Thursday, 17 January 2019

Arsenal vs Chelsea Match Preview (19/01/19): Blues Ready for War Against Fragile Gunners

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You can’t always get what you want, so sang The Rolling Stones. Well, it appears as though Maurizio Sarri is going to have his cake and eat it this week.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2-1 win over Newcastle last time out, in which Willian found the net, the manager was adamant on the Brazilian’s future after being linked with a move to Barcelona.

“For us Willian is really a very important player,” he said in his post-match press conference. “We need wingers, so we need Pedro, we need Odoi, we need Willian of course.

“In this moment, he's a fundamental player - he has to stay with us.”

Happily, there hasn’t been any reports of further interest from the La Liga leaders in the 30-year-old, and so he will surely be staying at the Bridge for the foreseeable future.

And there was further good news for Sarri on the transfer front this week.

It would appear as if the club have agreed a loan deal to bring Gonzalo Higuain to London, according to Sky Sports in Italy.

The Argentine has been a proven goal-grabber in Serie A, and in the one season they worked together at Napoli Sarri watched on as Higuain blasted 38 goals in a stellar 2015/16 campaign.

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And the rumour mill continues to speculate that Alvaro Morata is on the verge of completing a move to Atletico Madrid.

So how will this affect preparations for the clash with Arsenal on Saturday tea time? Well, it shouldn’t, if truth be told. Regardless of the transfer hype Sarri would presumably have started with a front three of Pedro, Hazard and Willian, so the movements of messrs Higuain and Morata, for now, are non-concerning.

With victory at the Emirates we can create a gap of nine points to Arsenal, and potentially leapfrog injury-hit Tottenham in the process. A fantastic Saturday all-round then!

Chelsea Team News

We can safely assume that Morata won’t be involved on Saturday, and it’s doubtful that Higuain will be parachuted straight into the starting eleven either.

Sarri clearly isn’t convinced by Olivier Giroud either, and so we expect Eden Hazard to resume his false nine role with Pedro to his right and Willian to his left.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is the only confirmed injury absentee, and he could be on the slab for a couple of weeks.

Otherwise, Sarri has a full deck to choose from, and you suspect he will opt for what is nominally his strongest available eleven.


Arsenal vs Chelsea Head to Head

It’s one of the most historic rivalries in British football, and Chelsea ad Arsenal are closing in on 200 meetings in professional football.

This will be the 197th, with Chelsea taking the bragging rights in 63 and tasting defeat in 76 (57 draws).

In the modern era, the spoils have been largely shared, although it should be noted that we have only lost one of our last five meetings with the Gunners.

We are, however, winless in three trips to the Emirates; this would be the perfect time to bring that run to an end.

How the Match Will Be Won

When analysing how this match might pan out, there is one stat that immediately leaps off the page: Arsenal have kept just one clean sheet in the Premier League since September!

And so clearly, it would be a statistical anomaly if the Gunners could keep us at bay on Saturday.
Instead, we need to focus on the other end of the pitch, where an Arsenal attacking line that could feature Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette demands respect.

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Mesut Ozil doesn’t really fit into this 3-4-3 system, so that’s one less headache to worry about, and the jury is largely out on whether Alex Iwobi is anywhere as effective as the German.

The strength of Arsenal comes in wide areas, where their wing backs (at this moment in time Maitland-Niles and Kolasinac) push forward and link up well with their fellow wide men. That can create two-on-one situations, and so Pedro and Willian will be required to put a good shift in defensively.

But opportunity knocks in midfield. Arsenal will play two centrally, probably Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka; the latter of whom remains a liability both positionally and in terms of his discipline.

Our trio of boys in blue should dominate that midfield battle, and given the Gunners’ woeful defensive record that could be the platform on which we build to a much-needed victory.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Chelsea vs Newcastle Match Preview (12/01/19): Blues to Put VAR Woes Behind Them Against the Magpies

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When you lose a football match – or any sporting event for that matter – courtesy of a controversial decision, it always smacks of sour grapes if you complain about it.

But really, what else can we do when said decision has such a huge bearing on the outcome of the event?

When Harry Kane charged through on goal in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg, to the naked eye he looked offside.

This competition utilises VAR technology, and so at least the video system would back up such claims. The linesman even stopped running, such was his confidence in the tech.

Kane was taken out by Kepa and won a penalty, which he duly converted….but not until after the so-called foolproof system made fools of us all.

VAR suggested that Kane was offside when referee Michael Oliver went to check, and yet the cameras used by Chelsea’s analysis team – which were perched directly in line with the England frontman – showed that he was in fact just offside.

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Sounds like our grapes, right? Here’s what Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino had to say about it. “I don't like the VAR. Today we get the benefit of it, but after watching the World Cup and another league like La Liga, I see that nobody is happy from day one that they started to use it.

“To get the benefit is nice but I am unhappy to win the game like this.”

Not once but twice does the Spurs gaffer confirm his side were on the lucky end of the decision; a decision made by a bit of kit that supposedly takes the guesswork out of such instances!

It was particularly galling, as we dominated the game otherwise. Both Callum Hudson-Odoi and N’Golo Kante hit the woodwork, while Andreas Christensen missed an absolute sitter. This tie could look so different to the 0-1 deficit we take to the Bridge for the second leg.

It’s back to the bread and butter this week as we welcome Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United to Stamford Bridge for Saturday evening’s televised Premier League game.

Chelsea Team News

There is still something of an injury cloud over Chelsea, but at least the situation is easing.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Alvaro Morata remain sidelined, but Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Mateo Kovacic were all fit enough to come off the bench against Spurs.

And there’s nothing wrong with David Luiz; he was benched against Tottenham because a) he needed a rest or b) he was kept from the firing line against his nemesis, Harry Kane. You can choose which reason you think is most likely!

The good news is that we can field something approaching our strongest available side for a game that will surely help us get back to winning ways.


Chelsea vs Newcastle United Head to Head

There have been more than 160 meetings between Chelsea and Newcastle in the past, with the Blues holding a 72-53 head-to-head lead (39 draws).

There was that interesting spell between 2010 and 2014 which warmed the cockles of Magpies fans: they inflicted five defeats on us in just ten meetings, with two draws.

But those wrongs have been righted in recent times, with Chelsea winning four of our last five clashes and losing just one of the last seven.

How the Match Will Be Won

Only Huddersfield Town have scored fewer Premier League goals this season than Newcastle United, and that gives an indication of the size of the task facing Rafa Benitez at the North East club.

To make matters worse, chief architect Jonjo Shelvey is out injured and frontman Yoshinori Muto has gone off to the Asia Cup.

They’ve now scored just once in their last 360 minutes of league football, and so you suspect Saturday’s game will at times resemble a training match, with Chelsea dominating possession and Newcastle packing all eleven players goal-side of the ball.

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The Magpies will play a 4-2-3-1 system, but the job of wide men Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu is to tuck in and help their full backs, rather than bombing irresponsibly forward.

The key to breaking down this sort of side is patience on the ball, clever movement to open up pockets of space and quick, incisive passing to pull black-and-white shirts out of position.

We are more than capable of course, but we do think back to the Southampton game at Stamford Bridge, where we lacked the inventiveness to carve the visitors open.

The return of Pedro, such a clever player, will help, and the presence of Giroud on the bench at least offers a Plan B of sorts.

We thoroughly expect Chelsea to win this one comfortably, but it may take some time to make that all-important breakthrough.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Tottenham vs Chelsea Match Preview (08/01/19): Nick a Goal and It’s Job Well Done for the Blues

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We are just 180 minutes from another Wembley showpiece occasion.

Okay, so it’s *only* the Carabao Cup, but the opportunity to get our hands on some silverware – and get one over on semi-final opponents Tottenham in the process – cannot be overlooked.

The first leg takes place at, erm, Wembley on Tuesday, and the unique rules of the competition mean that we could really do with nicking at least one away goal. If the tie is level after the two legs – plus a 30-minute period of extra time – then goals scored away from home count double, and they could be all-important as a result.

We go into the contest knowing, or at least hoping, that Maurizio Sarri will field a full-strength side. He made a catalogue of changes for the FA Cup third round game against Nottingham Forest on Saturday – handing a much-needed rest to some weary legs, and still managed to claim a 2-0 victory.

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It’s testament to the quality and depth of the squad that the fringe players continue to do the business when called upon, and it was one such player in Callum Hudson-Odoi who really caught the eye.

Operating from the right flank, he provided assists for both of our goals, which happened to be scored by Alvaro Morata; hopefully his fragile confidence has been given a timely boost.

Hudson-Odoi has been the subject of repeated transfer bids from Bayern Munich, if you believe the media speculation, and it’s not hard to see why. The youngster is blessed with dazzling skill and breakneck pace, and we hope that a) he stays at the club during the transfer window, and b) is given plenty more opportunities to shine in the coming months.

The 18-year-old may even get the nod against Spurs, given that our injury woes continue, but you suspect he won’t let anybody down.

One player who won’t renew his old rivalry with Tottenham is Cesc Fabregas, who appears to have played his last game for the club. He has been heavily linked with a move to Monaco, where he would link up with his old teammate Thierry Henry, and the emotional scenes as he left the field on Saturday seemed to confirm as much.

It’s been a pleasure, Cesc, and we wish you all the best.

Chelsea Team News

Given our current injury situation, you wonder if Sarri is now kicking himself for allowing new signing Christian Pulisic to head back to Borussia Dortmund on loan.

Both Willian and Pedro are struggling with injuries, and neither looks likely to be ready for this Spurs encounter. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek limping off against Forest with a back injury, we look severely short-staffed in attacking areas.

There is still quality on offer, however. Eden Hazard should come in on the left, Callum Hudson-Odoi will hopefully continue on the right, and Alvaro Morata has just about done enough to secure the striker’s role even if, in an ideal world, Hazard would occupy that space in his occasional false nine positioning.

In midfield, Mateo Kovacic should be well enough to return alongside Jorginho and N’Golo Kante, while in defence the normal back four of Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz and Alonso are likely to be reunited.


Tottenham vs Chelsea Head to Head

Chelsea and Tottenham’s rivalry is one of the fiercest in English football; a bitter battle that has grown in intensity during the 161 meetings between the two sides.

We have the upper hand with 68 wins to their 53, with 40 draws.

In modern times neither of us has really dominated, and indeed the last six meetings have been shared with three wins apiece.

We will need to banish the memories of our last trip to Wembley, however, back in November, when we succumbed to a 1-3 defeat on Premier League duty.

How the Match Will Be Won

There are no surprised when it comes to playing Tottenham, but that’s not to say that they are easy to stop!

Mauricio Pochettino’s men enjoy a fluidity to their attacking play, with Harry Kane leading the line ably supported by a cast that includes the red-hot Son Heung-Min, Cristian Eriksen and others.

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They are not without their problems, perhaps, as far as player availability is concerned, and we will need to take advantage in midfield where they are without the injured Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama. Dele Alli also played all 90 minutes against Tranmere on Friday, so perhaps we can boss the midfield areas with the pace and energy of Kante and co.

In defence Jan Vertonghen is still out, and you sense there is a certain vulnerability to Spurs in this area; the 1-3 defeat they suffered to Wolves recently being the perfect case in point.

Let’s be under no illusions: this is a tough game for us. But if we can walk away having scored an away goal, we can head into the second leg at the Bridge full of confidence ad in control of the tie.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest Match Preview (05/01/19): Blues Must Find a Cup Spark

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Our lack of a proven goalscorer – and thus over-reliance on the goals of Eden Hazard – came back to haunt us once more on Wednesday evening.

We were held to a 0-0 draw by Southampton despite dominating every aspect of the game; apart from the one that really matters, of course, which is putting the ball in the old onion bag.

It means we have now failed to find the net in 19% of our Premier League outings this term, which is the highest percentage of any of the top six sides and catastrophically higher than both Liverpool and Tottenham, who have drawn a blank in just 5%.

Alvaro Morata was welcomed back into the starting eleven after injury, and while he tried hard he still lacks that predatory instinct that all good number nines need. The Spaniard did put the ball in the net, for what it’s worth, but was adjudged offside.

Otherwise, there was a selection of half chances and decent saves from the Saints’ debutant keeper Angus Gunn, but in truth we never really looked like breaking the deadlock.

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We’re into January now, so of course that means that the transfer window is open. It would appear as if Maurizio Sarri is very keen to bring in new recruits in attack – aside from Christian Pulisic, purchased for £58m on Wednesday but then loaned back immediately to Borussia Dortmund.

“We have to try to solve the problem of the last 15, 20 metres. The club knows very well my opinion. I think we need something different for characteristics,” the manager said.

“I'm not in charge of the market. I have to try to improve my players, my team, my offensive phase, or better my offensive phase in the last 20 metres.”

With the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Tottenham on Tuesday, Sarri may opt to rotate the squad for Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest.

Given our progress in the League Cup, you suspect this competition is now fourth choice on our list of priorities, so expect some different faces to pull on the blue shirt against the Tricky Trees.

Chelsea Team News

Mind you, the selection process has not been made any easier by a raft of injuries.

Willian limped off in the first half against Southampton, and while his injury is not expected to be serious he may still miss the next week or so of fixtures.

He will join Pedro, Olivier Giroud and Callum Hudson-Odoi on the treatment table, although the latter could be available against Forest if he trains well on Friday.

Mateo Kovacic, who missed the midweek game through illness, will also be monitored.

Sarri will make changes where possible, but with increasingly thin numbers in attack he may be forced to field some of his more experienced names.


Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest Head to Head

For many decades, Chelsea vs Nottingham Forest was a regular fixture – hence why there have been more than 90 meetings between the pair.

The Blues hold a 38-26 head-to-head lead, with most of our defeats coming in Forest’s heyday in the 1970s and 80s.

Chelsea have also won five on the spin against the East Midlanders, although that’s a run which dates all the way back to 1998!

How the Match Will Be Won

There was a quiet revolution at Nottingham Forest in the summer, with boss Aitor Karanka bringing in a number of players from the continent in a bid to rejuvenate the Tricky Trees.

And so far, it’s a strategy that appears to be succeeding, with Forest up to seventh in the Championship and just four points off the play-off places.

Mind you, their exceptional 4-2 win over Leeds on New Year’s Day was their first victory in six attempts.

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It depends on whether you are a glass half-full or empty merchant when analysing their away form: W3 D8 L2 gives very little away!

There is nothing game-changing about Karanka’s 4-2-3-1 system, which focuses on a tight and well-organised midfield five when out of possession. It will require us to move the ball more quickly than we did against Southampton if we want to break Forest down.

Going forward they don’t have much to offer, with journeyman Daryl Murphy leading the line and the likes of Joe Lolley – a decent striker of a ball – offering support.

But there’s no indication that they have anything to fear, and it’s a game that will be predicated on how we play. If we can find an attacking spark, we should win comfortably enough.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Chelsea vs Southampton Match Preview (02/01/19): Blues to Start New Year with a Bang

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As the Chelsea players blasted out the final strains of Auld Lang Syne (does anybody still sing that?), they could reflect on a rather mixed year for the club.

The first half of 2018 was odd, frankly, as Antonio Conte’s spell in charge came to a frustrating end.

But the Maurizio Sarri era has started nicely enough, and we find ourselves in the Champions League places; five points above Arsenal and just four adrift of Manchester City in second.

If the goal in the 2018/19 season is to book a return to the Champions League for next term, we are making excellent headway towards it.

The festive period has gone quite nicely. Defeat against Leicester was a source of huge frustration, but victory against Watford righted the ship and the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace last time out ensured we enter 2019 with our heads held high.

The winning goal against the Eagles was one of Sarri construction. David Luiz pumped a long ball forward – that was out of character, but N’Golo Kante, bursting from midfield in his new role under the Italian, latched onto the pass and fired home to secure a superb three points on a day in which Arsenal and Tottenham both faltered.

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It was a supremely pleasing performance. We hit the woodwork twice through Willian and Ross Barkley, and defended so well that Palace only registered their first shot at goal as late as the 85th minute.

One more big effort, this time against Southampton at the Bridge on Wednesday, will stamp our authority on fourth place, potentially close the gap to Tottenham and City, and ensure we enter the mini-league break – it’s FA Cup and Carabao Cup action up next – in high spirits.

Chelsea Team News

Unfortunately, the chaotic festive fixture list has played havoc with squad availability.

Pedro is out for the next week or so with a hamstring injury, while Olivier Giroud’s ankle problem could keep him out for the foreseeable future.

Question marks persist over Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Cesc Fabregas and Callum Hudson-Odoi too, and so there are issues in attacking areas for Sarri to fathom out.

Alvaro Morata played the last 15 minutes against Palace, but it’s unlikely that he will be ready to start here; the FA Cup tie with Nottingham Forest is his most likely destination for a return.

It’s a conundrum, and one that might force a reshuffle.

The usual midfield trio – Jorginho, Kante and Mateo Kovacic – could all start, and that might free up Barkley to play on the left flank, with Willian on the right and Eden Hazard once again starting in that central ‘false nine’ role.

Happily, there are no problems in defence, and our normal quartet will start assuming they have recovered well from the Palace game.


Chelsea vs Southampton Head to Head

There have been some 103 meetings between Chelsea and Southampton through the years.

We can ruminate on periods of dominance, or reflect upon the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs over the past two decades.

But really, for the purposes of this preview, we only need to focus on one piece of information: Chelsea have won each of the last seven encounters with Southampton.

Last season we beat the Saints 1-0 and 2-0 at the Bridge in the league and FA Cup respectively, with a 3-2 win on the south coast sandwiched in-between.

In the reverse fixture this term, we triumphed 3-0 courtesy of strikes from Hazard, Barkley and Morata.

How the Match Will Be Won

After a poor start to the campaign, Southampton sacked Mark Hughes and replaced him with the little-known Austrian, Ralph Hasenhuttl.

It appeared to be a smart move, with the Saints beating both Arsenal and Huddersfield in his first pair of starts in charge.

But the honeymoon period is seemingly over, with defeats to West Ham and Manchester City following.

The new manager hasn’t reinvented the wheel, and will play an approximation of a 4-2-3-1 system on Wednesday.

It may feature young Kayne Ramsay – born this millennium, if you like to be made to feel old – at right back, and the 18-year-old will have his work cut out with Hazard tasked to isolate himself against the youngster.

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Otherwise, it’s the usual mix of players pulling on the red-and-white shirt, with Charlie Austin restored to the starting eleven – and perfectly capable of putting the ball in the net, supported by the likes of Mario Lemina and Nathan Redmond.

To give you an idea of how Southampton operate, nine of their last ten Premier League matches have seen both teams score. That suggests those in attendance at the Bridge could be in for an entertaining contest….hopefully, with the end result to go with it.