Thursday 31 January 2019

Chelsea vs Huddersfield Town Match Preview (02/02/19): Blues Must Find Their Bite Against the Terriers

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In football, as in life, there is nothing more frustrating than taking one step forward followed by two back.

We were guilty of it ourselves in our preview of the Bournemouth game, titling it ‘Blues Back In the Zone After Cup Magic’. How wrong we were.

Of course, you can forgive us for the error given the nature of the beast. We had secured a place in the final of the Carabao Cup with a rollicking performance against Spurs, and then followed up with a comfortable victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup.

We certainly weren’t expecting to be beaten so comprehensively by Bournemouth on Wednesday evening.

As we also alluded to in that preview, the Cherries are a dangerous side under Eddie Howe’s front foot style, but even they must have been surprised with the ease with which they cut through our defence.

After a goalless first half, Bournemouth ran riot in the second, blasting four goals without reply in what was one of the Blues’ more spineless performances in recent years.

Yes, we had chances, and Cherries keeper Artur Boruc saved well from Mateo Kovacic early on, but once again this was a performance of style over substance in the one area that the beautiful game is truly governed by: putting the ball in the back of the net.

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Quite frankly, we are over reliant on the brilliance of Eden Hazard, and unless Gonzalo Higuain comes to the party in the next couple of months our hopes of a top four finish look slim.

It’s hard to say if Saturday’s game against Huddersfield at the Bridge has come at a good or bad time.

The Terriers are the weakest side in the Premier League, as proven by the naked eye and the league table, and with a new manager at the helm they are a side in transition and, perhaps, becoming accustomed to the idea of relegation.

That gives them a free hit against us at the weekend then, with all eyes on Maurizio Sarri’s mis-firing Blues. It will be interesting to see if his players show an appetite for the fight….

Chelsea Team News

With his team selection in recent weeks, Sarri has made his thoughts known.

It’s now confirmed that Emerson Palmieri is his first choice left back, with indifferent performances from Marcos Alonso costing him his place in the side.

And in midfield, Mateo Kovacic continues to retain his place at the expense of Ross Barkley, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and others.

It appears as though the manager will place all his faith in Higuain as the central striker, while Willian may be recalled to the starting eleven at the expense of Pedro on Saturday.

Otherwise, it’s very much a case of as you were as we look to get our league campaign back on track.

Chelsea vs Huddersfield Town Head to Head

The majority of the 67 meetings between Chelsea and Huddersfield came in the first half of the 20th century, when the Terriers were very much a top flight outfit.

Such encounters have been sparse in recent times, and the three Premier League clashes we have had since the Yorkshiremen returned to the top flight are the only contests to have taken place in the past decade.

We’ve won 3-0 and 3-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium, although the Terriers managed to nick a point at the Bridge last season in a 1-1 draw.

How the Match Will Be Won

There’s a new man at the helm of Huddersfield in Jan Siewert, but his task of keeping the club in the Premier League is a mountainous one.

He simply does not have the quality at his disposal to win top flight football matches, and while there is a touch of class to Aaron Mooy and the likes of Steven Mounie and Laurent Depoitre in attack are a handful, it’s not enough to accumulate the necessary amount of points for survival.

But they aren’t called the Terriers for nothing, and the nickname sums up their playing style rather well: this is a hard-working, diligent team that makes up for its lack of class with sheer bloody endeavour.

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We will have to match them in that department, no doubt about it, and hope that our extra class ultimately wins the day.

Huddersfield will probably line up in a 4-4-1-1 style set-up, and the onus will be on us to make something happen. And we’re not talking pretty passing movements, as the Blues can rightly be accused of. We mean actual end product.

Our visitors have scored the lowest amount of goals in the Premier League this season, and have won 1/11 on the road. If we don’t triumph on Saturday, it’s hard to know where we will go from there.

Monday 28 January 2019

Bournemouth vs Chelsea Match Preview (30/01/19): Blues Back in the Zone After Week of Cup Glory

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There were no alarms and no great surprises as Chelsea swept past Sheffield Wednesday and into the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday.

Willian’s brace, which included the Brazilian’s 50th goal for the club, did the bulk of the heavy lifting, with a third goal coming from Callum Hudson-Odoi, less than 24 hours after he handed in a transfer request to force through a move to Bayern Munich.

Elsewhere, there was a debut in a blue shirt for recent capture Gonzalo Higuain, who looked hungry and made plenty of threatening runs in behind the Wednesday defence, while Ethan Ampadu looked assured as he continues his footballing education.

And there was even a chance for Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has been on the sidelines of late, to work his way back to match fitness by playing the bulk of the second half.

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“It's certainly a good result, we're very happy. We know how difficult these cup ties can be. Everyone made a really good effort,” said assistant boss Gianfranco Zola afterwards.

“We performed very well against Spurs, and again today after the first few minutes.”

After a pair of cup triumphs it’s back to the day job this week, and that starts with a trip to the south coast to take on Bournemouth on Wednesday evening.

Victory would put a significant amount of pressure on Tottenham in third place. They are wobbling right now, and so Maurizio Sarri will be determined to get the three points against a dangerous but beatable Bournemouth side.

Chelsea Team News

For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Sarri has his full quota of players to work with.

Kepa Arrizabalaga will return in goal, and David Luiz will presumably start at centre half in place of Andreas Christensen.

N’Golo Kante and Jorginho will surely be restored to the midfield, with the third body in the middle of the park up for debate. The manager doesn’t seem to really fancy Mateo Kovacic at the moment, so perhaps it will be Ross Barkley who gets the nod.

There are options, at last, in attack. Eden Hazard and Pedro, both given the evening off against the Owls, will presumably come in on the flanks, while through the middle Sarri has the luxury of choosing between Higuain or Olivier Giroud.

The Argentine will eventually become first choice, but as he continues to get used to our playing style perhaps he will watch on from the subs’ bench here. Giroud hasn’t let anybody down of late, and the Frenchman served up an assist for Willian’s second goal on Sunday.

Bournemouth vs Chelsea Head to Head

There have been just 14 meetings between these two sides, which highlights Bournemouth’s rather belated rise to the top flight of English football.

There was a handful of cup ties played out in the 1980s and 90s, but we’re more interested in the period since 2015/16, when the Cherries were promoted to the top flight.

In that time we have won seven of the nine contests played, including each of our three visits to their Vitality Stadium home.

How the Match Will Be Won

It must be enjoyable being a Bournemouth fan: they don’t always get the results they want, but they go about their business in the most entertaining of ways.

Take away the ‘big six’, and the Cherries have scored more goals than any other side in the Premier League.

And yet, their goals against tally of 42 is only beaten by Burnley, Cardiff and Fulham.

Eddie Howe’s men play open, expansive football that offers opportunities and threats to their opponents in equal measure.

He will field ‘proper’ wingers, probably Ryan Fraser and David Brooks, with Josh King through the middle; the absence of Callum Wilson to injury may prevent Howe from utilising his normal 4-4-2 system.

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Clearly, their issues are defensive ones, and a back four of Clyne, Cook, former Chelsea man Nathan Ake and Adam Smith does little to reassure Cherries fans.

Bournemouth are typically very strong on home soil (W6 D3 L3), but they have conceded 17 goals in 12 games in front of their own supporters, and that shows why Chelsea must play on the front foot on Wednesday.

With the likes of Hazard, Pedro and Kante well rested, we will be expecting to win a possibly high-scoring contest.

Friday 25 January 2019

Chelsea vs Sheffield Wednesday Match Preview (27/01/19): More Cup Magic from the Blues

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On reflection, Maurizio Sarri saying publicly that his Chelsea players were ‘extremely difficult to motivate’ last week might just have been a PR masterclass.

The Italian’s pre-match team talk had been done for him, and surely his squad would turn up with the bit between their teeth for Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg with Tottenham, right?

Absolutely. It may have taken us penalties to get the job done, but there can be no doubting that once the dust had settled, this was very much a deserved victory.

After a lively opening half hour, N’Golo Kante somehow squeezed a shot through a ruck of legs to level the tie at one apiece. Game on.

Less than ten minutes later, Eden Hazard – of whom Sarri had said ‘I prefer it when he talks with his feet’ following an ill-judged interview about his future at the club – fired in a second to cap a man-of-the-match performance. The manager once again had gotten his ‘motivatory’ tactics spot on.

Fernando Llorente got one back for Spurs in the second period, and that was enough to send the tie into a penalty shootout with away goals not used in this competition.

Willian, Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho showed great composure to find the net with their spot kicks, while Kepa Arrizabalaga made a great save to deny Lucas Moura.

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When Eric Dier blazed over, it was left to David Luiz to slot home and fire Chelsea into our fifteenth cup final in just sixteen years!

We have, technically, an opportunity to make that a perfect 16-in-16 in the FA Cup, in which we host Sheffield Wednesday at the Bridge on Sunday in a fourth round tie.

It’s not a tie we expect Sarri to take all too seriously, even if the chance to showcase new signing Gonzalo Higuain will get fans on the terraces talking.

Chelsea Team News

The manager made a raft of changes for the FA Cup third round win over Nottingham Forest, and we expect him to do likewise against another Championship opponent here.

Willy Caballero got the nod in goal that day, and there’s no reason why he won’t start again on Sunday either.

Davide Zappacosta could come in at right back, while at centre half Andreas Christensen could come in to partner either David Luiz or Antonio Rudiger – probably the latter. At left back, Marcos Alonso’s surprise dropping on Thursday may mean he starts here.

In midfield, there might be opportunities for Kante and Jorginho to put their feet up, with Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic being joined by youngster Ethan Ampadu in the middle of the park.

In attack, will we see Higuain? Possibly not from the start, although the Argentine has taken part in his first couple of training sessions at the club. More likely is that Olivier Giroud will lead the line, with Higuain making an appearance from the substitutes bench.

On the flanks, Willian – who played barely 15 minutes against Spurs, might come in on the right with Callum Hudson-Odoi – assuming he’s still at the club at this point – starting on the left.

Chelsea vs Sheffield Wednesday Head to Head

This was a common fixture from the dawn of the professional game up until the 1990s, when Sheffield Wednesday’s fall from grace began.

Indeed, there have been more than 120 encounters between us, with the Blues winning 37, the Owls 41 and 46 draws.

The last time we collided was in April 2000, when Wednesday triumphed 1-0 against a Chelsea side containing such luminaries as Bernard Lambourde, Emerson Thome and Gabriel Ambrosetti!

How the Match Will Be Won

Sheffield Wednesday have improved of late in the Championship, with a run of W2 D2 L1 since Christmas, but surely a professional performance form Chelsea will be enough to get the job done here.

It was certainly enough for Nottingham Forest in the third round, while the Owls needed a replay to see off League One outfit Luton Town.

Wednesday are currently being managed by caretaker boss Steve Agnew, with new permanent appointment Steve Bruce deciding to see through his bucket list moment – watching England play test cricket in the Caribbean – rather than taking the reins immediately at the Yorkshire club!

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Agnew has done okay though, and will set up his side in a 4-1-4-1 system, with a lone frontman – possibly Steven Fletcher – supported by the likes of Adam Reach, who possesses a fine long range shot, and George Boyd.

Hard working, well organised, combative….those are just some of the adjectives used to describe this Sheffield Wednesday side, but quality is not another and so anything approaching a solid display from us should be enough to see the Blues into the FA Cup fifth round hat.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Chelsea vs Tottenham Match Preview (24/01/19): Blues to Bounce Back from Sarri Rollicking

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“I'm disappointed and I'm angry. There's still a great deal of work to do to be able to get these players truly motivated and up for playing these games.”

Those were the harsh words of Maurizio Sarri following our 0-2 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday, and you would rarely hear such open criticism from a non-league manager, let alone a gaffer at the helm of a top-four side in the Premier League.

“From a mental point of view we suffered a similar kind of approach against Tottenham Hotspur. I thought that we'd overcome that,” the Italian continued.

“The first goal was a pretty massive example of how we lacked determination.”

Sarri stopped short of naming names, although you suspect his team selection for the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Tottenham on Thursday will speak volumes.

The fact that Willian and Mateo Kovacic were hauled off with half an hour to play might offer some clues, and both might be taking a watching brief from the dug-out at the Bridge on Thursday evening.

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The tie is perilously poised at 1-0 to Spurs after the first leg at Wembley, but if we can keep a clean sheet in this second game then there is absolutely no reason why we can’t go on to nick a goal or two and force the issue ourselves.

There’s been no further developments in the transfer of Gonzalo Higuain – it seems to be a done deal, bar the shouting, although the Argentine is unlikely to be a Chelsea player in time for this contest.

The players will have Sarri’s criticism ringing in their ears; let’s hope it drives them on to a winning performance on Thursday with a cup final beckoning.

Chelsea Team News

With only Ruben Loftus-Cheek as an injury concern, Sarri at last has the opportunity to play whatever team he wants to on Thursday.

Our next outing is in the FA Cup on Sunday against Sheffield Wednesday – again, not a priority, and so it really is all-or-nothing against Spurs.

It’s difficult to second guess the manager’s selection given his post-match comments on Saturday, but we presume the normal back four will be present with Kepa Arrizabalaga in the sticks.

In midfield, we might see Ross Barkley lining up alongside Jorginho and N’Golo Kante.

Will Callum Hudson-Odoi start? His transfer saga involving Bayern Munich is ongoing and starting to become a real concern, so expect him to be given the night off.

Perhaps Olivier Giroud will be tasked with making a nuisance of himself through the middle, with Eden Hazard left and Pedro right.

Chelsea vs Tottenham Head to Head

This will be the 163rd meeting between Chelsea and Tottenham, and we hold a 68-54 lead in the head-to-heads with 40 draws.

Stalemate is a rarity in this fixture, and indeed there hasn’t been one in each of the last seven encounters; of which we have won three and Tottenham four.

Spurs’ 3-1 win at the Bridge in November ended a decade-long hoodoo they had endured on our patch.

How the Match Will Be Won

It’s a game which can be mulled over and analysed to the extreme, but really the key factor here has to be Tottenham’s lengthy injury list.

Harry Kane’s ankle injury is set to keep him out until March, with Dele Alli’s hamstring tweak likely to sideline him for a while too.

With Son Heung-Min off representing South Korea in the Asia Cup, the three leading lights of Tottenham’s attacking play are absent.

Moussa Dembele has left the club to pursue his ‘dream of playing in China’, while Moussa Sissoko and Victor Wanyama remain on the treatment table. Lucas Moura, meanwhile, is woefully short of first team football.

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Like we say, you can slice and dice the pre-match chatter all you want, but the bottom line is that Chelsea should be beating a Tottenham side shorn of four or five of their best players.

One area they aren’t hamstrung, if you’ll pardon the pun, is defensively, and so Mauricio Pochettino will be looking to build his team around that solid platform.

So we can expect to enjoy plenty of possession on Thursday, and the onus will be on us to make something happen in the final third. Ideally, Spurs will play with the immobile Fernando Llorente in attack, and that will dispel any worries about being caught on the counter attack.

With Sarri’s words ringing in their ears, expect a much better Chelsea performance here.

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.