Today’s game at Chelsea brings into sharp focus one of the reasons why we’ve finished no higher than third since Rafa took over as manager.
Since the day he assumed control our points tally from three league visits to each of Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford and Highbury/The Emirates has been zero. Of course there are other games but if we are to narrow gap then we really need to start nicking points from these team’s back yards. This season it’s more pertinent as although we had the advantage of playing all three at home first, we blew it taking two only points from a possible nine.
You could argue that it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to matches against Chelsea (and there‘s been a few recently, seventeen since the start of the 2004-05 season), and that when push comes to shove, we usually prevail. Three semi final victories one in the FA Cup and two in the Champions League and of course there was our triumph in the mighty tussle that was The Community Shield! However, that is the cup (or in the case of the Cummunity Shield overlarge hubcap) and, despite this season’s position, the generally held belief in L4 is that the league should take priority in future.
At least with this game we are spared the unedifying spectacle of Rafa and Jose Mourinho.. ahem.. “politely debating” the merits of each others teams. What is it about football that makes men behave in a way we would never dream of in other circumstances? Perhaps that’s why we like it? Physically Avram Grant, Mourinho’s predecessor, looks like one evil bastard. The sort who wouldn’t kill you by shooting or poisoning you he’d just butcher you…. slowly! However, he comes across as a very placid, laid, back and unassuming man a direct contrast to “The Special One” which was also underlined this week by the nice comments he made about Rafa.
Chelsea’s home record is long and unbeaten but I suppose now is as good as time as any to be playing them? They are without Terry, Lampard, Shevchenko and most of their African players. However they do have Nicolas Anelka who we took on under Gérard Houllier and then let go. Perhaps he played for us too early. Now “Le Sulk” as he was then seems more mature and at ease with himself and this is showing in his game. What would we give to see him lining up alongside Torres now? However, it is not to be and Torres is out of action today with a hamstring injury ironically picked up playing for Spain against Anelka’s France.
So with Babel doubtful, and Voronin long term injured, we are left with Crouch and Kuyt upfront. Crouch is slowly showing some signs of form but sadly Kuyt can’t buy a goal these days. Because of this, and the absence of Mascherano, one wonders if Rafa will be tempted to play with one up front and string five across the midfield and invite Chelsea to play through them? Sky TV will be pleased!
We will also need to defend better if Joe Cole repeats the havoc he caused in last season’s Champions League first leg. Hopefully JC and Sami will be reunited in the middle as this is not a game for Skrtel yet. He had a wobbly cup tie and although he improved against Sunderland, he still looked nervous.
Prediction? To be honest anything from this game will be a bonus. It’s not an immediate worry but with Everton, Villa and Portsmouth all winning yesterday we could do with getting something. It will also boost confidence, build on last Saturday’s second half display to hopefully bode well for the cup games to come after this.
Oh, and we are due a break, soon!