Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, Lancashire
March 8, 2011; 01:30 am, IST
The time appears to be changing; Chelsea has been slowly but surely settling down in a new formation, while Man United, after losing to Liverpool at Anfield, has tasted defeat in three out of their last five games. However, for Carlo Ancelotti’s men, the priority remains a top-four finish rather than getting too far ahead of themselves by dreaming of retaining the title. As it stands, the reigning champions are 12 points behind Manchester United, having played two games less, and have to travel to Old Trafford in May.
Next up for Chelsea is a trip to Lancashire to take on Blackpool at Bloomfield Road. Carlo has to ensure that the victory over Man United does not make his players complacent; they have to remain focussed on the task at hand and take one game at a time. Blackpool away is a tricky fixture for the Blues, as the Seasiders have already done a double over Liverpool, defeated Tottenham at home and came excruciatingly close to getting something out of the game against United. However, when Blackpool travelled to Stamford Bridge in September, 2010, they lost 4-0 to the then run-away league leaders. In that game, Chelsea were mesmerising in the first half, scoring four goals and threatening to score many more; however, in the second half, they lifted the foot off the pedal and Blackpool left London with their respect intact. Until recently, many felt Chelsea had failed to turn up ever since that very first half performance.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Ian Holloway’s adventurous Blackpool side will be without their creator-in-chief Charlie Adam and primary hitman DJ Campbell, as both of them are suspended for this tie. Also, Gary Taylor-Fletcher is struggling from an hamstring injury and will likely sit this one out. The only positive for Holloway is that long-term absentee Stephen Crainey played for the reserve team and is expected to play some part on Monday night.
Blackpool should line-up in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Sylvestre, Southern and Vaughan playing in the midfield. The attack will be lead by James Beattie, who would be supported by Varney and Kornilenko. In the absence of their most influential players, the manager would hope that the rest of his players can rise to the occasion and put up one brave performance. The most crucial area on the pitch for Blackpool will be the centre of midfield, where they would to make the man-advantage count against Chelsea’s two central midfielders. If the trio of Sylvestre-Southern-Vaughan is able to prevent Lampard and Essien from dominating the proceedings, it would go a long way in ensuring that the home team can get something out of this game.
Probable Starting Line-up: Kingson, Baptiste, Evatt, Cathcart, Eardley, Sylvestre, Southern, Vaughan, Kornilenko, Varney, Beattie.
Carlo Ancelotti, in his pre-match conference, raised concerns over the fitness of John Obi Mikel and David Luiz. The Nigerian suffered a knock in training while the flamboyant centre-back had pulled his hamstring in the game against United. Both of them had not trained for a couple of days; however, Ancelotti hoped that they would be fit to play a part on Monday. Also, the Italian talked about the progress Alex and Benayoun were making; Alex should be match-fit in a month’s time while Benayoun has started to train alone.
Chelsea should line-up in the 4-4-2 formation which has worked so well for them in the last two games. The defensive line is expected to remain the same, while Michael Essien and Frank Lampard would again be entrusted with the responsibility of the central midfield. Considering the miserable form of Malouda and the impact Zhirkov created once he came on in the last game, the Russian is expected to start ahead of the Frenchman. Ramires will take the position on the right side of midfield, but will be expected to help out in countering the prospective threat of Blackpool’s three-man midfield.
The recent wins have lifted some pressure off Fernando, otherwise the media by now would have already branded him a failure for not scoring his first Chelsea goal yet. The Spanish marksmen has been playing well, linking with his teammates, however his first-touch has been letting him down of late. Nonetheless, having him on the field gives the other forward(s) space on the pitch as the defenders are naturally attracted to El Nino. Drogba may get a game against Blackpool, and knowing him, he would be eager to stake him claim for a starting berth on the team.
Probable Starting Line-up: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Zhirkov, Lampard, Essien, Ramires, Drogba, Torres.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Michael Essien (Chelsea)
Playing in a 4-4-2 formation, a lot depends on the industry of Michael Essien. The reason Carlo has persisted with this unfamiliar shape is the improvement the Ghanaian has shown on the pitch. He’s yet to remain his aura of old, but he has been quietly doing the tough job of playing in the midfield. The fact that this shape doesn’t allow him the cushion of a defensive midfielder playing behind him, makes his job all the more tougher. He has been doing justice to his new role, and one may be on the verge of seeing a trademark powerhouse box-to-box performance from the African midfielder.
Blackpool 2-3 Chelsea
In the absence of DJ Campbell and Charlie Adam, Blackpool will find it difficult to play as they did against Tottenham or even Man United. Nevertheless, the Blues will take their opponents seriously and will try to consolidate their position in the top-four.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST
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