Chelsea at Wembley tonight in the League Cup semi-final first leg. Our last two meetings with Roman’s Vanity Project have ended in deserved 3-1 victories for us. Both wins were Dele inspired but different in character in that we went behind in the first before rescuing the game post the break whereas in the second, at Wembley as recently as late November, we were totally dominant from start to finish; the away side were flattered by the score line.
That game before Christmas exposed a few tactical flaws in Sarri’s set-up. His side were unbeaten to that point in the season but the overreliance on Jorginho was shown up and easily negated by the excellent Dele who also chipped in with the opening goal. It will be interesting to see what Chelsea do this evening, ie how they deploy their key midfielder given our success against him last time, we may see Kante play deeper than he has of late.
In some ways this game has a precedent in the 2014/15 season where after delivering a 5 goal pumping to then manager Mourinho’s side on New Year’s Day we lost the League Cup Final 2-0 as the wily Portuguese made tactical adjustments based on what he’d learnt at WHL.
The received wisdom is that Chelsea are in need of a goal scorer. The heart bleeds. If only they had the resources to either buy one, or maybe bring one through the ranks, supposing for instance that they had been completely dominant at youth level for the last decade? It’s not always easy to know what to spend squillions of Roubles on I suppose.
Their paucity of options up front has been exacerbated recently by an injury to Metrosexual icon Olivier Giroud. He though, together with Willian and Pedro, may be back for this game. The return of Pedro is an interesting option for Sarri as he is one of the few Chelsea players, Kante and Barkley are others that spring to mind, who may be capable of reaching an early level of intensity which is what the man currently occupying the Chelski ejector seat is bound to ask for given the way his side were despatched in December.
We are without Lucas, Dier, Vertonghen, Wanyama & the departing Dembélé of course. The injury list doesn’t get any shorter but it still leaves enough for Pochettino to have a decision or two to make about who will start. There are probably eight certainties, Gazzaniga, Toby, Winks, Sissoko, Dele, Eriksen, Son and Harry, so that’s everyone apart from the full-backs and someone to play alongside Alderweireld. Davies, Trippier and Sanchez would be the uncontroversial choice, it wouldn’t surprise me though if Foyth is given consideration given yet another good performance on Friday and maybe even Aurier, for the same reason.
Whoever is chosen it’s a game they need to begin at a good pace (and with ‘aggression’, as poch likes to say) with a view to taking advantage of Chelsea’s habit of starting games slowly. Hazard, as ever, is the man to be wary of and Sissoko and whoever is chosen at right-back are bound to have their work cut out. We will be fortunate if the Chelsea central defence is as obliging as it was in our last meeting but we know from experience that Harry, Dele, Son and Eriksen are all capable of scoring against Luiz etc.
We start as 7/5 favourites according to Paddy Power but there’s not much in it, Chelsea are 9/5. First legs are often strangely cautious affairs, 180 minutes of football is a lot of football after all. Poch will have his positive thinking emanator turned up to maximum though. We can expect Chelsea to be shy of committing players forward given their recent experiences of us, any lead we manage to take to the return leg will have to be earnt – we do though have more than enough players to get a lead though.
Michael Oliver is the referee, and apparently there will be VAR.
COYS. Let’s do these.
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