fringe players to make their mark….let’s hope they take it!

Chelsea Team News

There are a few injuries persisting in the Chelsea ranks, and so it wouldn’t be a surprise to anybody if Conte gives all those incumbered a few extra days rest in readiness for the league clash against the Cherries in midweek.

Thibaut Courtois’ ankle injury was worse than first feared, and he had to sit out the game against the Gunners on Wednesday. He will presumably miss out against Newcastle as well, with Willy Caballero deputising.

Cesc Fabregas’ hamstring strain will also keep him out of the weekend fray, and so N’Golo Kante may be partnered in midfield by Danny Drinkwater, who was fit enough to take his place on the bench against the Gunners.

Alvaro Morata’s back has gone, and again it seems senseless risking him in a cup tie. Let’s get the Spaniard fit and firing in the goals again.

Willian went off after half an hour against Arsenal after tweaking a hamstring, and like Morata there’s no need to risk the Brazilian with bigger fish to fry forthcoming. His replacement, Ross Barkley, did okay in is first game back from long-term injury, and assuming there has been no physical reaction we can see him starting in place of Eden Hazard, who will surely be saved for next week.

Kenedy has left the club on loan – to Newcastle, ironically – and so Dujon Sterling, the highly-rated youngster, may come in for his full debut in a Chelsea shirt.

Chelsea vs Newcastle United Head to Head

It was a matter of weeks ago that these two sides last met, with Chelsea coming out on top 3-1 courtesy of goals from Eden Hazard (x2) and Alvaro Morata.

That continues a theme of general dominance for the Blues against the Magpies at Stamford Bridge: W6 D2 L2 the tale of the tape in the last ten meetings there.

It’s only our struggles at St James’ Park that skew the overall head-to-head record; we’ve failed to win in four attempts there, with three defeats. Let’s hope this tie doesn’t go to a replay!

How the Match Will Be Won

Making predictions about how this match will be won are difficult without knowing the starting elevens; it’s quite possible that Newcastle will make changes too given that they face a bit of relegation-based strife.

They will be without Florian Lejeune and Jesus Gamez, with Chancel Mbemba rated as 50/50 as he struggles a knee injury, so perhaps there are defensive concerns there.

The Magpies went on that hideous run from late October to mid-December where they lost eight out of nine league games, but they’ve battened down the hatches of late with a mini run of W2 D2 L2.

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A pair of 1-3 defeats away from home, to us and Manchester City, are perhaps an indicator of how this match may pan out, and indeed they have conceded six more goals on the road compared to on home soil.

There should be opportunities for the likes of Davide Zappacosta, Danny Drinkwater, Pedro and Michy Batshuayi to make Antonio Conte sit up and take notice here, and if that quartet performs then there is no reason why we can’t chalk up a couple of goals and complete a fairly comfortable victory.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Arsenal vs Chelsea Match Preview (24/01/18): Can Blues Nick All-Important Away Goal?

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We hope this sentiment proves to be untrue, but Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final, second leg could prove to be the most important game of our season.

It’s certainly an excellent chance to get our hands on some silverware, and while ambitions of lifting the Champions League trophy won’t diminish while we are in the competition this League Cup is, by all accounts, our best shot of glory in 2017/18.

The same rings true for Arsenal, and so there is plenty on the line – particularly given that the scoreline is poised beautifully at 0-0 from the first leg.

As such, an away goal would put us firmly in the driving seat, although note these only become active AFTER the standard 30-minute period of extra time should the match end in stalemate.

We go into the game in good heart anyway following the 4-0 demolition of Brighton at the weekend. The Seagulls are rarely hammered on home soil – indeed, this was just the second time all season they had conceded three or more goals at the Amex Stadium.

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The catalyst was some fine attacking play between Eden Hazard and Willian principally, with the pair sharing a trio of goals and helping to create our best moments. The latter in particular impressed, and he will surely start against the Gunners.

Indeed, Hazard himself has called for his teammates to attack at the Emirates Stadium, rather than simply look to contain their opponents. “It's a semi-final. We will go there to win, for sure,” he said.

“If we are thinking about setting up defensively against Arsenal then that's a bad thing, because we need to score goals. We will see what the team is like - maybe the manager can change some players.”

We shall wait and see if Antonio Conte heeds Hazard’s words or not….

Chelsea Team News

We do agree with Hazard: Chelsea will be best served lining up in their usual 3-4-3 fashion, rather than adopting the 3-5-1-1 system that Conte deploys when he is, perhaps, fearful of the opposition’s attacking threat.

That’s not to denigrate Arsenal’s talents by any means, but without Alexis Sanchez they are clearly a less potent force. Yes, they put four past Crystal Palace without him, but the Eagles have been absolutely decimated by injuries.

Alvaro Morata returns from suspension and should lead the line with Hazard and Willian, dovetailing so well against Brighton, in behind him.

Cesc Fabregas has a hamstring strain and will miss the trip to his former club, and Danny Drinkwater is struggling with his ankle – so N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko will continue in midfield.

It appears though Kenedy is on his way to Newcastle on loan, so Marcos Alonso is the only left wing back on our books at present; he will start on the opposite flank to Victor Moses, who is facing strong competition from Davide Zappacosta at the moment.

Gary Cahill’s thigh injury should keep him out until the weekend at the earliest, although Andreas Christensen should have recovered from the head injury that forced him off against Brighton.

Thibaut Courtois rolled his ankle in training and missed out against the Seagulls, but he should be fine to return between the sticks in place of Willy Caballero.

Arsenal vs Chelsea Head to Head

This will be the fifth meeting between Chelsea and Arsenal in the 2017/18 campaign alone….with the previous four all ending in stalemate!

The 0-0 in the first leg of this tie follows the goalless draw at Stamford Bridge in the league, while the first meeting of the campaign ended 1-1 in the Community Shield. And the last time the pair met at the Emirates it was a 2-2 barnburner.

Our record against the Gunners since Roman Abramovich came to the club reads W18 D9 L7, and we have only lost one of our last seven league outings at the Emirates Stadium.

How the Match Will Be Won

Clashes between two quality operators are often defined by who isn’t playing just as much as who is, and while Chelsea can be comfortable even without Fabregas and Cahill, Arsenal’s list of absentees is rather more overwhelming.

Alexis Sanchez is gone and hasn’t really been replaced: Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a fine player, but he isn’t a left winger. Besides which, he can’t play against us on Wednesday anyway.

Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are both definitely out, while Nacho Monreal was subbed off in the first half against Palace after tweaking his hamstring.

The Spaniard has been a key performer for the Gunners this term, and his absence will hit them hard. Arsene Wenger’s determination to play three at the back, despite not really having the defensive resources, will continue to undermine his team’s efforts, and Monreal’s absence would not aid matters.

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The pace of Alexandre Lacazette and the guile of Mesut Ozil are the Gunners’ two key weapons, but both can be stopped with thoughtful planning. Kante, in particular, will be relied on to minimise Ozil’s time and space on the ball.

Attacking Arsenal is the only way: they haven’t kept a clean sheet in six Premier League outings, conceding two or more in four of those, and their defensive vulnerability is clear for all to see.

Hopefully Conte gets the memo….now let’s go and outgun the Gunners.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Brighton vs Chelsea Match Preview (20/01/18): Depleted Blues Hoping to Tame the Seagulls

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The fallacy of not picking your strongest available starting eleven in domestic cup clashes was laid bare last night as Chelsea struggled to see off a game Norwich outfit.

After the original tie between the sides ended in stalemate – partly due to Antonio Conte giving fringe players a go, the two teams locked horns again at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening in the replay.

It took 120 minutes and ten penalties to separate the sides, with Eden Hazard stepping off the bench to net the winning spot kick, but you sense the damage caused was greater than the success earned.
 Alvaro Morata and Pedro were both sent off and will now miss Saturday’s Premier League clash with Brighton, while the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Willian all played the full 120 minutes – also making them doubtful for the trip to the south coast.

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And so Conte’s best laid plans, which would have been to take on Brighton with a slightly weakened side in order to have his strongest assets available for next Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Arsenal, have been thrown out of the window.

The Seagulls may not pose much of a goal threat but they are certainly tough to beat at the Amex Stadium; losing just two of their eleven matches on home soil this term.

With Manchester United taking on Burnley and Liverpool travelling to Swansea, there is every chance the gap to third will open up further if we don’t take full points against Brighton. That is something that will be giving Antonio Conte a huge headache this morning.

Chelsea Team News

Trying to piece together a coherent Chelsea side, given who is suspended, who is carrying a knock and who needs a rest, is not easy.

Let’s go from front to back. Thibaut Courtois had the luxury of putting his feet up on Wednesday evening, and he will come back into the side. As mentioned, Azpilicueta played all 120 minutes of the cup tie, and so Conte will be hoping that Gary Cahill has recovered from his thigh injury in time to come in alongside Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger.

Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso return at wing back, while Cesc Fabregas – assuming he is also fit to start after his own thigh injury – will come in alongside N’Golo Kante.

Now here’s come the tricky part. Morata and Pedro are definitely out, and so Eden Hazard must start. Conte will probably show faith in Michy Batshuayi, who scored on Wednesday, and so his other decision will be whether to include Willian, who played all 120 minutes in midweek and who may not be 100%, or give a youngster a go: Charly Musonda or even Kenedy, who impressed against Norwich, in a more advanced role.

Brighton vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is Brighton’s first season in the English top flight, remember, so meetings between the pair are scarce.

There have been nine Brighton vs Chelsea clashes in history, and it is the Londoners who boast a healthy W7 D1 L1 record against the seasiders.

The only meeting of relevance is the 2-0 Chelsea win on Boxing Day – the rest occurred pre-1990. Goals from Alonso and Morata secured a comfortable victory for the Blues at Christmas.

How the Match Will Be Won

With 15 of Brighton’s 23-point haul coming at the Amex Stadium, it’s fair to say our task will be altogether more difficult than the romp on Boxing Day. Factor in our missing players and the Seagulls might just fancy the job.

You would expect this to be a low scoring clash. Seven of Brighton’s last eight games have witnessed two goals or fewer, and with the Blues lacking a bit of spark going forward in recent weeks this could come down to the odd goal as to who claims the points.

The Seagulls have only conceded more than two goals in a game once this term, and that was against the rampant Liverpool, so it’s unlikely the Blues will exceed that tally.

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Brighton erected a blue and white wall against us at the Bridge, and a similar theme will presumably unfold on Saturday lunchtime despite them having home advantage this time around.

They will ask us to break them down, and with our attacking play not quite up to scratch of late it may just take a moment of individual brilliance to seal the deal: a wondrous pass from Fabregas, a sublime set piece from Alonso or a sumptuous piece of skill from Hazard.

If they don’t, we could return to the capital with our tails between our legs.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Chelsea vs Leicester City Match Preview (13/01/18): Expect the Blues to Win the Battle of the Bridge

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It wasn’t a vintage performance by any means, but the 0-0 draw with Arsenal in the Carabao Cup semi-final, first leg on Wednesday at least gives us a handy chance of progressing to the final.

Okay, so we would have liked to have taken a lead to the Emirates Stadium for the second leg, but one thing we did do is stop the Gunners netting an away goal. The rules are slightly different in the Carabao Cup: away goals only count should the teams still be level after extra time, but that seems like a distinct possibility given how closely matched the sides were in midweek.

We can stick a pin in that tie for time being and instead turn our focus to the Premier League again. This week, it’s the visit of Leicester City to Stamford Bridge.

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With so much going on for the Blues this term it would be easy to lose sight of the main target this term: finishing as close to Manchester City as possible. That’s a long way away, but we remain just a solitary point behind Manchester United in second. Anybody who said this Premier League campaign was a write-off due to City’s dominance are way off the mark.

Leicester are in inconsistent form at the moment, and their record at the Bridge really isn’t the best. So are three points in the offing for the Blues?

Chelsea Team News

There is only one injury concern for Antonio Conte and it’s a very new one: Ross Barkley, recently signed from Everton, who is still recovering from the effects of his hamstring injury that has kept him out all season. A few Under-23 games under his belt and the midfielder will be back in the mix.

So Conte has pretty much a full deck to call upon, and we suspect (we hope!) he will prioritise this match over Wednesday’s FA Cup replay over Norwich.

That means that a first choice starting eleven will be fielded, with Willian coming in for the unfortunate Danny Drinkwater, who will miss out against his former club, with Gary Cahill restored in place of Antonio Rudiger.

The boss will keep faith in Alvaro Morata, who looked short of confidence but certainly did not lack in endeavour against Arsenal.

Chelsea vs Leicester City Head to Head

Earlier we touched upon Leicester’s poor record at Stamford Bridge, and it does bear repeating.

Since the turn of the millennium we hold a W6 D1 L1 lead, and if we extend our search further we note a W11 D3 L1 head-to-head supremacy in the Blues’ favour.

Home and away, we’ve only lost once to the Foxes in 14 meetings.

How the Match Will Be Won

As ever at the Bridge, the focus is on what we can do, rather than worrying about what our opponents will do.

As a happy coincidence, however, the way that Leicester set up suits us down to the ground.

If Claude Puel sets up as he has been doing, he will line up with the attack minded Demarai Gray on the right wing and Daniel Amartey – in for the injured Danny Simpson - behind him at right back.

That is a recipe for potential disaster, as far as we’re concerned, with Marcos Alonso in the form of his life on the left flank and Eden Hazard playing in that inside left pocket.

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Also absent will be Wes Morgan, Leicester’s captain and omnipresent centre back, and so defensively the Foxes could be in disarray.

What threat do they pose going forward? Of course, any side containing Jamie Vardy (fit again after injury) and Riyad Mahrez is dangerous, but with Andreas Christensen playing in the sweeper role he can sit deeper and mop up those long balls into the channels upon which he thrives.

And Mahrez? Well, if the rumours are to be believed, Conte was keen on signing him in the summer. The wizard will need to be well policed by N’Golo Kante.

But given Leicester’s defensive issues, Chelsea are a heavy favourite with the bookmakers and with good reason.

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Chelsea vs Arsenal Match Preview (10/01/18): Expect a Carabao Classic Between Two Full-Strength Teams

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Probably the worst outcome from Chelsea’s FA Cup third round trip to Norwich was the 0-0 draw we had to make do with.

That means a replay, and yet another midweek game, for the Blues, and Antonio Conte will once again have to shuffle the pack to get his squad blend right.

One of the main factors for our disinterest in the FA Cup is that, for now at least, the Carabao Cup has to take priority as far as the domestic cup competitions are concerned. We are into the semi-finals, and a two-legged encounter with Arsenal dangles the carrot of a trip to Wembley and the chance for Conte and his men to get their hands on some silverware.

However, the Gunners aren’t going to be pushovers, and the fact that they are now out of the FA Cup means they can pool all of their resources into winning this tie with Chelsea – a fact alluded to by the Daily Mirror, who report that Arsene Wenger will name a full strength side at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. We would expect Conte to follow suit.

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The Norwich game is worthy of nothing more than a footnote. A much-changed Chelsea side dominated the shots on target count by 7-0, but simply could not find a way to put the ball in the net with the likes of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata rested.

With that duo restored to the starting eleven alongside the others who were given Saturday off, we can be confident of a much improved showing against Arsenal.

Chelsea Team News

We had predicted that Antonio Conte would make wholesale changes for the trip to Carrow Road, and the Italian certainly didn’t disappoint on that front!

Expect him to take Wednesday’s fixture rather more seriously, however, and if possible pick a starting eleven that closely resembles that which drew 2-2 against Arsenal a week or so ago.

So Thibaut Courtois returns between the sticks, the normal back three of Azpilicueta, Christensen and Cahill resumes their partnership and the wing backs of Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso return – despite Davide Zappacosta impressing against the Gunners when coming on as a sub in that exhilarating stalemate during the New Year.

We know that Conte prefers to play a 3-5-1-1 formation in these games against big clubs, so expect him to opt for the same strategy here with N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas returning alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko.

Eden Hazard has been struggling with a calf injury of late but appears to be winning the race for full fitness, and he will slot in behind Alvaro Morata, whose desperation to end a mini goal drought is clear for all to see.

Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to Head

We can add another draw to the history books following the 2-2 stalemate at the Emirates last week, with the head-to-head record now reading Chelsea with 62 wins, Arsenal with 75 and 53 draws.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, or the post-Abramovich years, we have turned the tables on the Gunners with a run of W18 D8 L7.

More pressingly, take a look at our record against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge: W8 D1 L1 in our last ten speaks volumes.

How the Match Will Be Won

As was the case in the meeting between the pair, Wednesday’s clash is likely to be dictated in some respects by Arsenal’s defensive injury woes.

It appears as if both Nacho Monreal and Saed Kolasinac are definitely out, while Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny will need to pass late fitness tests. Just in front of them Granit Xhaka is rated no better than 50/50.

So the Gunners may line up with a central defensive trio of Calum Chambers, Rob Holding and Per Mertesacker….and if that doesn’t get the juices flowing within Hazard, Morata et al then nothing will.

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Arsenal remain strong going forward though with a front three of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette liable to cause any side problems; assuming that is, in the case of Sanchez, that he isn’t distracted by rumours suggesting a move to Manchester City is imminent.

Coming so quickly after the battle of the Emirates last week, we simply have to assume that this game will follow hot on the tails of that fixture. As such, we can expect an end-to-end contest with plenty of goalscoring opportunities created by both sides.

That said, Chelsea were the better team on the day and should have won it – Morata missed a couple of golden chances and Davide Zappacosta hit the bar, while both of Arsenal’s goals were world-class, ‘once in a blue moon’ strikes.

With home advantage restored, we have to really fancy our chances of securing a positive result to take across the capital for the second leg in a fortnight’s time.

Thursday 4 January 2018

Norwich City v Chelsea Match Preview (06/01/18): Much-Changed Blues Should Prove Too Strong for Canaries

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When you come away from a trip to the Emirates Stadium with the feeling that a draw was two points lost, rather than one gained, then ultimately you have to reflect on what was a decent effort.

Without necessarily dominating, Chelsea created the better chances and looked likely to claim all three points when Marcos Alonso touched home Davide Zappacosta’s cross to give us a 2-1 lead.

But Hector Bellerin found a bit of space to fire home a wonderful strike in injury time to secure Arsenal a point which they largely didn’t deserve.

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Okay, so the balance of play was fairly equal, but the bottom line is that both of the Gunners’ goals came from individual moments of brilliance – that is ‘luck’, in that they are anomalous in any player’s average 90 minutes, whereas Chelsea missed a couple of gilt-edged chances (Alvaro Morata, principally) and also hit the woodwork through Zappacosta.

Generally speaking a point away from home at Arsenal is a decent enough result, but it is hard not to reflect on what might have been following a pulsating encounter.

After that excitement, and the manic nature of the festive period, there will be a sense of calm this week as we make the trip to Championship outfit Norwich City in the FA Cup third round.

If you cast your minds back to last season, Antonio Conte’s attitude towards the cups was obvious: he fielded ‘weakened sides’ until the latter stages, where his strongest eleven was selected in the semis and final of the FA Cup.

With one eye on Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash with Arsenal, we expect another experimental line-up here in tackling a capable Norwich side but one that is surely there for the taking.

Chelsea Team News

As discussed, rotating his squad has been Conte’s mods operandi in the early rounds of the domestic cup competitions, and we see no reason why he would deviate from that strategy here.

The Christmas and New Year period was tough on the players, and so any chance for them to have a well-earned breather should be welcomed – with presumably a strong side being picked to take on Arsenal next Wednesday.

We anticipate a similar sort of side to the one that started against Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup. Willy Caballero will get the nod between the sticks, and in front of him the talented Ethan Ampadu will partner Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta.

Zappacosta looked very lively against the Gunners, and he will surely be given a go on the right flank with Kenedy on the left.

Danny Drinkwater will presumably start in midfield – alongside Tiemoue Bakayoko, quite possibly, while a front three of Pedro, Willian and Michy Batshuayi will be unleashed upon the Canaries.

Norwich City v Chelsea Head to Head

Norwich have largely yo-yoed between the Championship and the top flight in recent years, so our head-to-head record is perhaps not as storied as it could be.

As you might expect, the Blues do hold an advantage over the Canaries, with 21 wins to 14 in 52 past meetings.

Our last encounters came during the 2015/16 campaign, when we did the double over the struggling East Anglian outfit, and that continued a trend which has delivered a formline of W10 D3 L0 since the turn of the millennium.

Chelsea’s return from matches played at Carrow Road pre-1990 reads W1 D5 L5….since 1990 it is W6 D5 L2.

How the Match Will Be Won

Norwich are a team in transition under head coach Daniel Farke, who was appointed in the summer to oversee a more continental approach to the beautiful game.

As is the case with many transitional outfits, it has been a case of one-step forward and two back for the Canaries. The fact they have lost more matches than they have won in the Championship (W9 D7 L10) is testament to that.

Farke’s approach is one of conservative, risk avoidance: the fact that his side have scored two or more goals in just 6/26 starts this term confirms that. Ironically, their defensive record isn’t all that – shipping 31 in 26 – and so clearly this is a team that lacks a clear identity at present.

A lack of goals has been a clear problem, and that’s not been aided by the fact that his attacking options – Cameron Jerome, Nelson Oliveira, Josh Murphy and Yannick Wildschut – have contributed just 13 between them all season.

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The one bright spot has been the form of young James Maddison, who boasts a trick or two and can hit a mean free kick. Not giving cheap set pieces away in and around the penalty area is a must on Saturday.

But overall it is hard to see Norwich causing us too many problems. They will raise their game, of course, for the big occasion, but our fringe players will be desperate to prove themselves ahead of a busy few months for the club. Expect a Chelsea win here.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Arsenal v Chelsea Match Preview (03/01/18): Can the Blues Topple Wobbling Gunners?

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Given that it was our third game in just seven days, the quality of football shown against Stoke City last time out was nothing short of joyous.

Admittedly, the Potteries side were hamstrung by a raft of injuries that left their treatment room resembling a hospital waiting room on New Year’s Eve, but you can only beat what is put in front of you….and this was a vintage performance from Chelsea.

On days like this, when your opponents look ready to man the barricades to stop you playing, it is essential to find an early goal in order to settle the nerves, and so when Antonio Rudiger headed home after just three minutes you could just sense that this was going to be a good day for the Blues.

Danny Drinkwater’s first goal for the club six minutes later confirmed the fact, and from then on the contest, if we can describe it as such, resembled a game of attack vs defence as the Blues enjoyed almost total dominance of the ball while Stoke built a red-and-white wall in front of them.

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That wall was akin to the DIY jobs that the under-skilled and under-qualified will attempt this January, however, with further goals from Pedro, Willian and Davide Zappacosta adding a deserved gloss to the scoreline.

All of the above was achieved without the rested Eden Hazard, Andreas Christensen and Cesc Fabregas, so no wonder Antonio Conte was in chipper mood after the match. “Today we were very good, we started very well and to score twice after 15 minutes, another clean sheet, there are a lot of positives after this game,” he told the BBC.

“But at the same time we know we must continue to work and improve, and prepare for a very difficult game against Arsenal.”

It is that encounter with the Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday that ushers us into 2018, and there is every reason for Blues fans to feel confident. Our festive schedule – comfortable home wins over Brighton and Stoke – has been rather more agreeable than Arsenal’s, who faced a pair of away trips in the space of 72 hours of each other during that period of post-Christmas malaise.

We will go ten points clear of Arsene Wenger’s side with victory here; as if any further motivation was required!

Chelsea Team News

The decision to rest the above-named trio – as well as Tiemoue Bakayoko – against Stoke ultimately paid dividends, and so we can have every confidence as we make the trip across the capital.

Only David Luiz faces an enforced lay-off through injury, which gives Conte almost free rein to select the starting eleven he believes will be most capable of claiming all three points.

The traditional back three (Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill) will be supplemented by Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso on the flanks, and we suspect that the manager will opt for the 3-5-1-1 system he has preferred for these big matches.

So a midfield trio of N’Golo Kante, Fabregas and Bakayoko will supplement an attacking pairing of Hazard and Morata, and with Arsenal struggling defensively with injuries (more on that later) we can be confident that this is a side capable of getting the job done.

Arsenal v Chelsea Head to Head

The rivalry between these two sides is well storied, and so we’re happy to gloss over the Gunners’ 75-62 head-to-head lead (55 draws).

Many of those victories came during their ‘boom period’ of the 1990s and early 2000s, and since 2005 onwards things have taken a different look to them.

Our record against Arsenal since reads W18 D7 L7, and it was actually the 0-3 reverse at the Emirates last September that caused Conte to rethink his strategy….the rest, as they say, is history.

Since the Gunners moved to the Emirates Stadium, our formline there reads W8 D4 L3.

How the Match Will Be Won

As with the Stoke match, it is fair to wonder how the injury woes of our opponents will affect the outcome of this fixture.

Arsenal will be without Nacho Monreal, Saed Kolasinac, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud, while Mesut Ozil and Laurent Koscielny appear to be facing a losing battle to prove their fitness.
Factor in their heavier workload than ours – a high tempo clash with West Brom just 72 hours ago, plus our decent record at the Emirates, and you’d have to say the cards are very much dealt in our favour.

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It would be churlish to suggest that ‘stop Alexis Sanchez and you stop Arsenal’ would be an effective strategy, but certainly halting the Chilean’s progress will be key to our success here – especially if Ozil is ruled out. Who else has the quality in this Arsenal side to open doors?

Arsene Wenger has struggled with defensive consistency this term, switching from three at the back to four almost at will, and the absence of Koscielny – if that is the case – will hit his side particularly hard.

It seems strange to be so bullish ahead of what is a tough away trip on any given day, but it just feels as though fate has dealt Chelsea a handsome hand ahead of Wednesday’s crunch clash. We have no doubt that Conte’s men can take full advantage.