We’re fresh off a win against Swansea which in Steven Naismith’s mind was a 5-0 smashing with him knocking every goal in like Roy of the Rovers. Like a Zlatan Ibrahimovic complex without actually being Ibrahimovic. Bryan Oviedo’s on the exercise bike, there’s a cracking video of the Kopites celebrating getting us in the FA Cup quarter final, Big Dunc is moving up in the coaching hierarchy. Life is rosy.
Not quite. Life is like a Leon Osman pass. You know something’s going to go astray at some point. And getting Arsenal away in the Cup is another facet of a few tough weeks in which we’ve lost our last two games on the road. Chelsea aren’t really the tonic for that particular run.
I’ve mentioned Osman and Naismith already, so now’s a good time to say that people ranting on Twitter when they were being prepared needs to be shoved up Jose Mourinho’s arse along with anyone who has one of those team branded remote controls. The man deserves some company up there. Once again, Naismith was brought on and made an impact. It’s worth mentioning that he is our top scorer in 2014, so the “useless” shouts have grown old. Osman’s struggling to keep with the pace of the game when we’re looking for goals, granted, but unless David Moyes has returned without anyone knowing we have a sensible, positive-minded manager calling the shots. Obviously he thinks Leon Osman can keep doing a job for us.
Typically, there are shouts for Gerard Deulofeu to start – the fact of the matter is that he’s not fit to keep at his high standards for 90 minutes even at the best of times. But what an impact player. Add him to Ross Barkley and Aiden McGeady and there’s a large contingent of players who can make a difference in controlled bursts. Lacina Traore scored a bit over 200 seconds into his debut, which is the quickest since Cottee. Not bad eh. With Romelu Lukaku returning for West Ham and Steven Naismith scoring more than Francois Hollande (I’m Private Eye, me) we have a number of attacking options which can all have an effect. Will they work against a disciplined Chelsea defence? The reason we don’t know is why the game’s great and my previews are pure sh*te. Unpredictability.
What isn’t so unpredictable is the way this Chelsea side will line up. Buoyed by Jose Mourinho’s slide into madness is helping them right now, as his unflappable confidence means there’s no whining about resting players for certain competitions. Petr Cech, the one man who has saved a Leighton Baines penalty (I’d know, I was two metres away cursing my own bad luck) keeps goal. The only way to force a mistake is to keep testing him. One’s due.
Ivanovic and Cahill are ever-presents in the Chelsea defence, while John Terry returns from injury just in time to face us. Of course. Ashley Cole’s England’s Number 1 right? Much better than Leighton Baines. Quality, dependable right back. Yep, him. He’ll be on the bench while Spanish right back Cesar Azpilicueta plays on the left. Take a look at this game Roy Hodgson. Matic and Ramires could be the Barry and McCarthy of this Chelsea side, but seeing as Frank Lampard loves to score past us he’ll be in the line-up, just to spite us. Oscar, Hazard and Willian form one of the league’s most frightening attacking triumvirate, while just to make us all feel better Samuel Eto’o will vie with Torres and Ba for the role of lone striker.
Overall, this a team with rigid organisation at the back and sparkling skill behind the striker. The key to beating this side is pressing back the three behind the striker and leaving him isolated – which is in this case a very tough task. The confidence of a side unbeaten in 73 home league games under Jose Mourinho makes them impossible to beat only if we tell ourselves so. In any case, let’s see a positive approach from Everton.
Tim Howard, Seamus Coleman, Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines is a quintet that will hopefully be unbroken for the rest of the season. It looks like a defence that will not concede goals. Frankly, the buck for conceding goals in the last couple of games needs to be passed to Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. Barry has seemed tired recently, and in his role a lapse in concentration leaves the defence exposed. With McCarthy looking to bomb forward for a ball that doesn’t necessarily come, it’s a dangerous game when Chelsea have such counter-attacking strength.
So who plays in the advanced positions? Mirallas and Pienaar are certs, and Ross Barkley will probably start in the centre. Lacina Traore will play up front. The good news about Traore is that Swansea showed he has goalscoring instinct as well as menace and physical presence – apparently he’s still not 100% either, which is a hell of a promise. Imagine a striker with the work rate of Stracqualursi, the physical presence of Traore and the finishing of Lukaku. Now stop thinking of Duncan Ferguson, he’s not going to play again. But we’ve got options. Not the Stracq. No. Stop thinking about him.
And then there’s a bench featuring Joel, Hibbert, Stones, Osman, McGeady, Deulofeu and Naismith. If an impact is needed at least we have options.
So here we go. Top of the league away. Using the possession game to its greatest effect, like at the Emirates in December. Before we think about our march journey to North London let’s deal with this momentous challenge in the West End. The last scorer of a winner away to Chelsea in the league? Paul Rideout. I’ve been thinking about a couple of Rideout goals recently.