Stamford Bridge, London
January 15, 2011, 8:25 PM IST – LIVE! on ESPN
Chelsea will entertain Blackburn Rovers at Stamford Bridge and the reigning champions can approach the game in one of the two possible ways – either carry the baggage of their worst league form in more than a decade into this match or draw inspiration from their empathic 7-0 win over Ipswich Town in the 3rd round of FA Cup.
Carlo Ancelotti and ‘the bad moment‘ have been playing mind games of late. After a fighting performance at the White Hart Lane, Ancelotti thought he had overcome his adversary, however, Chelsea surrendered to a determined Arsenal side in the next game at the Emirates. Then, after a hard-fought win over Bolton at home, the Chelsea manager was again led to believe that the dreadful moment had passed, but it resurfaced, accompanied by a pack of Wolves, to dash the West London club’s title ambitions yet again. Ergo, after the win against Ipswich last weekend, Carlo rightfully downplayed the result and seemed willing to wait until his team performs consistently over a period of time, for breathing a sigh of relief. He should not count the chickens (pun intended) before they hatch.
King Carlo needs to eliminate the predictability that has crept into the Chelsea system.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Alex and Benayoun remain the only long term casualties for Chelsea, as both Zhirkov and Mikel were seen on the training ground on Thursday. The Nigerian has recovered from the knee injury which he suffered against Arsenal, but is unlikely to feature against Blackburn. Considering the physical nature of Blackburn’s game, Ancelotti is expected to make one change in the midfield, with Essien replacing the young McEachran. No surprises are expected in defence, as Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry and Cole should resume from where they left off, against Ipswich. However, Carlo has a few tough decisions to make when he sits down to decide on his forwards. Drogba and Malouda have been performing way below their expected levels, while Kalou and Anelka have at best been inconsistent. On the other hand, Daniel Sturridge has been impressive, although not in the Premiership, but he has not had enough opportunities. The manager can be expected to retain the forward-line of Sturridge, Anelka and Kalou.
In the games that Chelsea has drawn or lost, the team has almost taken close to an hour to wake up from its slumber. Against Blackburn, the team should show intent right from the onset and try to get an early goal or two. Further, Carlo needs to be proactive in making substitutions. If the midfield is unable to create chances for the forwards, he should not wait until the 80th minute to being on Joshua McEachran in place of Michael Essien. In the FA Cup game, the youngster had combined beautifully with Lampard, and can help the team with his composure on the ball and eye for the pass, even against a physical Blackburn side. Also, if Anelka fails to match up to Nelson and Samba, Drogba should be brought in at half-time.
It’s time for Ancelotti to start trusting the youth at his disposal, rather than persisting with woefully out-of-form first team regulars; after all, this will serve the team well in future. Not only will it give more confidence to players such as Sturridge, Kakuta and McEachran, but will also make the non-performers work harder for a place on the team.
Probable Starting Line- up: Cech, Bosingwa, Ivanovic, Terry, Cole, Essien, Ramires, Lampard, Sturridge, Anelka, Kalou.
This season, Blackburn has been erratic at best – a 3-1 win against Liverpool and a 0-2 loss against Stoke in their last two home games sum up their campaign. They have not won at the Bridge since 2003, and the last player to score for them at this ground was Craig Bellamy, over five years back.
On Friday, Blackburn announced the ‘homecoming’ of Roque Santa Cruz, signed on loan from Manchester City. The Paraguayan is expected to start from bench. Steve Kean, who succeeded Sam Allardyce, will welcome the return of Paul Robinson and Nikola Kalinic to the first team. On the other hand, Andrews, Grella and Jones remain sidelined due to injury.
Blackburn will deploy a 4-4-2 formation with an intention to utilise an extra man in the middle of the park to block the home team’s supply line. Chelsea’s midfield has not performed well in the league, and an additional man can really pin them down. By now, almost every manager worth his salt knows the formula to succeed against the West London side – keep Cole busy with your wide man, pressurize Chelsea’s right-back, whoever he is, till he commits a mistake, isolate Drogba by closely marking him and keep closing down the space in midfield. It remains to be seen what measures Ancelotti will take to remove the certain predictability that has crept into his club’s play, over the last couple of months.
Probable Starting Line- up: Robinson, Salgado, Samba, Nelson, Givet, Hoilett, Dunn, Pederson, E. Diouf, M. Diouf, Benjani.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea): This was going to be the season wherein the Chelsea forward had to prove his worth to the manager and the club management. Till now he’s yet to set the stage on fire, but a five goal-salvo in the reserve game against Tottenham, earned him a start in the FA Cup 3rd Round game against Ipswich Town, and he did not disappoint.
It’s time for Danny to show what he’s made of.
Sturridge has impressed whenever he has started for Chelsea, and deserves a prolonged run in the side. If Carlo decides to start with the young Englishman, this may be a golden opportunity for Daniel to stake his claim for a starting berth from here on, considering the shabby form of his more illustrious counterparts.
Chelsea FC 4 – 0 Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn are yet to score at the Bridge in over five years. Moreover, now it’s just a matter of time for Chelsea to wake up and put in a stellar show in the league. This may just be that match. The 7-goal win, albeit against Ipswich, would have certainly boasted the team’s confidence and made the players realize their true potential.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST