Semi-Final Preview: From Stamford Bridge to Wembley
Despite the fixture congestion that it’s caused, Chelsea will meet Tottenham on Sunday at 6 p.m. in the FA Cup Semi final at Wembley Stadium. The positive is that despite having to play three matches in six days, the team will not have to leave London to travel. The negative is that it will take a mental and physical toll on the squad and although there are no major injury worries, Branislav Ivanovic has been suspended for three matches by the FA for violent conduct after reviewing the allegation that he punched Wigan’s Shaun Maloney in the stomach. The good news is that Ivanovic will be eligible to face Barcelona, and that clash is on the horizon for Chelsea.
But first, Chelsea must deal with a Tottenham side that they just met in the league three weeks ago. The proximity of the clash means that there are one or two things that both sides can glean from that 0-0 draw, where both sides rarely looked like threatening to score. Here we go.
The biggest addition to the Tottenham squad since that match is the return of Aaron Lennon.
Lennon has missed a significant number of games in recent months, and this writer believes that he can help get them out of this slide. In the early season, it was the width of Gareth Bale on the left and Lennon on the right that provided tons of space in the center for Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart to operate.
It allowed them to play van der Vaart behind the striker and accounted for both width and the fact that they’ve been outnumbered in the midfield lately. Lennon’s return gives them a true right-sided player, and his game has improved over the last few years.
Gareth Bale is still the danger man, but we have been able to cope better than most at stopping him.
The interesting that I’ve noticed about Spurs lately is that without a true right-sided player to replace Lennon, it’s forced them into a really narrow formation. It’s made it really easy to follow the blueprint that we’ve laid down for Bale over the past matches.
I said it in the last column before we played Spurs, but the way to defend Bale is to pin him to the touchline and force him to come inside to have any influence on the match. For all the media hype about him, he still lacks true confidence or quality in his right foot. Forcing him inside puts him on that weaker foot and keeping him pinned to the touchline gives him the options of staying on his good foot but losing impact, or coming inside and trusting his bad foot.
So far, he’s chosen the latter, and we used that to great effect. Even when he was moved centrally, the defenders all forced him right.
This could all change with the return of Lennon, but the manual for how to limit Bale is there. If his only contribution is to try to whip crosses into the box from the touchline, we’ll win the bulk of those battles.
Roberto Di Matteo almost got it right in the last match, but he chose the wrong player to exploit the space.
When Spurs are at their best, there is still one major area of the pitch that you can exploit. Because of the formation that they play, there’s always space in front of the two CBs and behind Scott Parker. While Parker plays the deeper role for Spurs, he’s not a classic Makelele-style midfielder and will take up positions further up the pitch. It gives you space to attack in front of the CBs, who tend to lack a bit of pace.
The problem was that in the last match, Di Matteo used Drogba to come deep and win headers in that area, looking for the flick-on. Ideally, you’d like to give that space for Mata to attack, but Drogba’s movement deep for headers takes that space and forces Mata elsewhere. It’s something that I expect to change on Sunday, but it all depends on who Di Matteo decides he wants to start against Barcelona.
On Didier Drogba, the club may be right to view him as a squad player, but not the force that he once was.
At the risk of drawing the ire of some, I don’t think Didier Drogba is anywhere close to the player that he was just a couple years ago. I’m not sure if it’s injuries, malaria, or just complacency, but Drogba has seen his influence waning, and I believe that he negatively affects our play.
Drogba’s major contribution is the ability to win headers, but at times, it has us launching hopeful long balls to him that bypass the midfield. It would be one thing if this worked, but it seems to lead to disjointed possession and losing the ball too easily. Too often Drogba is so far in advance of the midfield that the only service he can receive is a long ball. When he does come deep, he tends to pick the wrong pass. Even though he pops in with the odd goal, I don’t think he links the play half as well as Fernando Torres.
While the FA Cup is a trophy, the question is, which trophy means more?
The Holy Grail for Roman Abramovich has been the Champions League. We have definitely had lots of success in the FA Cup, and it might represent the better chance of a trophy this season, but will management and the players see it that way, or will their focus be entirely on the two legs with Barcelona? That answer will go a long way to dictating the course of this match, especially if the prospect of extra time and penalties loom.
If the FA Cup is a priority, then the players must not get caught looking towards Wednesday. Spurs are a dangerous side and will be looking to add the only trophy that they’re still in for to their cupboard.
Again, I’m terrible at predictions, and this one is even more difficult given that I can’t even predict a team sheet. I think the team sheet will show a lot about which trophy we’re looking to win more this season, but it might mean that we scratch our heads at overlooking our better chance at silverware.
On the match itself, I think that we have a chance to win this one regardless of what team we put out. I think we’re deeper than Spurs and any team should be good enough to get a win. It just depends on if we show up to fight or not.