Thursday, 27 September 2018

Chelsea vs Liverpool Match Preview (29/09/18): Blues to Prove Possession is Nine-Tenths of Football Law

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We can argue about the merits of a run in the Carabao Cup until we’re blue in the face, but one thing everyone can agree on is that winning football matches – no matter which competition they’re in – is crucial to long-term success.

The naysayers will say ‘well, what do we want to be in the Carabao Cup for!?’ It’s a fair question, given that a top four finish, a decent tilt at the Europa League and even the FA Cup take precedence.

But when you have a new manager who is looking to instil a different tactical dynamic, not helped by the pre-season disruption caused by the World Cup, game time becomes essential in those strategies being deployed and ‘accepted’ by the players.

So yes, there was plenty of value in the 2-1 victory over Liverpool in midweek. Not only was it another opportunity to bed in the new 4-3-3 system and give crucial minutes to fringe players, it was a chance to get one over on a side we again meet on Saturday at the Bridge.

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The win at Anfield was underscored by an absolutely dreamy goal from Eden Hazard, who seems to be getting better and better with each passing campaign. He has already spoken of his happiness under Sarri, and the benefits are being felt on the pitch in the Belgian’s performances.

Gianfranco Zola, Sarri’s assistant, believes Hazard is operating on another level at the minute. “It's a fantastic goal. Not only the beauty of it but for the time he scored it,” he said.

“Not only is Hazard one of the best in the Premier League - if not the best - but he is one of the best in Europe and the world.

“In my opinion we haven't seen the best of him yet. He is remarkable.”

Let’s hope Hazard can produce another world class performance against the Reds on Saturday.

Chelsea Team News

Sarri made eight changes to his starting eleven for the midweek game; some out of necessity, and others to rest key figures and hand game time to those on he fringes of first team action.

The likes of Kepa, Marcos Alonso and David Luiz will come into the backline, while Cesar Azpilicueta should hopefully be able to start at right back despite his midweek exertions; the Spaniard is known for his ability to stack up plenty of consecutive appearances.

The fitness of Antonio Rudiger, who has a groin injury, will come under scrutiny, and with Andreas Christensen limping off in midweek let’s hope the German has a rehabilitative couple of days.

N’Golo Kante and Mateo Kovacic shared the midfield load on Wednesday, and so hopefully they will be fit enough to join Jorginho in the centre of the park on Saturday.

Cesc Fabregas, who looked excellent against Liverpool and should enjoy the possession game favoured by Sarri, is perhaps not yet fit enough to start two games in the space of three days.

Hazard and Willian will surely start on the flanks – particularly with Pedro still struggling with a shoulder injury, while up front you suspect Olivier Giroud will be the go-to man.

He started against West Ham last time out in the league, while Alvaro Morata was given the booby prize of a Carabao Cup appearance.

Chelsea vs Liverpool Head to Head

Apparently, Chelsea vs Liverpool is the most played game between two English teams since 1900.

There has been 180 meetings, which takes some topping, with Chelsea improving their record to W63 D40 L77 against the Reds with that midweek triumph.

We’ve lost just two of the last fifteen as well, and the last time we met Liverpool at the Bridge we delivered a masterclass in keeping their vaunted front three quiet: Giroud nodding the winner in a 1-0 victory.

How the Match Will Be Won

The BT Sport big cheeses don’t need to hire any studio pundits for this one: we all know how this match will pan out.

Chelsea will dominate possession, as is rule one of ‘Sarri-ball’, with lots of sideways and backwards to passing to recycle the ball and keep it away from Liverpool’s dangerous attacking forces.

The Reds will press high up the pitch, and attempt to spring the likes of Mane and Salah clear on the counter attack.

The winner of the contest will be the side that best deploys their strategy on the day, and like a boxing match where the two fighters serve up wildly contrasting styles, it may come down to one key moment to break the deadlock.

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In Hazard we have one of the most obvious match winners on the pitch, while the Reds will look to get in behind our defence with a quick, incisive through ball.
It is also worth noting that Liverpool have scored more goals from set pieces than any other side so far this term.

It’s a match that has a 50/50, pick ‘em feel to it, and so hopefully Chelsea’s fantastic head-to-head record with Jurgen Klopp’s side may just be the defining factor.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Liverpool vs Chelsea Match Preview (26/09/18): Team Selection Key to Colossal Carabao Cup Clash

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As we know, there are many different ways to play the beautiful game.

In the good old days the general tactic was to get the ball from back to front as quickly as possible; the genesis of ‘route one’ football.

In more modern times, through the great Dutch sides of the 1970s through to Barcelona’s tiki taka revolution, the desire to keep possession at all costs has infiltrated the sport.

It’s all horses for courses, of course, and both can be successful.

The problem comes when you adopt a specific strategy but without the key dynamics that underpin it. Barca, for instance, do play a lot of meaningless sideways passes, but the objective is to tire the opposition and then hurtle forwards with slightly longer passes that break the lines and turn an opponent around.

In Chelsea’s lacklustre 0-0 draw with West Ham on Sunday, you saw outstanding ball retention without the killer touch going forward.

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The excellent Barney Ronay in The Guardian wrote in depth about Jorginho, who broke the Premier League record for most successful passes in a match. But what kind of passes were they? The kind that split defences in two, or the clever sort that get a winger in behind a full back?

No, they were largely sideways or backwards, retentive at best, that offered the Blues little in the way of dynamism of progression.

In the same column Ronay writes that a midfield without a genuine attacking force – we all know N’Golo Kante is not a real number eight – is causing huge problems to the evolution of ‘Sarri-ball’.

It cost us the game against the Hammers too, who recognised that all they needed to do, if we are being honest, was ensure Eden Hazard was doubled up on when in possession. Lo and behold, we couldn’t find a breakthrough with the Belgian stifled.

Indeed, West Ham could have won but for Andriy Yarmolenko’s head-scratching miss, and for all the impressive possession statistics – 72% for what it’s worth – did Chelsea look like they were ever going to win this match?

There’s lots for Sarri to work on then, but unfortunately his training ground regime will be disrupted this week by a Carabao Cup fixture on Wednesday night against Liverpool at Anfield.

Chelsea Team News

The Carabao Cup is one of those competitions where team selection – a reflection of how much/little a team is prioritising the tournament – ultimately governs success.

This is Sarri’s first taste of the cup and we have little idea of how seriously he will take it. That said, it is notable that Napoli did not progress beyond the last eight of the Coppa Italia in his two seasons at the club.

Consequently, we can expect changes to the starting eleven.

Both Pedro and Antonio Rudiger are thought to be struggling with injuries, so they are unlikely to feature anyway, and otherwise it’s take your pick of who starts and who doesn’t.

Cesc Fabregas needs game time – if he’s fit, he may get the nod, while Alvaro Morata may be summoned after dropping to the bench against the Hammers.

Liverpool vs Chelsea Head to Head

Two of the most iconic teams in English football will meet for the 180th time on Wednesday.

Chelsea have hit the bullseye on 62 occasions, losing 77 and with 40 ending in stalemate.

In modern times, the Blues have had the wood on the Reds, losing just two of the last fourteen meetings (W5 D7 L2).

Last season, we beat them 1-0 at the Bridge in the league following a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at Anfield.

How the Match Will Be Won

Without knowing the starting elevens, it is hard to get an accurate picture of how this match will pan out.

Mind you, regardless of the personnel on show we know how the two teams will play: Liverpool, as ever, at 1000mph with pace and guile even if messrs Firmino, Salah and Mane are given the night off.

And we will attempt to control possession and dictate play, which as we know is Sarri’s preference.

Actually, this is probably the best way to stifle the Reds: simply don’t let them have the ball!

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We’re making dangerous assumptions, but you could argue that Liverpool’s second string isn’t up to all that: for instance, if you swap out Salah, Firmino and Keita for Shaqiri, Sturridge and Lallana, clearly that is a severe weakening of their obvious attacking force.

Chelsea’s fringe players are rather more interchangeable, and perhaps that gives us the edge. In truth, with assaults on four different competitions each, this match is something of an annoying sideshow.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Chelsea vs Cardiff City Match Preview (15/09/18): Blues to Shake Off International Cobwebs in Style

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It may feel like a lifetime ago, but Chelsea have actually made a rather good start to the 2018/19 campaign!

The international break can have a dizzying, almost concussive impact upon club football supporters, but cast your mind back a few weeks and you will recall the Blues serving up a 100% record from four league games played thus far.

Ten goals scored, just three conceded….it’s all good so far from Maurizio Sarri’s men.
The most recent victims were Bournemouth, who themselves headed to Stamford Bridge prior to the international break in good spirits.

The Cherries proved tough to break down, but Chelsea’s metronomic passing – we enjoyed 73% possession of the ball – was enough to eventually tire out the visitors. Eden Hazard and Pedro got the goals to secure a 2-0 win and maintain the perfect start to the season.

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Tellingly, the last time we won the first four games of the campaign was back in 2014/15, when we went on to win the title.

But talk of silverware is a long, long way off in the future, and instead we should simply enjoy the scintillating football that the Blues are often playing under Sarri’s canny stewardship.

To be honest, fixtures on a return from an international break don’t get more cushty than Cardiff at home, and while Neil Warnock’s men will be combative and well organised, you would expect Chelsea to beat nine times out of ten on home soil.

Chelsea Team News

The beauty of having a team made up largely of Europeans, rather than South Americans or Africans, is that they have less distances to travel during the rounds of international matches.

So while Liverpool wave goodbye to their Egyptians, Brazilians and Senegalese, we can sit pretty knowing that our boys never have to travel further than the continent.

The only exception is Willian, who has been off representing Brazil against the USA and El Salvador. But given Pedro’s inspired start to the season, it would not be the end of the world if Willian’s jet lag keeps him sidelined on Saturday.

No new injury concerns have been reported, and so Sarri has a full deck to work with bar Cesc Fabregas, whose rehab from a knee injury stepped up this week when he trained with the team for the first time in a while.

We don’t foresee any major changes in personnel or shape, so expect to see the vibrant 4-3-3 system employed once more.

Chelsea vs Cardiff City Head to Head

Cardiff have made a habit of yo-yoing up and down from the top flight in recent years, and so the head-to-head record is sketchy at best.

Indeed, the last time they met was in May 2014, when Chelsea bagged a 2-1 win in the Welsh capital.
The history books show 43 meetings between the pair over the years, with Chelsea holding a surprisingly slender W18 D10 L15 lead.

Mind you, seven of those defeats came between 1921-1952, and since the turn of the Millennium Chelsea have won all three encounters.

How the Match Will Be Won

When your playing style has been given it’s own name, you know you’re doing something right.

‘Sarriball’ is an affectionate moniker, rather than say ‘Pulisball’, and it’s one which reflects the slick passing and movement that have been ever-present in the Blues’ performances so far.

Those dynamic transitions were Sarri’s trademark at former club Napoli, and it’s exciting to see the same developments in our boys too.

The manner in which we can zip the ball around should aid us against a Cardiff side likely to park the bus on Saturday.

They will play two solid banks of four, with an attacking midfielder – probably Bobby Reid – just sitting in behind a lone frontman.

The two central midfielders for Cardiff will sit deep and protect the back four, while the wide midfielders will tuck in ad look to outnumber Chelsea in midfield.

So how do you beat teams set up like that? Well, first things first we need to move the ball around quickly; as soon as the pace goes out of the game, the Cardiff players can get into position and snuff out the danger.

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We need our players to be brave in possession too; either trying that killer through ball or carrying the ball with the risk of being hacked to the ground. Happily, we have some courageous sorts like Kante, Hazard and Pedro in our side.

And patience, as ever for the Blues at home, will be key. We took our time to break down Bournemouth last time out at the Bridge, but we got there in the end.

That’s a cautionary tale ahead of another great opportunity to extend our perfect start on Saturday.