Thursday, 30 August 2018

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Match Preview (01/09/18): Blues Face Potential Banana Skin Against the Cherries

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The changes that Maurizio Sarri has made to Chelsea were clear for all to see in the 2-1 against Newcastle on Sunday.

We enjoyed 81% possession of the ball against the Magpies – staggering when we think back to the second season of Antonio Conte’s reign, and while we didn’t exactly carve out countless chances we did more than enough to win the game.

It did need an own goal from DeAndre Yedlin, who turned a shot from Marcos Alonso, to seal the deal, after Eden Hazard’s penalty was cancelled out by Joselu.

Otherwise, Antonio Rudiger hit the crossbar and that was the sum of our efforts in front of goal.

It was a game packed with positives, however, not least because it maintained our 100% record in the 2018/19 campaign thus far.

Eden Hazard also made his first starting appearance of the season after being given extended leave following the World Cup, and the Belgian hit the ground running alright. His link-up play with Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante was a joy to behold at times.

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That duo, alongside Jorginho, have revolutionised the Chelsea midfield. They play fantastic little triangle passes, and Kante appears to be a man reborn after being given freedom to roam.

This week we tackle Bournemouth, a side who have impressed so far. They have scored two goals in each of their trio of matches so far, and so they must not be underestimated. Eddie Howe has them playing some adventurous football this term, and in Callum Wilson they possess one of the most natural finishers in the division.

But this is another chance to see how the revolution of Chelsea under Sarri is developing, and we cannot wait!

Chelsea Team News

There are no new injury concerns for the Blues, with Cesc Fabregas the only absentee with an undisclosed leg injury.

And so Sarri has a full deck to work with, and you suspect the eleven that started against the Magpies is his preferred selection.

Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are perfect full backs in the Italian’s expansive system, while Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz offer physicality but smarts with the ball at their feet too.

Kovacic, Jorginho and Kante will continue their partnership in midfield, while Hazard and the rejuvenated Pedro provide the guile on the flanks. Up front, Alvaro Morata looks sharp and hungry after falling out of favour under Conte last season.

Oh, and we’ve not even mentioned Kepa yet! The new keeper has looked an assured presence so far, but even so let’s hope he won’t be too busy on Saturday.

Chelsea vs Bournemouth Head to Head

Incredibly, these two teams have only met 12 times in history, with the first coming as recently as 1988.

That’s to do with Bournemouth’s late to the party stance as a top flight outfit, and so far the Cherries have not enjoyed the best of their head-to-head matches with Chelsea.

We have been on the winning side nine times, including twice last season in the Premier League and in the EFL Cup. However, it’s not all been one way traffic, and on January 31 they demolished us 0-3 at the Bridge.

But this is a new dawn under Sarri, and with confidence flowing we can expect a continuation of our fine record against the South Coast outfit.

How the Match Will Be Won

Bournemouth tend to line up in a 4-4-1-1 system, with David Brooks supporting Callum Wilson through the middle and Josh King and Ryan Fraser providing the pace in wide areas.

It’s a side designed to counter attack with gusto, and we must be on our guard with that in mind.
But we know that Sarri won’t compromise for anyone – we saw that in his time at Napoli – and so once again we will be playing on the front foot and attacking in numbers.

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The good news is that Adam Smith, Bournemouth’s excellent right back, is suspended, and so Simon Francis is likely to deputise. Hoe doesn’t have the burst of pace that Smith has, and Eden Hazard down our left hand side should have plenty of joy with Alonso overlapping on the touchline.

The Cherries went 0-2 down against Everton despite their opponents being reduced to ten men, and be under no illusions Chelsea will not be as forgiving as the Toffees.

Expect the Blues to take the spoils in a loosely-fought encounter.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Match Preview (26/08/18): Blues Must Be Willing to Grind in the North East

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The 3-2 win over Arsenal last Saturday was so chaotic it is hard to know where to start in analysing it.

The positive news is that we ripped through the Gunners’ backline at will, making the most of their high line to fly into a 2-0 lead courtesy of the rejuvenated Pedro and Alvaro Morata.

But defensive lapses – a result of the switch to four at the back? Perhaps – allowed Arsenal to draw level through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi.

The second half was rather nip and tuck, but one moment of class settled matters and that came from substitute Eden Hazard, whose trickery created a crossing chance from which Marcos Alonso duly obliged.

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It would be erroneous to suggest that Chelsea deserved to win the match conclusively, but we had more of the ball and ‘won’ the shots on target count 11-6, so we always looked the more likely.

In summary, Maurizio Sarri said: “We did very well for 75 minutes but, inside that, 15 minutes were horrible.

“It was very, very difficult because we lost the distances between the players and we were unable to cover the lost balls and press like a team, so we were really in trouble. But I think the players were really very good because at 2-2 it was not easy with Arsenal.”

Either way, our 100% record in 2018/19 remains intact, and you could probably argue that there’s a chance we could take a perfect nine points from nine from Sunday’s trip to Newcastle.

The Magpies take no prisoners but do lack somewhat in quality, so maybe the Sarri revolution will continue at pace in the North East.

Chelsea Team News

The manager opted for an unchanged side against the Gunners, and was duly rewarded with the win.

But there were some rather hefty question marks about our efforts defensively, and while it is unfair to make a scapegoat perhaps Andreas Christensen will come in for Antonio Rudiger on Sunday.

The midfield three of Kante, Jorginho and Ross Barkley is gelling nicely, although you wonder how classier we will look once Mateo Kovacic is back to full fitness.

The on-loan midfield metronome was given an extended break following Croatia’s heroics at the World Cup, but once he is back up to speed he will presumably come into the side for Barkley – this may be a week too soon, however.

Sarri continues with William and Pedro either side of Morata, but surely it’s only a matter of time before Hazard returns to the starting eleven….right?

Newcastle United vs Chelsea Head to Head

The first recorded fixture between these two teams came more than a century ago in 1907, when Newcastle ran out 1-0 winners.

Since then there have been more than 160 meetings between the Blues and the black-and-white stripes, with Chelsea boasting a 71-53 win/loss record.

We’ve won four of the last six contests, although all of those were played at Stamford Bridge. At St James’ Park, our record is a rather more cumbersome W1 D1 L4 in recent times.

Last season we met on three occasions, with 3-0 and 3-1 wins on home soil in the league and FA Cup, followed by a 0-3 trouncing in the North East in the return league date.

If you were planning on having a bet on Sunday, here’s an interesting titbit: only one of the last 13 meetings between the pair have ended in a draw.

How the Match Will Be Won

We don’t have a great record at St James’ Park, but this is a bright and exciting version of Chelsea under Sarri, and all that has gone before can be ignored.

The Blues look an attacking force to be reckoned with, with a narrow front three supported from deep and in wide areas by the marauding Alonso and Azpilicueta.

At times we swarmed all over Arsenal, and while Newcastle will have plenty more bodies behind the ball, we can hope for a numerical advantage in advanced parts of the pitch.

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The Magpies offer very little going forward, compounded by the loss of the not-prolific but still dangerous Dwight Gayle, and so hopefully we will be on a sounder footing defensively than we were on Saturday.

We expect our attacking prowess to pay dividends, but this will be a scrap and we need to be up for the physical battle that will undoubtedly ensue on Sunday.

If we can match Newcastle in that department, we have all the ammunition required to claim the three points.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Chelsea vs Arsenal Match Preview (18/08/18): The Joy of Six for the Blues

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The majority of football fans, no matter who they support or what level they play at, are prone to feelings of optimism and expectation before the new season begins.

Those can be extinguished within a tawdry 90 minute performance, of course, but sometimes the feelings of excitement are justified.

That was certainly the case for Chelsea supporters last week as we witnessed our boys hit the ground running in fine style at Huddersfield.

A goal from debutant Jorginho and further strikes from N’Golo Kante and Pedro were enough to secure the three points in Yorkshire, and there were no obvious signs of concern in the switch from 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 formation installed by new boss Maurizio Sarri.

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In an ominous warning for the rest of the Premier League, the Italian has said it could be up to three months before his new side are firing on all cylinders. When quizzed how long before the Blues were comfortable with his tactics, Sarri said: “It depends on me and the players. I don't know. Hopefully two months and not three.

“I have to know the characteristics of the players. I have to adapt myself to the characteristics of the championship and the players. Now I study my players.”

To give an indication of our progress, we are odds-on with the bookmakers to beat Arsenal in Saturday’s tea-time kick off. The Gunners were well beaten by Manchester City last time out, and with injury problems Sarri and his players will be hoping for the joy of six (points) by the close of play.

Chelsea Team News

There were nothing but positives to be taken from the 3-0 win at Huddersfield, with the new players shining and the new shape seemingly bedded in well.

Kepa seemed to be a failry solid and dependable figure in goal, communicating with the defenders in front of him (despite the language barrier) and pulling off a routine save from an Alex Pritchard free kick. The Spaniard can expect to be busier this week!

Jorginho is a player that Sarri knows well from his time at Napoli, and you can see why the new boss was so keen to bring his old charge in. He barely gave the ball away in a congested midfield area, and showed great composure to score from the penalty spot on his competitive debut. He and Kante could form a formidable pairing in the middle of the park.

And while they aren’t new players to the club, there was an obvious spring in the step of the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Ross Barkley and Pedro as they pulled on the blue shirt.

Azpilicueta was reborn in the right back role, given the freedom to attack as he pleased down the side; as an outstanding crosser, this is great to see compared to his conservative role as a third centre back last term.

Luiz came into the side and barely looked as if he had been away despite his lengthy absences last season, while another injury-ravaged Chelsea boy – Barkley – looked sharp, fit and focused.

And Pedro, so often deployed in a defensive context by Conte, appeared to have his attacking joie de vivre back.

With Cesc Fabregas the only absentee, as far as we aware, Sarri must decide whether to keep the same starting eleven that defeated the Terriers or bring back his rested World Cup stars.

You suspect that Eden Hazard might get the nod against the Gunners….

Chelsea vs Arsenal Head to Head

This is one of the most storied rivalries in English football, with the nominal ‘king of London’ title at stake as well as three massive points in the shake-up for a top four finish.

Our record against the Gunners, dating back to 1907 no less, reads W62 D57 L76, but of course we’re more interested in the modern battles.

And it’s here where our record is not good. We’ve only beaten Arsenal once in our last eight meetings, and haven’t defeated them at all in a six-match streak dating back to early 2017.

Let’s hope the Sarri effect can take hold on Saturday!

How the Match Will Be Won

Maybe the key narrative here is not about Chelsea but instead about Arsenal’s defensive injury woes.

Undoubtedly their best defender, Laurent Koscielny, is out until November at the earliest, while Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Carl Jenkinson are all on the treatment table.

Nacho Monreal may come back in, but this could be a back four unfamiliar with one another if the likes of Sokratis and Stephan Lichtsteiner alongside the error-prone Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi.

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They will be protected by fledgling defensive midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, a 19-year-old who was playing Ligue 2 football last season and who was exposed by Manchester City at times on Sunday.

The Gunners are good for a goal – Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey et al – but defensively they look weak. So, expect Chelsea to win an entertaining contest with plenty of goals.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Huddersfield Town vs Chelsea Match Preview (11/08/18): Bright New Era for the Blues Begins

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It’s a bright new dawn for Chelsea, with a new manager, a new shape and a couple of new players to admire.

Saturday’s trip to Huddersfield provides the Blues with their first opportunity to make a statement ahead of the new campaign; we are gunning for a top four finish this term.

Maurizio Sarri will bring a fresh, attack-minded impetus to proceedings, with his Napoli side averaging two goals per game last season.

Our pre-season results don’t hint at a goal glut to come – 1-1 draws with Inter Milan, Arsenal, 0-0 with Lyon and 0-2 to Manchester City in the Community Shield – but once our key men have recovered from their World Cup efforts, and are used to the new system, we can expect some free-flowing football from the boys in blue.

For now, getting a result in Yorkshire by any means would be the perfect start.

Chelsea Team News

As you are probably already aware, changes are afoot.

Thibaut Courtois has decided to move loser to his family in Madrid, with the shot stopper signing terms at Real. He will be replaced by Kepa, the 23-year-old from Athletic Bilbao who becomes the most expensive goalkeeper in history. No pressure, then!

As part of the Courtois deal, Mateo Kovacic joins us on loan. He is a classy operator in midfield, and he will become a key figure in Sarri’s enterprising style of football. But after helping Croatia to the World Cup final, he may be given some extra time off to reach peal fitness.

The same is true for N’Golo Kante, who returned to training late alongside Olivier Giroud, and so Jorginho, Sarri’s first big money signing, is expected to start in midfield. His dynamism and range of passing will give us an extra edge in the middle this term.

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The new manager has fielded his favoured 4-3-3 system during pre-season, and we expect him to do likewise here.

So Kepa comes straight in for his debut, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso playing as traditional full backs outside of, possibly, Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz.

Jorginho could be joined in midfield by Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley, who has featured prominently in the friendlies.

Up front, Alvaro Morata will presumably lead the line with, maybe, Pedro right and Eden Hazard left. But watch out for a cameo from Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has really caught the eye in pre-season.

Huddersfield Town vs Chelsea Head to Head

Last season’s pair of meetings between these sides was the first time they had met in the league since the 1980s!

It was a decent enough return for Chelsea, with a 3-1 win at the John Smith’s Stadium followed by a 1-1 stalemate at the Stamford Bridge.

All in all, Huddersfield haven’t beaten Chelsea in the league since 1963!

How the Match Will Be Won

What’s new about Huddersfield Town? Very little, in truth, with the on-loan trio of Terence Kongolo, Florent Hadergjonaj and Jonas Lossl all signing permanent terms and Ramadan Sobhi and Adama Diakhaby joining from the rather contrasting Stoke and Monaco.

So its evolution for the Terriers, rather than revolution, but is that enough? They finished just four points clear of the dropzone last season, and won just three games in the period from Christmas until the end of the season.

Opportunity knocks for Chelsea then, although they will be tested in different ways here than they have been in pre-season.

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Huddersfield will be aggressive, intense and in-your-face, and so Chelsea’s new boys will need to be up for the fight. It will be a culture shock for those from La Liga and the Serie A, that’s for sure!

But class generally shows through in the end, and in this new free-spirited Blues side will enjoy plenty of possession against the Terriers.

Freed of Antonio Conte’s shackles, back the boys in blue to get 2018/19 off to the perfect start.