NORWICH CITY FC
Stamford Bridge, London
August 27, 2011; 1500 Hours GMT
Their opponents may be minnows, but Chelsea will approach this game as one they have to win. With Manchester United and Manchester City getting off to impressive starts, the onus is on Chelsea to make up the gap that’s fallen between them and the leaders of the league so early in the season. Andre Villas-Boas, for one, will be hoping his squad show the stomach for a fight early on rather than leave him to placate an increasingly irritated Stamford Bridge crowd.
Andre Villas-Boas, who has witnessed a great pre-season give way to a subdued start to The Blues’ Premier League campaign, has seen his options bolstered by the arrival of Lukaku, Romeu and Juan Mata. The Portuguese tactician will need to strike a balance between bringing in a breath of fresh air in a staid formation, and unsettling the squad with a more experimental set-up .
The Canaries’ manager Paul Lambert acknowledged his side performed poorly in their Carling Cup 4-0 loss to MK Dons, that saw them exit the tournament. Paul has refused to throw in the towel, and insists the loss will not depress a side without a win so far in the Premier League, but on the contrary will serve to spur them to come all guns blazing at Chelsea. Echoing the manager was Manchester United ward Ritchie de Laet, currently plying his trade with Norwich, who believes his side have proven they aren’t pushovers. There will be quite a few in West London on Saturday, hoping those words prove to be bluster.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Chelsea might choose to feature a fuller-strength attacking line-up with Torres, Malouda and Anelka getting the nod over Drogba and Kalou. Depending on how comfortably positioned the Blues are at half-time, you might expect Romeu or Lukaku to make their debuts. Juan Mata is too recent a signing to make it to the starting 11, and can best hope for a position on the bench. Drogba will once again most likely be brought on for the final 3rd of the game, while Ivanovic should get the nod over the rusty Alex.
Obi Mikel, with the weight lifted off his shoulders, might be someone to watch. Will his unburdened mind cause him to play out of his skin, or will the Nigerian star who impressed in his last two outings get complacent and slack off in the midfield remains to be seen.
David Luiz trained with the team on Thursday, but will have to wait a while longer, before playing his first game for Chelsea since the close of last season. Cech remains out of action, despite showing promising signs of making a quick return.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-3-3) Hilario; Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Bosingwa; Lampard, Mikel, Ramires; Malouda, Torres, Anelka.
Clearly not intent on making Villas-Boas’ life any easier, Lambert fielded radically different sides in the three games the Canaries have played so far. Grant Holt and Steve Morison, so crucial to the Canaries’ attacking style of play, are expected to lead the formation up-front.
While Norwich have drawn, impressively some might say, their first two games, their record at Stamford Bridge has been woeful. The visitors are likely to be without playmaker Wes Hoolahan (hamstring) which will hurt their options for creativity in the middle of the park against Lampard et al, while former Liverpool player Daniel Ayala (knee) is also out. Fortunately for Lambert, defender Leon Barnett should be available for the game, after having served his suspension during mid-week.
Probable Starting Line-up: (4-4-2) Ruddy; Tierney, Barnett, Laet, Martin; Pilkington, Crofts, Johnson, Bennett; Holt, Morison.
Key Match Facts
1) Chelsea have beaten Norwich on their last four visits to Stamford Bridge, scoring 14 goals in the process.
2) Chelsea have conjured up more crosses from the flanks (54 at last count) this season than any other side.
3) Norwich have used more players in the starting XI than any other side, with 19 taking the field so far.
4) Norwich have been at the receiving end of 38 shots (not necessarily on target), the second-highest tally in the league.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Fernando Torres (Chelsea): Torres will be Chelsea’s man to watch out for considering he hasn’t found the back of the net since the start of the season, despite finally showing some long-suppressed signs of brilliance. He will sorely need greater scraps to feed off on, courtesy his midfield. Chelsea’s service from wide positions still leaves much to be desired, so expect Torres to help his cause by cutting in from the flanks with a view to finding his season-opener.
Chelsea FC 3 – 1 Norwich City
The visitors may not have lost a game thus far in the league season, but Chelsea would prefer to look at the cup as being half-full – Norwich have failed to register a win, despite leading Stoke for most of the game. With the options at Chelsea’s disposal, this is clearly a disproportionate battle, and Chelsea will be disappointed if they win by a solitary goal margin.
With the Canaries coming off a loss, and Lambert sure to change the formation again, Chelsea, who are relatively better settled, will aim to score a trio of goals or more. It remains to be seen if Hilario can keep a clean sheet, but it would not be out of place to suggest the Canaries could pull one back.