Wednesday 16 May 2018

Chelsea vs Manchester United Match Preview (19/05/18): Can Blues Get Their Hands On Some Much Needed Silverware?

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It is fair to say that our Premier League campaign fizzled out in something of a whimper with the 0-3 defeat a Newcastle on Sunday, and now we must recover quickly in order to have a chance of landing some much-needed silverware in the FA Cup final on Saturday.

We say ‘much needed’, but in a season in which we have gone from champions to the fifth best team in the land, a trophy is at least some vindication for the players’ efforts this term.

And it might just be enough to convince Antonio Conte to have another year at the helm….

The Italian was frustrated but calm in the aftermath of the defeat against the Magpies. “We deserved to lose because our start wasn't good and we suffered by losing every ball. Newcastle were more determined than us,” he said.

“We didn't lose our Champions League place today, we had chances in the last two games, but to finish the season this way is not good for anyone connected to the club.

“When you are at the end of the season, this performance can happen, but the first person to answer for this must be the coach. I wasn't able to convey that determination to my players.”

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Redemption could be just a matter of hours away. The players stand 90 minutes away from glory; a win helping everyone to get over what has been a disappointing campaign by our high standards.

A chance to get one over on Manchester United and Jose Mourinho? That’s always welcome, too!

Chelsea Team News

Fortunately, the one upside to the Newcastle game is that we have no new injuries to worry about ahead of our Wembley date.

David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater will miss out, but otherwise Conte has a full deck to choose from.

One of his toughest decisions will come in goal: he has used Willy Caballero as the cup keeper throughout the campaign, with the Argentine featuring in each of our six FA Cup dates thus far. Will Conte keep faith, or will he bring in Thibaut Courtois for the final?

The interesting team news coming from Manchester United is that both Romelu Lukaku ad Marouane Fellaini are struggling to be fit in time.

Their physical presence – Lukaku from the start, Fellaini from the bench – would have caused us a few problems, and now instead United will have to use either Alexis Sanchez or Marcus Rashford through the middle. That may change Conte’s team selection too, with the pacier Andreas Christensen arguably a better bet than the physicality of Gary Cahill.

We have gone with a 3-5-1-1 system lately and that presumably won’t change for the final, with Kante, Bakayoko and Fabregas tasked with shutting down the middle of the park against United’s possible trio of Pogba, Matic and Lingard. We deployed the 3-4-3 shape at Old Trafford in February and went down 1-2, so perhaps discretion will be the better part of valour at Wembley.

Chelsea vs Manchester United Head to Head

Chelsea and Manchester United have met on an incredible 179 occasions, with the first encounter dating back to 1905! That match ended 0-0, so let’s hope for something rather more exciting 113 years later….

We have, by and large, enjoyed the upper hand of the head-to-heads, with a run of W8 D5 L2 dating back to Halloween 2012. Worryingly, United have won two of their last three against us with Mourinho at the helm, although they both came at Old Trafford.

We have enjoyed recent battles in major cup finals, too. You may recall Didier Drogba notching a winner for us in the FA Cup final of 2007 against United; the first to be played at the new Wembley.

But the Red Devils would have their revenge a year later when they bested us in the Champions League final.

How the Match Will Be Won

Cup finals are all about moments: moments of magic, moments of calamity, moments of courage.

And so all conventional logic goes out of the window on these showpiece occasions….it's simply about who can handle the pressure better.

It is a concern that we lost in last season’s FA Cup final, but at least that gives the players a chance to redeem themselves 12 months later. Coming at the end of a title-winning campaign, the final was perhaps one game too far.

United look set to be without Lukaku, Martial and Fellaini, and that hampers the attacking potential of a side known for conservatism and a defensive outlook already. Knowing Mourinho as we do, he will look to strangle the game and nick a goal on the counter attack or from a set piece.

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The one thing we can say about United is that they are hard to beat, but we have players like Hazard, Fabregas and Giroud who can break down the door and create a moment of magic. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will look to isolate themselves against the United full backs and sling crosses into the Frenchman.

This particular edition of the FA Cup final, you fancy, will be won in a single moment of brilliance in an otherwise fraught battle of ‘chess with a ball’. Let’s hope that it’s the Blues that come out on top.

Thursday 10 May 2018

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Match Preview (13/05/18): Expect Blues to Sign Off on a High

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We had, in truth, left ourselves with too much to do in the race for fourth place, but even so we can feel slightly disappointed with our efforts in the 1-1 draw with Huddersfield on Wednesday.

Our aim was simple: to win our remaining matches and force Spurs and Liverpool to win theirs too.

And so the stalemate with the Terriers was a huge disappointment as it gifted the spoils to our rivals. Okay, so we can still technically finish fourth, but we need Liverpool to lose at home to Brighton and the chances of that are rather slim.

It’s all the more frustrating because we had ample chances to beat Huddersfield. Antonio Rudiger had a couple of great opportunities to score, while Andreas Christensen was denied by a fantastic save from the Terriers’ keeper Jonas Lossl.

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The introduction of Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud, surprisingly benched, after an hour did little to change the course of the game, and in the end proceedings fizzled out despite our dominance.

As the Huddersfield players and coaching staff celebrated with their fans, we were left to reflect upon a fairly mediocre campaign at Stamford Bridge which saw us take 37 points from a possible 57.

Lifting the FA Cup would be a welcome finale to a season beset by problems, and if it is to be Antonio Conte’s swansong as manager then it would be a fitting one.

Of course, there is one more Premier League engagement to take care of: a trip to a Newcastle side who have lost four on the spin. With some of these Chelsea boys playing for their places in that FA Cup final, we can expect a committed performance in what is otherwise something of a dead rubber.

Chelsea Team News

Conte made several changes for the visit of Huddersfield, with Andreas Christensen, Davide Zappacosta, Willian, Pedro and Alvaro Morata all coming in. Willy Caballero started in goal as Thibaut Courtois was struggling with a back injury.

It would be churlish to suggest that any of them advanced their hopes of making the Wembley starting line-up, and as such we would expect the strongest available Chelsea eleven to line up against Newcastle in a dress rehearsal for the final.

So Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Eden Hazard and Olivier Giroud come back in, the shape is restored to the 3-5-1-1 that has worked so well recently, and we return home from the north east with three points that won’t affect our final league position but will restore some confidence ahead of the biggest game of our season next week.

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Head to Head

This is a storied fixture that dates back more than a century, and it’s one which we have traditionally enjoyed the upper hand in with 71 wins to Newcastle’s 52 (and 39 draws).

We are unbeaten in five against the Magpies with that run including four victories, although it should be noted that all of those came at Stamford Bridge. As far as our efforts at St James’ Park are concerned, we are actually without a win in four (W0 D1 L3).

Worries about that can be assuaged somewhat by our matches with them this term, which have yielded comfortable 3-0 and 3-1 victories in the FA Cup and in the league.

How the Match Will Be Won

This Newcastle set-up is actually quite similar to that deployed by Leicester City in their title-winning campaign of 2015/16.

They will play a rigid four at the back, with Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey patrolling in front. Shelvey’s role is particularly important as he is looked upon to spring long balls into the channels for Dwight Gayle to chase, in a partnership akin to that of Drinkwater-Vardy for the Foxes.

Matt Ritchie and Kenedy will provide the width, while Ayoze Perez provides support to Gayle as well as operating a key role defensively in closing down the opposition’s playmaker.

It’s a strategy that has worked well for them this term, by and large, despite their four-game losing streak of late.

So how do you combat it? Well, from a defensive perspective we have a sweeper to tidy up the loose balls played into the channels, and clearly the channel-running approach works better against two centre backs than three, so already we are well placed to deal with the Magpies’ attacking forays.

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Going forward, the key man – as ever – will be Eden Hazard. He can drop into the spaces between Newcastle’s defence and midfield and cause havoc in ‘the pocket’. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses will be looking to hit the by-line and float in crosses for Giroud to attack as well.

It could be a low scoring affair – Newcastle have scored one goal in 360 minutes of football – but Chelsea have the quality and the shape to see off the Magpies on Sunday.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Chelsea vs Huddersfield Match Preview (09/05/18): Blues to Bite Back Against the Terriers

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We are showing a very nice sense of momentum at the moment, and with two games in the space of four days that should come in very handy.

The 1-0 win over Liverpool on Sunday was remarkable in that it was wholly unremarkable as a game of football; not what we’ve come to expect from the Merseysiders this term. They may have dominated possession but we created the better chances, and Olivier Giroud’s header was just reward for our endeavour.

Indeed, had Cesc Fabregas and Tiemoue Bakayoko made the best of their openings we could have been 3-0 up at half time.

Liverpool were experiencing something of a hangover after their Champions League victory, but no credit should be taken away from the Blues in what was another committed, high quality performance. Where has this outfit been all season?

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“Today was a must-win game against a really good team, but it was a good game and a great show of will to keep our hope of finishing in the top four alive,” Antonio Conte said afterwards. “I'm very happy for the players and the fans. They deserve this type of game and this win.

“Our target is to finish the season in the best possible way and to give the best satisfaction to all the fans. I think in spite of the difficult season we are still alive and are fighting until the end.”

Conte’s words confirm what the recent performances have alluded to: the Blues have not given up on fourth place just yet. It’s a longshot of course given the mathematical advantage held by Liverpool and Tottenham, but as the Italian suggested all we can do is win our games and see what happens.

And that starts with the visit of Huddersfield on Wednesday….

Chelsea Team News

It seems that the switch to 3-5-1-1 has a sense of permanence to it, rather than being a mere experiment, with Olivier Giroud once again getting the nod up front with Eden Hazard playing in behind.

And again, it worked like a treat against Liverpool; shutting down the middle of the pitch and minimising the space available to their roaming wingers Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.

The emphasis will be more on us to attack against the Terriers on Wednesday, but even so you suspect Conte won’t change anything – although Willian will be given a brief to stay loose and ready to go on the Blues bench should a reshuffle be required.

There’s no immediate concerns regarding the starting eleven either. Alvaro Morata has picked up a knock but should be fit to take his place on the bench, while the seasons of David Luiz and Danny Drinkwater appear to be over.

Chelsea vs Huddersfield Head to Head

December’s league meeting between these two teams was the first in more than 20 years, with goals from Bakayoko, Willian and Pedro enough to seal a 3-1 victory.

Other than that there have been the occasional cup fixture between the sides, with Chelsea twice triumphing in the FA Cup and falling to defeat in the League Cup back in 1999.

Our meetings in the 1920s and 30s were rather more frequent, and overall we enjoy a 29-27 lead over the Terriers, with just nine draws.

How the Match Will Be Won

There is so much at stake for Huddersfield in this match, and they are in grave danger of being sucked into the relegation battle unless they pick up at least a point at the Bridge on Wednesday.

They set up a defensive wall at Manchester City on Sunday – you can hardly blame them for that, and came away with a precious point from a 0-0 draw. You wonder if they will erect something similar on Wednesday evening.

They will play with five at the back, the tenacious duo of Aaron Mooy and Alex Pritchard in midfield and the sizeable Steve Mounie in attack. But the pervading sense is that the Terriers won’t exactly be going gung ho for all three points.

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And so we can expect plenty of time on the ball and the opportunity to carve out chances at our own pace; it will be interesting to see how the players react to that.

Given that Huddersfield will line up with three physical centre backs, the opportunity to feed crosses into Olivier Giroud may be in short supply.

So the more nuanced probing of Hazard and Fabregas will be key, and it may be that the odd moment of magic is required to break down this Terriers rearguard.

But our boys are full of confidence at the moment, and will surely fancy the job.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Chelsea vs Liverpool Match Preview (06/05/18): Blues to Cash In On Hungover Reds?

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We are doing everything in our power to secure a Champions League spot, and while the likelihood is that Spurs – who are five points clear with just three games to go – are the most likely to nab fourth place, we at least have to hold up our end of the bargain by keeping the pressure on.

And three wins on the spin does exactly that. Our latest victims were Swansea in a nip-and-tuck contest that arguably could have gone either way, but Cesc Fabregas’ early goal was ultimately enough to separate the sides.

It was our third consecutive away win – the first time since September we’ve managed that feat, and the game marked the continued resurgence of Eden Hazard, who looks somewhere close to his best at the minute. He was given a free role behind Olivier Giroud and ahead of a midfield trio of Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko, and it seemed to bring the best out of the Belgian, who caused havoc in the Swans backline and assisted Fabregas’ winner.

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“We got three points and it was very important for us if we wanted to achieve Champions League football,” Antonio Conte said in his post-match interview. “The situation is not in our hands, but the only way to put a bit of pressure on Tottenham is to get three points in every game.

“You know very well football is not simple.”

We can have plenty of confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash with Liverpool then, who may well be experiencing a headache after the colossal celebrations that greeted their Champions League semi-final win over Roma on Wednesday.

With injuries in midfield, the possibility of their minds being elsewhere and less than four days to recover from their trip to Italy, the Reds may well be ripe for the picking.

Chelsea Team News

It’s a case of same old, same old for Conte, with David Luiz, Danny Drinkwater and Ethan Ampadu still on the sidelines.

Indeed, the Italian has just two decisions to make: does he bring Marcos Alonso back in at left wing back after his suspension? Emerson has done a fine job as understudy, so that is a conundrum for Conte to solve.

And he must also decide whether to stick with the 3-5-1-1 shape he has deployed against elite opposition this term (and Swansea), or return to his favoured 3-4-3 set-up. Given the quality of the opposition, we would suggest the latter might be the smart choice.

Chelsea vs Liverpool Head to Head

There have been more than 175 meetings between Chelsea and Liverpool dating back to Christmas Day, 1907!

Historically Liverpool have had the upper hand with 77 wins to 61 (44 draws), and that’s a theme which has largely been extended to the modern era.

Chelsea are without a win in six against the Reds, a run which dates back to January 2015. That includes a trio of win-less outings at Stamford Bridge (W0 D1 L2)

The reverse fixture ended in a 1-1 back in November, with Willian’s late equaliser cancelling out Mo Salah’s opener.

How the Match Will Be Won

Anyone that has paid even a passing interest in English football this season will know that Liverpool have been in outstanding form from an attacking perspective this term.

But there are certain frailties defensively, particularly at centre half, and we have seen Dejan Lovren bullied by physical strikers like Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku this season. It will be interesting to see if Giroud can have a field day against the Croatian.

The Reds will sit back in numbers and then counter attack at pace, which is when they are at their most dangerous. Their most obvious threat comes in wide areas, with Salah and Sadio Mane their main outlet. Both are wide men who like to cut inside on their stronger foot, and so a Chelsea midfield three could help to fill those pockets of space as the Egyptian and the Senegal international drift inside.

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With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana injured, minimal threat will come from the middle of the park.

We’re hoping that Giroud can isolate himself against Lovren and bully the defender, with Eden Hazard buzzing around him to feed on the scraps. Our wing backs will need to have had their Weetabix too, playing a key role in attack (landing crosses on the bone of Giroud) and defence (minimising the space available to Salah and Mane).

It’s a game of tactical contrasts, and that should make for a fascinating encounter at the Bridge on Sunday.