Monday 29 October 2018

Chelsea vs Derby County Match Preview (31/10/18): Blues to Avoid Halloween Horror Show

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It is very satisfying to be a Chelsea FC supporter right now, and what a nice feeling it is to be able to type that.

We are playing some sublime football under Maurizio Sarri, and even without talisman Eden Hazard we are still capable of putting opponents to the sword.

The latest victims were Burnley, who we blitzed 4-0 on Sunday in a show of genuine attacking brilliance.

Goals from Ross Barkley, Alvaro Morata, Willian and Ruben Loftus-Cheek – his fourth of the week, will take the headlines, but in truth this was an outstanding performance from front to back.

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We restricted the Clarets to a solitary shot on target while crafting eight of our own. Morata looked reborn in attack, and could have had a hat-trick but for misfortune and some outstanding goalkeeping. Behind him Willian and Barkley, in particular, linked up superbly, and it would be fair to conclude that the 4-0 scoreline did not flatter us one iota.

Onwards we go into a new week, and one in which we will be looking to come out of the other side of with our unbeaten run intact. On Sunday we host Crystal Palace at the Bridge, but before then on Wednesday we have an EFL Cup date with Derby County to contend with.

Super Frankie Lampard is doing some excellent work at the Rams, and Mason Mount’s call-up to the England squad had plenty to do with Lamps’ tuition of his midfield protégé.

Derby have really impressed this term, particularly in the past couple of weeks, and their vibrant attacking play will ask questions of what will surely be a much-changed Blues side in midweek.

Chelsea Team News

It would seem as though Hazard is on the mend, but that the midweek game may come too soon for the Belgian, who is struggling with a back injury.

“I want Hazard in every match if it's possible because we have a lot of very good players but Hazard, I think, is something different,” Sarri said.

“I am very happy because the team was able to score seven goals in two matches without Hazard. It's a very good sign. I want Eden as soon as possible. I don't know for Wednesday, but I hope for Sunday.”

Another player on whom we await further details is Pedro, who was substituted after half an hour against Burnley. It later emerged that the Spaniard was struggling with stomach cramps, although the insinuation is that he should be fine for the Derby game.

Mind you, Sarri will surely want to find a way in which to get the in-form Barkley and Loftus-Cheek into his side, and so perhaps Pedro will start on the wing with Willian given the night off.

Mateo Kovacic sat out the Burnley game – he will surely come in against the Rams – while there’s a chance that Sarri will field his complete second choice backline.

Chelsea vs Derby County Head to Head

Given that Derby’s occupation of the top flight has been rather sparse in recent years, it will come as no surprise to learnt hat our two meetings with the Rams in the past decade have both come in cup competitions.

The Blues triumphed in both: 2-0 in the FA Cup back in January 2014, and 3-1 in the League Cup in the December of that year.

Overall, the head-to-head is a close 39 wins to 38 in Chelsea’s favour, but don’t forget that Derby have had periods of excellence – particularly in the 1940s and 70s – which skews the overall picture.

How the Match Will Be Won

The on-loan duo Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori will be allowed to take their places in the Derby team against us on Wednesday.

It will give the Stamford Bridge faithful an opportunity to see the midfield schemer and the athletic centre half in close quarters. They are both ones to watch, that’s for sure.

It will be tough on the legs, though, with this being Derby’s fourth game in the space of eleven days. Okay, so Chelsea have had an equally draining period of league, continental and cup action, but clearly our squad is rather deeper than the Rams’.

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So we don’t quite know how Derby will set up, with a tough Championship encounter against Birmingham to come on Saturday. Which match will take precedence?

What we do know is that Lampard will probably set up his side in a 4-5-1 system that becomes 4-3-3 when attacking. The wide men, principally Martyn Waghorn and Tom Lawrence, will filter inside to support a lone frontman, while in midfield Mount and Harry Wilson are normally given licence to roam with Tom Huddlestone sitting centrally behind them.

They are a side that is comfortable playing on the counter attack, and that will suit them against our possession-based style.

But we are expected to win the match by all parties, really, and while Derby will put up a good fight the Blues’ class will surely tell in the end.

Friday 26 October 2018

Burnley vs Chelsea Match Preview (28/10/18): Blues Prepared for Battle of Turf Moor

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There’s knocking on the door, and then there’s crashing through it headfirst.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s hat-trick against BATE Borisov on Thursday serves as a timely reminder of the England international’s talents, and while Maurizio Sarri is fairly certain about his first choice midfield trio, Loftus-Cheek’s forward surges could become crucial to the Blues in matches where they are finding opponents rather tricky to break down.

Like Burnley, on Sunday, for example. The Clarets are well drilled under Sean Dyche, an breaking through a packed midfield will require ingenuity, sheer force of will or a little bit of both.

The 3-1 victory over the Belarussians was as comfortable as it gets, and while the scoreline doesn’t necessarily reflect as such it shouldn’t go unmentioned how well the BATE keeper played. He made great saves from Davide Zappacosta and Olivier Giroud to keep the scoreboard respectable. With 69% possession and ten shots in target, our dominance cannot be questioned.

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Indeed, it bodes well when the worst thing your manager can moan about is shipping a consolation goal. “When we conceded the goal I didn't like it very much. I don't know why but I prefer the clean sheet,” Sarri said.

“We played very well for 65 minutes and not very well in the last 20 minutes. It was a good match.”

The win leaves us six points clear at the top of Group L after MOL Vidi surprisingly defeated PAOK, and so even a point in our next outing would all but see us through to the knockout stage of the Europa League.

And that’s thirteen games unbeaten, all in all, this term now under Sarri. Let’s hope the lads can make it fourteen in Lancashire on Sunday.

Chelsea Team News

The big news is that Eden Hazard is suffering with a painful back injury at the moment.

The Belgian has missed training all week and sat out the BATE tie, with Sarri saying in his press conference that ‘he [Hazard] has a back problem’.

“We are trying to solve the problem for Sunday, [but] I think it is not very easy [for him to recover in time].”

That will set alarm bells ringing, although Pedro – who played an hour on Thursday – is ready to deputise.

Loftus-Cheek’s heroics are unlikely to be enough to earn himself a place in the starting eleven at Turf Moor.

There could well be a change in midfield, however, as Mateo Kovacic played 77 minutes against BATE on Thursday.

The Croat is struggling to compete 90 minutes after an exhausting summer at the World Cup, and it is quite possible that Ross Barkley will deputise alongside N’Golo Kante and Jorginho against Burnley.

Otherwise, Sarri will be able to field his first choice defence, with Alvaro Morata again likely to get the nod in attack.

Burnley vs Chelsea Head to Head

Those of you with decent memories will remember the first game of last season, when as champions we were brought back down to earth with a bump in a 2-3 defeat to the Clarets.

We gained a semblance of revenge at Turf Moor later in the season with a 2-1 victory, an that closed the overall gap to 35-38 in Burnley’s favour in the head-to-heads.

Of course, most of those losses came in the first half of the 20th century when Burnley were an outstanding side, and in modern times – since the Clarets first reached the Premier League back in 2009 – our results against the Lancastrians read W5 D2 L1.

How the Match Will Be Won

The good thing about playing Burnley is that you know there aren’t going to be any surprises.

They will play a narrow game with plenty of bodies behind the ball, an at least one strong, combative striker like Sam Vokes through the middle.

A tight midfield three – probably messrs Hendrick, Cork and Defour – will work hard and minimise the amount of space given to their counterparts wearing blue.

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They will double up on the flanks too, with the wingers – presumably Lennon and Gudmundsson – tracking back and supporting their full backs.

One bit of good news is that with patient attacking play, the Clarets can be breached. Manchester City put five past them last week, and at other times this season they have conceded four against Fulham and three against Watford.

That suggests that if we play our natural attacking game, we should be able to create plenty of opportunities – Hazard or no Hazard.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Chelsea vs BATE Borisov Match Preview (25/10/18): Blues Eye Knockouts Against the Boys from Belarus

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Saturday’s game against Manchester United had everything….apart from the result, that is.
We dominated the first period, and took a deserved lead when Antonio Rudiger lost Paul Pogba at a corner and powered a header home.

But United came out swinging in the second half, and a pair of goals from Anthony Martial appeared to have taken all three points.

In the dying embers of injury time a cross was slung in and after David Luiz hit the post and Rudiger was denied by David de Gea, Ross Barkley smashed home to secure a point for the Blues which, on the balance of play, was probably deserved.

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There was still time for some antics on the touchline as our technical assistant Marco Ianni danced a little jig of celebration in front of Jose Mourinho. It was perhaps a bit over the top, but then Mourinho is hardly a stranger to shows of exaggerated emotion himself.

Onwards and upwards to the Europa League on Thursday, when we welcome Belarussian outfit BATE Borisov to the Bridge. Victory would take us on to nine points with three wins from three, and that would surely be enough to see us into the knockout stage. At that point we could rest key players for these midweek games, which would be a huge bonus for our Premier League efforts.

So there is plenty to sink our teeth into on Thursday against a solid enough opponent but one that is there for the taking nonetheless.

Chelsea Team News

What we have learned from Chelsea’s adventures in the Europa League so far this term is that Maurizio Sarri is taking the competition seriously.

In the opener against PAOK he fielded a really strong side, and against MOL Vidi last time out there was plenty of class on show once more.

The Italian will make plenty of changes against BATE, you would fancy, with a completely different back four on show, should he repeat the selection of that MOL Vidi encounter.

A midfield trio of Cesc Fabregas, Mateo Kovacic – who was subbed off after 69 minutes against United – and Ross Barkley is top drawer, while in attack we could see Pedro coming in from the right, Ruben Loftus-Cheek from the left in a role he occupied with some success for Crystal Palace last term, and the seemingly-deposed Olivier Giroud through the middle.

Chelsea vs BATE Borisov Head to Head

It may come as no surprise to learn that Chelsea and BATE Borisov have never met before.

We do have some kind of frame of reference, however, in that they were drawn in the same Europa League group as Arsenal last season, losing 2-4 and 0-6.

How the Match Will Be Won

We don’t know a huge amount about BATE Borisov, although we do know they are handy enough given that they have won the Belarussian league 12 years in a row.

Okay, so the standard is poor, but such success breeds confidence, and they will travel to London without fear.

And they won’t park the bus, either. Their results in last season’s Europa League – 0-6 at Arsenal, 2-5 at Koln, 1-1 at Red Star – don’t strike you as those of a side that will sit back and hope for the best.

They gave PSV Eindhoven a good game in Champions League qualifying in the summer too, going down 2-3 on home soil.

If the visitors do play on the front foot they should play their part in an entertaining contest, although of course an open game suits our style. We will spray the ball around, and if we can pull the BATE defensive players out of position then there will be tons of space to exploit.

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Assuming we are near the money with our line-up prediction above, there’s goals in this team particularly from the midfield and front three, with Victor Moses also around to inject some pace into proceedings. His trickery down the right, and crosses to the head of Giroud, could be one route to goal.

Chelsea’s biggest enemy on nights like these is complacency, but we haven’t shown any in the competition so far, and with a decent prize on offer that will benefit our overall season if we get three points here, we would expect a focused and committed display from the Blues.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Chelsea vs Manchester United Match Preview (20/10/18): Blues to Hammer Final Nail in Mourinho’s Man Utd Coffin?

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The international break is a nervous old time for club managers.

They must sit by the phone and dread it ringing with the news that one of their key players has been injured while representing their country.

Happily, the good news is that on this occasion at least, Chelsea appear to have escaped scot-free from the international fixtures without any major injury headaches.

That means that Maurizio Sarri can focus on selecting his strongest eleven, just about, for this fixture against Manchester United.

It’s a game swimming with narratives. Clearly, even at this juncture, any points accrued against rivals for a top four finish are essential, and the Blues must be confident against a United side lacking in confidence and struggling with a few injuries.

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And then, of course, there’s the Special One himself. Old Jose was given the dreaded vote of confidence prior to the break, and while his side signed off with a win lest we forget they were 0-2 down to Newcastle on home soil.

You wonder, mischievously, if defeat on Saturday lunchtime might spell the end of Mourinho in Manchester.

And so Saturday’s encounter could be a cagey old affair, with Chelsea enjoying the bulk of possession and United sitting deep with bus parked and handbrake on as tight as it will go.

It won’t be one for the neutral, but there’s three key points in the offing for Chelsea.

Chelsea Team News

As mentioned, there are no new injury concerns for Sarri to mull over, and the only first team regular on the treatment table is Antonio Rudiger, who you may recall picked up a hamstring strain in the dying embers of the win over Southampton.

The German stayed behind to get treatment during the international break, and he probably won’t be risked against the Red Devils.

That leaves a straight choice between Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen at centre back, with Cahill’s greater physicality possibly getting the nod as we look to shackle Romelu Lukaku.

Various players have been off on international duty around Europe, and so we don’t have to worry about jet lag. Our only South American stars, Willian and David Luiz, did not travel with the squad and instead went off on holiday to Dubai together. Nice work if you can get it!

Chelsea vs Manchester United Head to Head

With 180 prior meetings in the bank, you might think we’d have a clear understanding of who the better team was, historically, between Chelsea and Manchester United.

Yes, United have the better record dating back to the early 1900s, but when it really counts – in more recent times – the Blues have had the upper hand.

If we look at the last 15 encounters, we note that Chelsea have lost just twice. Extend that to matches played at Stamford Bridge, and our record reads a rather rosy W7 D1 L0.

The last time we met was in the FA Cup final back in May, where Eden Hazard’s penalty was enough to secure a trophy in Antonio Conte’s final game as manager.

How the Match Will Be Won

Just how will Mourinho set up his Manchester United side? That seems to hold the key to how this match will pan out.

We think he will try to bully the midfield battle by picking a physical trio: Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba. The object here will be to stop our boys from playing, and dish out a few bruises along the way.

It’s possible that Alexis Sanchez has won his trust after netting the dramatic last minute winner against Newcastle, and he may start from one flank and Anthony Martial, who also scored against the Magpies, on the other.

One battle that excites us as Chelsea supporters is Eden Hazard against either Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young down our left flank. Neither of that pair are the most rock-steady defenders, and can you see Sanchez or Martial tracking back to offer support?

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Hazard was fairly subdued for Belgium during the international break, but that’s fine by us: he should have plenty of gas in the tank for this match instead.

This won’t be pretty for those watching on Sky Sports, with Chelsea recycling possession and United looking to sit deep and hit on the break with Lukaku pulling out to the right and aided by supporting winger.

But keep an eye on Hazard here. He may play quite wide in order to stay clear of the midfield maelstrom and isolate himself against United’s right back. It’s a tactic which may make all the difference in a tight and conservative affair.

Friday 5 October 2018

Southampton vs Chelsea Match Preview (07/10/18): Blues to Prove No Saints on the South Coast

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When we previewed the Europa League tie with MOL Vidi, we asked for three things: a win, a clean sheet and a goal from Alvaro Morata.

We actually got the full house with the Blues triumphing 1-0 with a goal from the Spaniard, and so from that point of view the game was a complete success.

The performance was rather dis-jointed, however, as you might expect from a starting eleven containing a number of fringe players.

Both Eden Hazard and Ross Barkley were summoned from the bench, such was our inability to break down the plucky Hungarians, and it was a huge relief when Morata blasted home after 70 minutes.

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The win is the thing, as they say, and so we’ll bag the three points and move promptly.

It’s back to league action at the weekend with the final game before the international break. We head to the south coast on Sunday to take on Southampton, and with Liverpool taking on Manchester City later in the day we know at least one, if not both, of the sides above us in the table will drop points.

Opportunity knocks then!

Chelsea Team News

There are no new injury concerns for Maurizio Sarri, and so his job is to decide who comes back into the side after the midweek outing.

The Italian alluded to early fixture congestion in his post-match press conference following the MOL Vidi match. He said:

“It is a very important in this period of the season to get results, it is not easy but I will have to change a lot players for Southampton and it is not easy to prepare the next match tomorrow - a lot of players will be tired.

“We have to play every three days, it is very difficult and so we have to have a great mentality. There is a risk to arrive at a match without the mental power and energy.”

Even so, his first choice back four of Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso had a nice break in midweek, and they will surely join N’Golo Kante and Jorginho on the team sheet.

Both Mateo Kovacic and Cesc Fabregas played 90 minutes against MOL Vidi, which is good for their development but less so for their chances of starting on Sunday.

Hazard will naturally come in on the left, and Sarri looks set to persevere with Olivier Giroud through the middle for the foreseeable future.


Southampton vs Chelsea Head to Head

It’s six wins on the spin for the Blues against the Saints, and just one defeat in our last eleven meetings.

A rudimentary 1-0 win at the Bridge last season was followed by a pulsating 3-2 victory at St Marys, where three goals in eight minutes from Giroud (x2) and Hazard overturned a 0-2 deficit.

And then just a week later we triumphed 2-0 in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. That man Giroud was on the mark again, before Morata notched a second deep into the second half.

How the Match Will Be Won

They say the league table never lies, and as such Southampton should be there for the taking given their lowly status in the Premier League.

They’ve lost four of their seven outings so far, and perhaps most worrying for Mark Hughes is that they have conceded at least two goals in five of those seven.

The manager has to take some responsibility given how attacking he sets his team up. Last week they travelled to take on a decent Wolves side with Charlie Austin, Danny Ings, Nathan Redmond and Mohamed Elyounoussi in the starting eleven – those are all attacking players and no mistake, with a fragile midfield two of Mario Lemina and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg attempting to shield the back four.

The 0-2 defeat that followed at Molineux was as predictable as it gets.

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Will Hughes line up in such an offensive manner against Chelsea? It seems unlikely, an you would expect one or more of Oriel Romeu, Steven Davis or Stuart Armstrong to come back into the starting eleven to beef up the midfield.

But a lack of clarity and consistency from the manager is hurting this Saints side, and it’s little wonder that they have failed to win a single match on home soil this term, with draws against Burnley and Brighton sandwiched by a defeat to Leicester.

Southampton have only played one top six this term, and that was a derisory 0-3 loss at Liverpool where they basically gave up and the Reds stopped playing after running up a comfortable half-time lead.

There are big problems ahead for the Saints, and there’s absolutely no reason why the Blues won’t add to them on Sunday.

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Chelsea vs MOL Vidi Match Preview (04/10/18): Blues Have the Stomach to Take Down Men from Hungary

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Football is often a game of opinions and subjectivity, but here’s a simple fact that cannot be ignored: Chelsea were one moment of magic away from beating Liverpool twice in the space of 72 hours.

Daniel Sturridge’s fantastic late goal rescued a point for the Reds at the Bridge on Saturday as we once again showed we can mix it with a side predicted to be there or thereabouts in the title shake-up by many.

Eden Hazard’s wonderful left-footed goal, just desserts for his endeavour and quality, looked to have sealed the points for the Blues, but Sturridge had other ideas. He curled home a 25-yarder in the 89th minute to nick a point for the Merseysiders.

As it stands, we’re just two points behind Liverpool and Manchester City at the summit of the Premier League, and so all is good right now in the camp.

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There’s a slight change of tact this week with the return of the Europa League, and on Thursday we welcome the Hungarian champions MOL Vidi to the Bridge.

Can they threaten our unbeaten start to the campaign? You would like to think not, and their 0-2 defeat to BATE Borisov in the opening round of fixtures suggests they are out of their depth at this level.

That said, let’s not rest on our laurels and instead claim a victory which would already put one foot in the knockout phase of the competition.

Chelsea Team News

Maurizio Sarri showed plenty of intent in the 1-0 win at PAOK last time out in this tournament, fielding a strong starting eleven that suggested he fancies a good run at it.

But after three games in a week, you suspect he will make changes to his line-up with a trip to Southampton looming on Sunday.

Fringe players will be given a go, but that’s not as problematic as it sounds. The likes of Davide Zappacosta, Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas and Ross Barkley aren’t going to let us down.

Sarri may also choose to give game time if Pedro, Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who have all been struggling with injury or illness lately, although a substitute’s role is probably more likely for the latter.

In attack, let’s hope Alvaro Morata is given the nod against what will be a weaker opponent than the norm; the Spaniard desperately needs a goal.

Chelsea vs MOL Vidi Head to Head

It perhaps won’t come as any surprise to learn that the two teams have never met before!

But Vidi, who used to be called Videoton up until the start of this season, have been in and around the qualifying stages of the Champions League and Europa League before, which at least offers some context.

Last year they beat the French side, Bordeaux, on aggregate in qualifying for this competition, and held Partizan Belgrade to a 0-0 draw in the away leg there.

They were involved in the early qualifying rounds for the Champions League this season, beating Malmo on aggregate and going down by a single goal to AEK Athens.

In short, Chelsea should win but their Hungarian opponents won’t be complete pushovers by any means.

How the Match Will Be Won

So how will this match be won? It’s an interesting question given that we know very little about MOL Vidi.

Clearly, they are going to defend in numbers and then look to hit us on the break, with Danko Lazovic, who has played in the World Cup for Serbia, their obvious dangerman.

The Vidi coach, Marko Nikolic, has managed extensively in continental competition, primarily at Partizan and Olimpija, so don’t expect a naïve, eyes wide open style performance from the visitors.

Instead, the onus will be on us to break them down; a task we failed when tackling West Ham the other week.

But the Sarri template is getting nice and ingrained amongst the players, and with confidence high after the double-header against Liverpool you would have to expect the Blues to win comfortably enough.

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The pace of Moses, the ingenuity of Pedro, the craft of Fabregas….whichever starting eleven Sarri opts for, it will be jam-packed with the kind of attacking players who can open the door against a defence-minded opponent.

We will be a danger from set plays too, as ever, and if we enjoy larges volumes of possession as expected then we should, at some point, make it count.

A victory, a clean sheet and a goal for Morata would be the perfect result on Thursday.