Friday, 24 September 2010

Chelsea preview

How better to follow-up a cup trauma than with one of our biggest games in the Premier League? Whatever happens tomorrow lunchtime it will stop people talking about whether Ben Mee was one gamble too far.

We've had a fairly middling start to our Premier League campaign. I do think we've played better than I thought we would, but we're probably a few points behind where we ought to be. But a good result tomorrow, some momentum for the Juventus and Newcastle games and we can really march into autumn with some authority.

There's no doubt, either, that this is our hardest game of the season yet. I can barely remember the last time a side started a Premier League season with as much swagger as Chelsea have. They look like a side hitting their stride in January or February, as United sometimes do. To be playing with their confidence and cohesion in late summer is something special. I fear we're going to struggle to live with them tomorrow.

We did beat them last year; a strange game looking back in that it represented the footballing peak of the Mark Hughes era but came just weeks before his dismissal. At the time we spoke of Shay Given's late penalty save as a 'Mark Robins moment', but it seems as if a decision had already been taken.

Tomorrow will be a very different game. That was the best single deployment of the Hughes gameplan: an aggressive, high-tempo 4-4-2 with Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips pressing from wide. On Saturday it will be more of the cautious and composed, football at arm's length that we have seen this season. There are injury problems in defence: I don't know if Gareth Barry or James Milner will have to play left back but it's possible. This might be a shame; the Milner-Barry-de Jong-Yaya-Silva midfield feels like our first choice and is well balanced. Moving one back would mean playing Adam Johnson against Ashely Cole, which sounds like a one-sided battle in both a defensive and attacking sense.
It's going to be tight. We're certainly going to look for a 0-0. I don't think we're quite going to get it, but I'm confident we're not going to get rolled over either. 0-1.

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