POMPEY FIRST UP AT THE BRIDGE

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Aug 14th, 2008

Around twelve weeks ago, John Terry stepped up to take a penalty in the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow. He slipped. The mourning began shortly after.

Euro 2008 came and went, Wimbledon followed, and when we weren’t sat inside passing the time, we went on holiday (complete with food poisoning and sunburn) and were dragged on endless shopping trips on empty Saturday afternoons.

All the while we had one screaming thought rattling around at the back of the mind, a constant, niggling reminder of what could have been.

‘If only he hadn’t slipped’.

Accompanied by a wet English summer, the infamous ‘credit crunch’, and more importantly, Frank Lampard’s contract wrangle, we were all looking toward one thing. It seemed like it would never arrive. Add in the school holidays and suddenly thousands of annoying, screaming children are thrown into the soundtrack of a gloomy quarter of 2008.

Speculation raged about the impending arrivals of Kaka, Ronaldinho, and probably Jesus himself (Daily Star: EXCLUSIVE), friendlies proved only a short-term fix for the big itch, and Frank still wouldn’t sign that bloody contract.

But suddenly, possibly while we were all sleeping through the Women’s Air Rifle competition in Beijing, something snuck up on us. A welcome friend, a timely escape from the monotony.  But now, the 2008/09 Premier League season is here. And Frank’s here for five more years too!

Early Sunday afternoon will see Portsmouth travel to Stamford Bridge as both sides look to start their campaigns with a bang. FA Cup holders Pompey have bolstered their squad over the summer, with the signings of Peter Crouch from Liverpool, Glen Little from Reading, Younes Kaboul from Spurs, and Ben Sahar from Chelsea (who is ineligible for selection as he is on loan). Last Sunday they played out a fairly dull Community Shield draw with Manchester United, eventually losing out on penalties (happens to the best of us).

Harry Redknapp’s side are undoubtedly one of the better sides in the Premier League, and boast England’s number 1, David James, between the sticks. Former Chelsea-man Glen Johnson has established himself in the starting eleven, while Lassana Diarra also returns to the Bridge with his reputation rightly enhanced with some solid performances in the Pompey midfield. Seasoned England campaigners Sol Campbell, Jermain Defoe and Crouch also add class to the South Coast side.

With only Noe Pamarot out injured, and young Cameroonian Frank Songo’o at the Olympics, the team lining up on Sunday should look similar to last weeks’s showpiece game at Wembley.

Chelsea meanwhile are starting a new era under manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, and all eyes will be on his team selection in his first competitive game in charge of the Blues. During pre-season, he has experimented with 4-2-2-2 and 4-3-3 formations, with Nicolas Anelka and new signing Deco particularly enjoying Scolari’s fresh thinking.

Fellow new boy Jose Bosingwa is another new name in the Chelsea ranks, but he faces a desperate battle to make it fit and ready for Sunday’s game after picking up an injury in pre-season.

If Bosingwa doesn’t regain full fitness, Juliano Belletti or Paulo Ferreira will start at right-back alongside the usual suspects in defence, while Anelka is almost certain to start up front with Didier Drogba injured, Andriy Shevchenko unfit, and Salomon Kalou absent due to his participation in the Olympics.

As for the midfield? Well, eight into four doesn’t go so it’s anyone’s guess!

It is worth noting that Chelsea haven’t lost to Portsmouth in ten Premier League games, with only two goals coming from Pompey in these matches. Last time around however, the Fratton Park outfit held the Blues to a draw with an impressive-and frustrating-performance. Anelka opened the scoring after a fluid counter-attack in the 55th minute, but Defoe hit back to snatch his side a deserved point nine minutes later. The last time Pompey took all three points was back in December 1960.

It will be an even harder task for Pompey to repeat that feat as Scolari’s Chelsea hold an unprecedented unbeaten home run dating back to the dark ages. As we enter a new season, it remains to be seen whether or not that record will stay intact. In fact, more questions have been thrown up, some of which may be answered on Sunday.

What’s our formation for the campaign? Who is Scolari’s strongest eleven? Are we going to be entertaining? Are we going to be a winning side? Are we going to be both?

At least it stops us thinking about that slip eh!

Chelsea V Portsmouth at Stamford Bridge kicks-off at 13:30 GMT on Sunday afternoon.

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