Fixtures against Chelsea used to be preceded with a sense of dread as their undefeated run against us seemed to just go on and on and on. Listening to the tedious smugness of their fans eventually outweighed the initial â€˜who gives a monkeyâ€™s, itâ€™s only Chelsea?â€™ attitude and you just wanted it to stop. No longer though. On Bonfire Night 2006 goals from Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon broke the hoodoo and there have been three wins, three losses and three draws in the nine fixtures since then. The most recent of these was the superb performance in the 1-0 win at WHL in March when Luka Modricâ€™s goal delivered what turned out to be the only defeat of Guus Hiddinckâ€™s leave â€˜em wanting more reign as Chelsea manager.
None of our three wins have come at Stamford Bridge and thatâ€™s where weâ€™ll be on Sunday afternoon in what looks on paper to be the hardest fixture of the campaign so far. The home side are top with a 100% record and Ancelotti is getting the best out of the disparate characters that make up the Chelsea squad with even people like Malouda and Deco (when fit) looking like theyâ€™ve got something to offer. Heâ€™s proved himself tactically flexible trying several differing formations so far particularly away from home.
So weâ€™re looking at a tough game thereâ€™s no doubt. Last weekâ€™s disappointing defeat had its origins mostly in midfield where Anderson, Scholes and Fletcher passed and pressed their way to domination. The experiment with Robbie Keane on the left hand side surely has to be pronounced a failure and itâ€™ll be no surprise if Nico Kranjcar, who looked lively and neat in his 20 minutes on the pitch (admittedly after Scholes had gone), makes his full debut taking Modricâ€™s normal position. I suspect itâ€™s unlikely that Redknapp is ready to drop Robbie (yet) so he will probably move back into the middle alongside Defoe with Peter Crouch blocking someoneâ€™s view in the crowd when back on the bench. Harry complained last week that we were too long ball and didnâ€™t pass it around enough but unless he told the players to do that how did it happen? Is he saying that the temptation to hoof it up to the big lad is so overwhelming that no-one can resist it?
There could be a further change in midfield. Jenas came on for Palacios at half time and did enough to suggest that heâ€™ll threaten Huddlestone for his place. It might dampen creativity a bit but it will give us more of a barrier against Lampard, Essien and Ballack. Palacios gave the impression last week that he was overloaded with harrying and chasing and though he was trying manfully, he couldnâ€™t do it all on his own. This is less likely to be the case with Jenas alongside him.
At the back Ledley will presumably be ready once more for his weekly runaround whilst Iâ€™d be amazed if hadnâ€™t Hutton played himself out of contention by letting Evra waltz rings round him last week. If Gomes is fit, his extra agility will probably see him get the chance to spoil a Cudicini â€˜homecomingâ€™. For them, Joe Cole may be fit, he was on the bench on Tuesday, but Deco, Alex and Zhirkov are all doubts.
To get anything out of Sunday weâ€™ll need to be at our best, which is certainly a notch or two above the level we played at last week, and we may need to reverse Santiniâ€™s bus out of the garage for periods. But with Defoe still apparently on fire and with the returning internationals having a weekâ€™s rest behind them, we should be able to approach the game positively and optimistically.
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