Stamford Bridge, London
April 21, 2010, 12:15 AM IST
An injury-stricken Chelsea side will look to face off against Alex McLeish’s side that had humbled the defending champions the last time these sides met. Revenge may be a dish best-served cold, but Chelsea hardly boast the depth in squad that could look confident enough to make exacting revenge the central ploy of their game later tonight. Carlo Ancelotti, has acknowledged that his having to make do with just 23 players all season long, has been the bane of the Blues’ almost-certainly failed title charge this season.
With United having drawn their game with Newcastle United, Chelsea will be raring to go bridge the gap between the Red leaders of the pack and themselves to just 6 points. While, it seems unlikely United would surrender the title now, seated comfortably on their perch, Chelsea could theoretically look to leap Arsenal into second place – provided the Gunners stumble to a defeat at White Hart Lane, at the hands of their old enemy, The Spurs.
Carlo Ancelotti, will be exceptionally concerned about how wasteful his team strikers have been up front. The last time these two sides clashed, Chelsea mustered 9 shots on target, not one of which found the back of the net. Birmingham, were quite a study in contrast, finding a shot on target just once and scoring off it as well. If there’s a semblance of a plan in Chelsea’s dressing room, it will involve attacking Birmingham from the first whistle and hoping for better luck this time around.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Blues will have to make do without the services of Brazilians Alex and Ramires, both currently nursing hamstring injuries that could rule them out of a couple of games or more. It’s unlikely, either will be missed very much – the former, because his role has been usurped comfortably by the club’s latest blue-eyed boy David Luiz, and the latter because not many fans have forgiven him his atrocious sending-off during the Champions League quarter final loss to United.
More worryingly perhaps, are report emanating that Branislav Ivanovic himself has picked up a knock. The Serbian is expected to shake it off in time for the game, failing which, the unimpressive Bosingwa would take his place in the starting line-up.
The Blues, will line up in a 4-1-3-2 formation, with Florent Malouda expected to get the nod over Nicolas Anelka and Saloman Kalou. Didier Drogba, who is currently back in his element, will also feature up front as will Fernando Torres who desperately needs to find the back of the net. The Spaniard has now gone 870-odd minutes without scoring, for Chelsea, Liverpool and Spain.
Lampard will partner Essien in midfield, while Mikel will take up his usual defensive midfielder role. The full backs will be expected to provide the width, while the forwards will take turns drifting out wide.
Chelsea Starting XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Malouda, Torres, Drogba.
Operating on the flank, will be Jean Beausejour, back in the side after an injury layoff thanks to a hamstring strain. That remains the only bright spot on the injury roster, as Nikola Zigic and Obafemi Martins – strikers both – will not be fit to play the game. Also unavailable for play, will be Martin Jiranek nursing a nasty groin injury.
Alex McLeish will have no option but to pack the midfield with 5 players, hoping to stifle his more-accomplished opponents’ midfield-driven style of play. Chilean star Jean Beausejour will be crucial on his flanks, so a four-man midfield, with an additional player stationed deep as a defensive midfielder, seems like Birmingham’s best bet at salvaging a point, or even more.
Birmingham would do well to stretch Chelsea’s midfield, considering Frank Lampard and Michael Essien would both ordinarily prefer action in central midfield, as opposed to the flanks.
Birmingham Staring XI: Foster, Carr, Johnson, Ridgewell, Parnaby, Larsson, Gardner, Ferguson, Bowyer, Beausejou, Jerome.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
David Luiz (Chelsea FC): Having had to sit out both legs of the Champions League game against Manchester United, on account of being cup-tied, David Luiz could be forgiven his feeling frustrated at his new side’s exit from the Champions League. If Ivanovic does not make it to the starting line-up, Luiz may have his defensive responsibilities on the right compounded. The Brazilian defensive dynamo is resourceful at the back, acting as a natural foil to the sturdy John Terry and an unpredictable livewire up front. The fans may be hoping Torres scores tonight, but don’t count the Brazilian out from making an unexpected, but welcome, impact.
Chelsea FC 2 – 0 Birmingham City
Short of a major catastrophe, Chelsea should win this encounter with a relatively comfortable goal margin. Lightning is reputed to never strike the same place twice, so it would be quite a turn for the extraordinary if McLeish’s men defeat the defending champions once again. Chelsea have garnered an impressive 16 points out of a maximum 18, from the last 6 games and current form ought to see them add to that haul.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST