SOJOURN BESIDE THE SOLENT?
After the anti-climax that was Transfer Deadline Day, football returns to the pitch this weekend, with Chelsea facing a trip down to the South Coast to visit Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth side. Both sides were involved in January deals, with Pompey particularly busy as the hours ebbed away on Thursday night, and Saturday is the perfect opportunity for both teams to reveal their hands to the rest of the Premier League.
Chelsea and Portsmouth were busy in mid-week action, with Redknapp’s side swept away by Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United, as the Blues trundled on past Reading at Stamford Bridge.Michael Ballack’s header handed Chelsea those three points, and the German midfielder will be looking to continue his rich vein of form on Saturday. He has been inspirational since returning from injury, and has helped to considerably dissipate the void left by Frank Lampard. Also absent is John Terry, whose deputy Alex has been solid enough to help Chelsea continue their winning ways while the captain sits frustratingly on the sidelines.
Squad depth has been the buzzword so far this season, and with Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba and John Mikel Obi still away on African Cup of Nations duty, supposed ‘back-up’ players should feature again at Portsmouth. Juliano Belletti returns from a one-match ban, however, Ricardo Carvalho begins one, perhaps paving the way for new signing Branislav Ivanovic, match fitness dependant.
Portsmouth have also had to abandon thoughts of a full-strength side, with Harry Redknapp’s penchant for buying African players one of the biggest reasons. Sulley Ali Muntari, John Utaka and Nwankwo Kanu are all hoping to reach the final in Ghana, although Papa Bouba Diop is set to return after his Senegal side crashed out in the group stages. Diop will not be back in time for the game, however, Redknapp will be able to welcome deadline day signing Jermain Defoe to the squad.
We will also come face-to-face with ex-Blues Lassana Diarra and England call-up Glen Johnson, who have both impressed recently in the Pompey blue, while loan signing Milan Baros could also feature. At the time of writing, there is some dispute over top-scorer Benjani, who was expected to move to Manchester City on deadline day. However, he allegedly didn’t make it to the City of Manchester Stadium in time to sign transfer forms (having often travelled on the M6 I sympathise!), and his future is still up in the air.
Chelsea have a very good record against Pompey in the Premier League, with nine wins out of nine, 19 goals scored, and just a Benjani goal conceded. The last four visits to Fratton Park have ended in 2-0 wins for Chelsea, and earlier this season a Frank Lampard goal was the difference between the two sides at Stamford Bridge.
While we have gone 12 games unbeaten, winning the last nine, Pompey have not had as much to cheer about recently. In their last ten league games, they have lost five, drawn two, and won only three. On paper, Saturday’s result looks a foregone conclusion, with such a good Chelsea record against Portsmouth. To turn that into reality, the squad members will again have to show their individual strengths in the team set-up. Let’s hope the trip to the coast proves to be another winning sojourn beside the Solent.
Prediction: It has to be 2-0 doesn’t it? The squad rolls along keeping pace; Benjani or no Benjani.