In a torrid December which has seen the Blues win just once, Christmas cheer has so far been scarce. Boxing Day sees Carlo Ancelotti’s side travel to England’s second city in an attempt to bring all Chelsea fans a belated three points, but Birmingham City are the side looking to play the part of party poopers. Luckless Chelsea have not won away from home since the end of November, when Arsenal fell victim to a 3-0 defeat on their own turf and, following the 1-1 draw with West Ham last weekend, both Frank Lampard and Ancelotti publicly admitted that major improvement is top of their Christmas wish lists. Well, not in those words exactly…
Alex McLeish’s Birmingham side have gained plaudits so far this season having started the campaign as a newly-promoted team, and presumably prime candidates for an immediate return to the Championship. They sit pretty in 7th – a place above fallen giants Liverpool – with a resolute record at home, and particularly eye-catching is their ‘goals against’ column in games at St. Andrew’s which currently boasts just five goals conceded, the same number as a certain title-chasing team from Stamford Bridge.
However, while Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Lampard et al have netted 25 times in nine games in front of their own fans, the likes of Cameron Jerome and ‘Chucho’ Benitez are not as free-scoring, as Birmingham have only scored eight times in their nine home matches so far.
While Chelsea struggled to a draw against West Ham, Birmingham failed to win for the first time in six matches as they drew away at Everton. After falling behind, Birmingham showed a lot of resilience to battle back and equalise.
They may be hindered on Boxing Day by the absence of three players however. Garry O’Connor, David Murphy, and ex-Spurs midfielder Teemu Tainio will all miss out, but Birmingham are slightly boosted by the returning pair Stuart Parnaby and Martin Taylor. Defender Roger Johnson is a boyhood Chelsea fan and will apparently face the wrath of the entire Johnson family if he leads his side to victory over the Londoners.
Chelsea have just Michael Essien and José Bosingwa unavailable due to injuries, and Nicolas Anelka is unlikely to return to the side following his absence from the West Ham draw. Deco is also out. Daniel Sturridge – on as a second-half sub in that game – did himself plenty of favours with a lively performance and could be one to watch from the start this time.
Recent results against Birmingham have been solid rather than spectacular for Chelsea, and we haven’t come close to bettering our best result at St. Andrews which occurred in November 1964, when the Londoners ran out as 6-1 winners. Nor thankfully have we come close to shipping six against them, unlike in October 1930, although we did manage a couple of goals then in a 6-2 defeat.
The most recent game between the two sides was in January 2008, at St. Andrews, as a solitary Claudio Pizarro goal settled the match in Chelsea’s favour. In the 2003/04 season we drew 0-0 at both grounds in the league, while the last time we lost to Birmingham was also at Birmingham, and back in March 1980 when the home side trounced us 5-1.
St. Andrews is probably not the best place to visit for a Chelsea side struggling to find form or any rhythm, and we won’t be helped by the added ‘freak’ factor which often comes with Boxing Day matches. It will undoubtedly be a struggle, and this may not be the game when we regain our swagger, but we can hope for three points now and improvement later. It’s not much to ask is it, are you listening Santa?
CFCnet would like to wish all of its readers a Merry Christmas. Happy holidays to all in Blue.