Stamford Bridge, London
April 3o, 2011, 1730 hours GMT
On Saturday, Chelsea will entertain London rivals Tottenham Hotspur with nothing less than a victory on their mind. Not so long ago, it was thought that the season was well and truly over after a crushing defeat at the hands of Man United. However, a spirited show in the league thereafter has seen Carlo Ancelotti’s team claw its way back into the title race. As it stands, the defending champions are six points adrift of United, with a mouth-watering encounter at Old Trafford still to come. Six points is a considerable deficit with just four games remaining, but Sir Alex has to travel to The Emirates this weekend. Gunners, especially Arsene Wenger, have come under severe criticism for yet again faltering, after the season had promised so much more. The Red Devils will come face to face with a wounded animal – whether the animal still has one last fight left in it remains to be seen.
Tottenham have had a historic season under Harry Redknapp, having reached the Quarter-finals of the Champions League in their inaugural campaign. However, just when ‘Arry thought his team would consolidate its new-found position amongst Europe’s elite, Spurs lost their way in the league. In the last seven games, the team from North London has won just once and is presently four points behind Man City and three ahead of Liverpool. Rednapp still has to take his boys to the City of Manchester and would be hoping his team doesn’t return from The Bridge empty-handed.
Team News and Tactical Brief
When Michael Essien had to be substituted midway through the rain-dance with West Ham at Stamford Bridge, quite a few eyebrows were raised fearing the worst. But, the Ghanaian has recovered in time to face Tottenham, and so have Ramires and Alex. Ancelotti is in unfamiliar territory, considering how this season has panned out – he has a fully-fit squad to choose from and Chelsea is the most in-form team in the league, winning seven out of their last eight games.
Ancelotti has hinted on more than one occasion that he would try to play Drogba and Torres together – the former is playing his best football this season and the latter has the weight of the world off his shoulders. However, if the Italian starts with the Ivorian again and brings on Torres in the second half while maintaining a 4-3-3 shape, one wouldn’t be too surprised. Malouda, like Drogba, has been playing better of late and is expected to start. Nicolas Anelka may get a game, as he hasn’t started in the last two games.
Lampard, Mikel, and Essien are the most likely choices for the three mid-field slots. If Ramires is in a better physical condition than Essien, then Carlo may employ the Brazilian to help Ivanovic pull off The Bale Job, after similar exploits at White Hart Lane in the reverse fixture. The back-five is expected to remain same.
Earlier this season, a beleaguered Chelsea team travelled to the Lane, and came from behind to almost win the match. The Blues would know that Tottenham are as desperate for a win as they are, and they will attack. It’s very crucial for the home team to get an early goal to settle their nerves. The fans are expecting again, and an indifferent start to the game will certainly raise the anxiety level at Stamford Bridge. The real threat comes from the midfield and from the wings, with the forward(s) not expected to pose too much trouble. There are two clashes that can define this encounter – one between the two midfields and the other between Ivanovic and Bale. Of course, there would be action at the other end as well, with Drogba in top form, but if Chelsea manages to win the first two battles, scoring a goal themselves will not really be a problem.
Probable Starting Line-up: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Mikel, Lampard, Essien, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba.
Spurs have some serious injury concerns on their hands. Assou-Ekotto is unavailable due to a hamstring problem, while Tom Huddlestone may not recover from an ankle injury in time. Hutton and Palacios are still out, while Corluka remains doubtful.
Good old Harry is expected to deploy a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Crouch playing up front on his own and Van der Vaart behind the tall centre-forward. With Huddlestone and Palacios expected to miss the game, Sandro is an option to partner Modric in central midfield. Lennon and Bale will occupy the flanks and will try to utilise the pitch to the fullest and stretch the Chelsea full-backs. In such a scenario, the central midfielders may have to help out in wide areas – something which will give Modric some space to hurt the West London side.
Redknaap to Modric: Son, make me proud – one more time.
The non-availability of Assou-Ekotto means, if Corluka could not recover in time, then Spurs may be forced to use Bale at left-back, while playing Kaboul on the right. Gallas will play in the heart of the Spurs defence alongwith Dawson.
Probable Starting Line-up: Gomes, Corluka, Gallas, Dawson, Kaboul, Sandro, Modric, Bale, Lennon, Van der Vaart, Crouch.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
John Obi Mikel (Chelsea)
Not many people rate Mikel highly as a player, nonetheless it doesn’t stop the Nigerian from doing what he does best – balancing the Chelsea midfield. Come Saturday, he would again have his task cut out. If Essien plays, the responsibility to counter Modric would fall on the Ghanaian’s shoulders. However, the threat of Van der Vaart is too potent to be overlooked. He will be playing in a position from which Rooney has hurt the Blues this season. The area of operation of the Dutchman will overlap with that of Mikel. If Essien and Mikel together are able to shut out the creativity, it would certainly mean half the battle won for Chelsea.
Chelsea 2-0 Tottenham
Although both the teams have all to play for at Stamford Bridge, the absence of key personnel has weakened an already faltering Spurs side. It would be Chelsea’s match to lose.