Thursday 26 April 2018

Swansea vs Chelsea Match Preview (28/04/18): Blues to Keep Pressure on Spurs in Race for Fourth

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There is a chance of redemption for Chelsea this term after Sunday’s 2-0 win over Southampton booked our spot in the FA Cup final.

Getting your hands on some silverware is always nice, and with aspirations of finishing fourth in the Premier League being filed under possible rather than probable, winning the FA Cup may also prove to be the perfect swansong for Antonio Conte as Chelsea manager.

It’s been fairly obvious that the Italian has been unhappy in London for several months now, and with media speculation intensifying it is unlikely that he will be at the helm at the start of next season.

Indeed, with Massimiliano Allegri tipped to join Arsenal from Juventus, it’s quite possible that Conte may find himself back in Turin this summer.

We don’t like to dignify mere rumour and tittle-tattle usually, but if rumours of Conte leaving the club are true then at least he has one last chance to get one over on his old nemesis, Jose Mourinho, with the Blues meeting Manchester United in that May 19 final.

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It was courtesy of a fine goal from Olivier Giroud – how good has he been recently by the way!? – that we booked our Wembley date at the expense of Southampton. The Frenchman weaved his way through the Saints’ defence to fire home and break the Saints’ hearts once more; he was the catalyst for our 3-2 win on the south coast a couple of weeks ago after trailing 1-2.

Alvaro Morata came off the substitutes bench to net a second and secure a comfortable 2-0 win for the Blues.

Attention turns back to the Premier League this week with Saturday’s tea-time trip to Swansea. We can still finish fourth, even if the chances are slim, and so we must continue to accumulate points in the hope that Spurs slip up in the last few weeks of the campaign – it wouldn’t be the first time….

Chelsea Team News

It would seem that the experiment with two strikers has been jettisoned, and so you would expect the in-form Giroud to lead the line ahead of Morata on Saturday.

There’s no obvious reason to rest players, so Eden Hazard and Willian will surely start along with N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas and Victor Moses. Emerson will presumably deputise for Marcos Alonso once more.

Thibaut Courtois returns between the sticks, and so the only real decision Conte has to make is between Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen at centre back. For now, it appears the Englishman has the Italian’s support.

Swansea vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea have a reliably good record against the Swans, losing just one Premier League game against them since the Welsh side reached the top flight in 2011.

That equates to a formline of W8 D4 L1 in league outings since, and that should give Conte something to be cheerful about.

We won the reverse fixture 1-0 back in November courtesy of Antonio Rudiger’s goal, with Conte sent to the stands after a particular fractious afternoon.

How the Match Will Be Won

Swansea have become much more resolute under Carlos Carvajal, and a formline of W4 D5 L4 since the start of 2018 confirms that they are tough to beat even if they are not prolific winners.

The concern for the Swans is that they have been victorious just once in seven attempts, and that has dragged them back into the relegation mire. The pressure is firmly on them come Saturday.
That should lead to a fraught and nervy atmosphere at the Liberty Stadium, and that is the perfect setting for a Chelsea smash-and-grab raid.

The Swans are the joint-lowest scorers in the Premier League this term, and that mans that we can expect to have plenty of the ball on Saturday. The Welsh side don’t press high or assert themselves on the game – indeed, they enjoyed just 17% possession of the ball against Manchester City last time out. They are a passive, counter-punching outfit….and that suits us down to the ground.

Swansea will actually match us man for man too, with three centre halves, wing backs, two central midfield players and then a couple of inverted wide men supporting a lone striker. And so this will be a game of individual battles; but who will win the war?

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The physical confrontation between Giroud and Alfie Mawson will be one to behold for fans of old-fashioned clashes between rugged strikers and defenders, but it’s actually Eden Hazard and Willian who interest us the most.

That dynamic duo can play wide of Swansea’s midfield pair and force the Swans’ centre halves out of position; that will leave plenty of space in behind.

Unless the Welsh side surprise with their tactics and attacking demeanour, this match surely has a Chelsea victory writ large.

Friday 20 April 2018

Chelsea vs Southampton Match Preview (22/04/18): Blues to March On at Expense of the Saints

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We remain, by hook or by crook, in the picture for fourth place in the Premier League.

The trip to Burnley on Thursday night was never going to be an easy one, but the lads did well to claim a 2-1 win in a slightly unfamiliar 3-5-2 system, which saw Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata paired up front.

The former was excellent once again, his physicality causing the Clarets all manner of problems. The latter was less so, and he showed his frustration when substituted after 70 minutes.

Nevertheless, Conte was pleased with his strike pairing. “They showed a great link and a great combination and at the same time they worked very hard for the team,” he said.

“They played a fantastic game with and without the ball. The whole team played an intensive game. We deserved to win.”

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The players could have been forgiven for having one eye on Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Southampton, but they showed great character to claim all three points at Turf Moor – never an easy place to go, to coin the mother of all footballing clich├ęs – and close the gap to Spurs in fourth to five points.

The FA Cup is a welcome distraction, of course, and the chance for the boys to get their hands on some silverware. We have to be wary of Southampton, a team for whom this game is so important given their league status, but on a fine day at Wembley we really ought to be booking our spot in the final.

Chelsea Team News

The big question really is will Conte play two up front again? He was clearly impressed with the pair of them, but mainly it was a vehicle that enabled Willian and Eden Hazard to have a rest. You would anticipate both of those guys will come back into the side.

Also impressive were the full backs: Victor Moses and Emerson. The former toe-poked home the winner and was a constant threat all evening, while the latter looked assured both in defence and attack on his Chelsea debut.

Conte has two other big decisions to make: does Andreas Christensen come back in? The boss may opt for the greater experience of Gary Cahill. And in goal….does he stay loyal to ‘cup keeper’ Willy Caballero, or does Thibaut Courtois come in?

Chelsea vs Southampton Head to Head

After the 3-2 win at St Mary’s a week ago, that’s five straight victories for Chelsea over Southampton.

It also secured a double of victories over the Saints this term, and my how we’d like to make it a hat-trick on Sunday.

The last time we met in the FA Cup was back in January 2013, when Demba Ba scored twice as part of a 5-1 triumph.

How the Match Will Be Won

It took an Olivier Giroud masterclass to turn around the fixture when we last met a week ago, and Conte will be hoping he doesn’t have to resort to Plan B here.

Southampton put in a decent display on Saturday, with Mark Hughes’ 3-5-1-1 formation nullifying much of our good work. The Saints went 2-0 and fully deserved it, but the points aren’t dished out after 60 minutes and the desire Chelsea showed in that last half-hour deserved to get something from the game.

One of the factors from the first game was that the Saints won the battle in wide areas, with messrs Bertrand and Cedric getting the better of Zappacosta and Alonso. Happily, we’ll presumably have a completely different pair in Moses and Emerson to try and assert some authority in wide areas on Sunday.

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Southampton really struggled to cope with the physicality of Giroud, and that’s the main reason you’d expect to see him operating through the middle in this FA Cup semi-final, with Eden Hazard and Willian instructed to float into the pockets of space behind the wing backs.

The midfield battleground will again be crucial and there are likely to be some bodies in there: at least three from the Saints, and N’Golo Kante alongside Cesc Fabregas. It will be congested, and with so much at stake there might just be a few tackles flying in.

How will the game be won? We need to be compact through the middle, and the marauding runs of Dusan Tadic must be monitored. If we can knuckle down on set pieces, then clearly we have more weapons at our disposal to win this cup tie and book yet another FA Cup final date for the diary.

Tuesday 17 April 2018

Burnley vs Chelsea Match Preview (19/04/18): Blues Must Show Fire if They Are to Compete Against the Clarets

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Occasionally, football is a sport bogged down by stats, trends and numbers, which often overshadow the bigger picture.

So anyone picking up their newspaper on Sunday morning would have noted Chelsea’s 3-2 win over Southampton with a shrug. They may even have surmised that this was a gallant effort from a side battling relegation, but ultimately the Blues’ class shone through.

Well, that’s not exactly how this one panned out….

The Saints went 2-0 up and were full value for it; Dusan Tadic and Jan Bednarek – only the third Polish player to score in the Premier League (pub quiz fans will have a field day thinking of the others) – getting the goals in a listless first hour from Chelsea.

The game changed in the 61st minute with the arrival of our powerful French stallion, Olivier Giroud. Just occasionally he runs with the poise of a horse bound for the knacker’s yard rather than a thoroughbred, but when he’s good he’s very good indeed.

And happily Giroud was very much in the mood on Saturday lunchtime. He came on and caused carnage in the Southampton defence, scoring twice and aiding Eden Hazard’s goal with his physicality in the home side’s penalty area.

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It was a 3-2 win that was hardly deserved, in all fairness, but the intensity and desire we showed in that final half-hour was a) a joy to behold and b) a stark reminder of what might have been this term.

“I was very angry from our first half," said Antonio Conte. “In the second half we showed great character, great determination and desire to win the game. We showed the right fire in our eyes.”

We’ll certainly need more of the same in a week that will be rather definitive of our campaign. We’ve got Burnley on Thursday night at Turf Moor – always a tricky fixture – before our Wembley date on Sunday against the Saints in the FA Cup semi-final.

Defeat to Burnley will all but end our hopes of finishing fourth….and leave us looking over our shoulders for the rest of the campaign. Failure is not an option….

Chelsea Team News

Given his comments about his side’s second half performance on the south coast, it would be fair to surmise that Davide Zappacosta and Alvaro Morata, subbed off after an hour, will be given the night off on Thursday.

Giroud surely has to start, and presumably Victor Moses will return at right wing back.
News has broken this afternoon of Marcos Alonso’s violent conduct charge after appearing to stand on a stricken Shane Long. The club can appeal the charge, but it is likely he will miss out against Burnley. Emerson Palmieri may deputise.

Will Conte be tempted to rest player ahead of the FA Cup semi-final? He can’t afford to really given that our slim hopes of finishing fourth hang in the balance, so otherwise expect a full strength Blues starting eleven.

Burley vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea have a decent record against Burnley since the Clarets re-established themselves as a Premier League outfit, losing just one of our last seven meetings with the Lancashire side.

As you may recall, that defeat came way back in August; the first game of the campaign, to be exact. At the time, we hoped the 2-3 reverse was a rare anomaly, rather than a sign of things to come. But then that’s the thing with time; it has a habit of making fools of us all….

The good news is that we have returned from our most recent trips to Turf Moor unscathed, with 3-1, 2-1 and 1-1 verdicts since 2010.

How the Match Will Be Won

Sean Dyche has done an unbelievable job in taking Burnley up to seventh in the Premier League table, and he deserves immense credit for making them so hard to beat.

It’s funny because the Clarets are like Chelsea last season: you know exactly the formation they will play, and which players will pull on the claret-and-blue if they are fit.

Dyche will field the classic 4-4-2 formation with old-school wingers in Aaron Lennon and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, two big lads up front in Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes, and a pair of midfielders in Jack Cork and Ashley Westwood who will sit deep and rarely break forward.

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The key to stopping the Clarets is to prevent them putting balls into the fox for Wood and Barnes to attack; that pairing can’t hurt you with pace, but they can in the air. So Emerson and Moses will need to track their wingers, and their may be a defensive requirement on the part of Hazard and Willian to follow Burnley’s full backs should they mount an assault.

The Clarets have scored just 14 goals at Turf Moor – the Premier League’s lowest home tally, and yet they have shipped just 13 too. So the onus will be on patience on Thursday evening, and if we can fashion an opportunity or two we must be able to take it.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Southampton vs Chelsea Match Preview (14/04/18): Blues Must Stick to Principles to Shoot Down Saints

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“I think with this game we can see our season. We can create a lot of chances, but we cannot take them. We are not clinical and then we concede two shots and concede a goal.

“When you don't score but create the chances it's very difficult to win. This game explains our season.”

Those isolated sentiments from Antonio Conte in the immediate aftermath of the 1-1 draw with West Ham sum up the match quite nicely, and as the Italian suggests it was 90 minutes that represented the last eight months in microcosm.

The Blues recorded 23 shots at goal, had two Alvaro Morata strikes ruled out and were stopped by a heroic performance in the Hammers’ goal from Joe Hart, who surely hasn’t played as well as that in quite some time.

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Opponents raising their game against the defending league champions….that’s not a new phenomenon, but it has certainly been the case this term that Chelsea have found themselves up against opposition with a tangible determination to get a positive result against us.

On another day we would have beaten West Ham two or three-nil, and that’s why we hope that Conte sticks to his guns and shows faith in those who started against the Hammers, because you sense a really heavy victory in just around the corner.

This week’s opponents Southampton are deep in the relegation doo-doo, and with a three-point gap opening up to Crystal Palace they will need to force the issue here. If we can dominate possession, as we did against West Ham, then they will become desperate ad start throwing more bodies forward – that won’t harm our chances one bit.

A good win on the south coast re-energises our top four bid, and we look well placed to achieve exactly that.

Chelsea Team News

We have made the case for an unchanged Chelsea line-up, and you wonder if Antonio Conte will have the same thought-process.

He has said for a while now that Andreas Christensen needs a rest; given the maturity of his performances it is easy to forget how young he is, and also that this is his first full campaign as a Premier League regular. One more game on the sidelines won’t hurt the Dane.

It would appear as if Cesc Fabregas has confirmed himself as N’Golo Kante’s first choice midfield partner ahead of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater, while Alvaro Morata’s encouraging displays have earned him a starting role up front ahead of Olivier Giroud.

Our confirmed absentees include David Luiz, who is thought to be a week or so away from a return, Ross Barkley and Ethan Ampadu, while Davide Zappacosta could be fit enough for a place on the bench.

Southampton vs Chelsea Head to Head

We have won four games on the spin against Southampton, notching two goals in our last pair of visits to the south coast.

That has helped to right an otherwise dicey spell of form against the Saints; between January 2013 and October 2015 our formline read W2 D3 L2.

In the reverse fixture back at Stamford Bridge back in December, Marcos Alonso’s solitary goal was enough to secure a 1-0 victory.

How the Match Will Be Won

Southampton showed plenty of fighting spirit - as you would expect from a Mark Hughes side - on Sunday despite going down in defeat to Arsenal, but they have shipped six in two and that must be of grave concern. The absence of suspended Jack Stephens here won’t help matters.

But the Saints have welcomed back Charlie Austin from injury – he scored against the Gunners last time out – and so at least they have a goal threat.

Hughes has deployed a cagey 3-5-1-1 formation so far in his tenure at the club, but as the Grim Reaper edges closer to their hopes of Premier League survival, you wonder if he will soon start committing more bodies in attack.

We won’t deviate from our normal strategy of course, and so the key battle will be in the wide areas where Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso will compete directly with Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand. Those individual dust-ups could hold the key.

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The middle of the pitch will be congested, so if Eden Hazard and Willian can play wider they are likely to enjoy more space; and create dangerous two-on-one opportunities against those aforementioned wing backs.

The Saints typically deploy some physically tough centre backs, so Alvaro Morata will need to be at the races. Crosses into the box should be delivered at pace and a lower trajectory.

At the other end of the pitch, Charlie Austin can’t hurt you in behind as he has no discernible pace, but he comes alive in the six-yard box ad so we must cut off his supply; most likely to come from Dusan Tadic and James Ward-Prowse.

Thursday 5 April 2018

Chelsea vs West Ham Match Preview (08/04/18): Blues to Bounce Back in Battle of London

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Once again, Antonio Conte is left picking up the pieces following a performance that promised so much and yet delivered so little.

We went one-nil up against Tottenham on Easter Sunday, and for that first half-hour or so we were very comfy indeed. The breakthrough finally came when Victor Moses’ precision cross was headed home by Alvaro Morata, who will surely take great confidence from finding the net in such a big game.

We went hunting for a second too, and Marcos Alonso had a decent drive saved by Hugo Lloris.
With the Blues on top, it was only natural that Tottenham would pluck a goal out of thin air and completely against the run of play. Christian Eriksen’s dipping strike showcased his extraordinary shooting technique, but also rather changed Conte’s team talk somewhat that the equaliser came in first half injury time.

Quite what happened in the second half is anybody’s guess, but to cut a long story short Spurs dominated the second period and scored twice more courtesy of Dele Alli. That was our fifth defeat in seven Premier League outings.

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Our hopes of finishing in the top four are fading with each passing week. We’re now eight points behind Tottenham with a maximum of 21 still to be won, and so we’re relying on them to drop points – and us to have a near-enough perfect run to the end of the campaign, to make our Champions League hopes a reality.

We simply have to bounce back in Sunday’s tea time game against West Ham. They will be bouncing after trouncing Southampton last time out, and the prospect of claiming a big scalp will appeal greatly to their under-fire players.

Let’s just hope the Chelsea players realise how important this match is; both to us as supporters and to their own futures in a blue shirt.

Chelsea Team News

There are four players in the Chelsea squad who, at this moment in time, are considered as 50/50 hopes of making Sunday: Thibaut Courtois, Pedro, Davide Zappacosta and Ross Barkley.

Courtois’ niggling thigh injury is still causing him concern, while Pedro and Zappacosta have knocks which have kept them out of full training. Barkley’s torrid campaign continues; he is simply short of match fitness.

Two who definitely won’t feature on Sunday are David Luiz and Ethan Ampadu. The Brazilian is hoping to return at the end of April from his ankle injury, while Ampadu is out for the season with a broken ankle.

Otherwise there are no tactical considerations for Conte to make, as West Ham require no special treatment. The Italian must pick what he perceives to be his strongest eleven here.

Chelsea vs West Ham Head to Head

Spurs showed last week that years of poor form at Stamford Bridge can be overturned in a single afternoon, and West Ham will need something similarly hoodoo-breaking this Sunday.

The Hammers’ last win at the Bridge came in September 2002, and in the 12 contests that have occurred since we have won nine of them, with three draws.

Readers of a betting persuasion will note that five of the last six meetings between these two teams have witnessed both teams scoring and three or more goals.

How the Match Will Be Won

One of the main problems for West Ham is that they don’t have a clear identity at the moment. Are they a thrilling attacking side….or one who wants to grind out results? It’s difficult for David Moyes, who has had to deal with a lengthy injury list, but even so you sense that the Hammers are meandering at the moment.

They had lost three on the spin prior to their pasting of the Saints last week, but even then they needed a motivated performance from Marko Arnautovic to get over the line. The Austrian was formerly managed by Mark Hughes at Stoke, and after their relationship became rather bitter it can be noted that Arnautovic has scored three in his last two games against Hughes-led teams.

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Otherwise, where does their spark come from? Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll are injured, while Manuel Lanzini is battling a knee complaint of his own. Captain Winston Reid and defensive stalwart James Collins are also on the list of absentees.

The Hammers are without a recognised centre forward at present, and have young Declan Rice playing at centre back.

Really, there should be no excuses: Chelsea have to win this game….and they have to win it well.