Chelsea’s first opportunity to right Sunday’s wrongs comes at St Andrews tomorrow afternoon in the derby of the Blues. It has been a tough week since the drubbing at the hands of Sunderland but the first step in the recuperation process would be taken with a victory at Birmingham in a rare 3pm Saturday game.
Carlo Ancelotti has been handed an injury boost with the news today that Alex will start the game tomorrow. Earlier this week the big Brazilian had been ruled out for up to eight weeks with a knee problem, but now Carletto has decided that a required, yet evidently not urgent, operation will be delayed until Chelsea’s defensive crisis is solved. Or at least until John Terry returns, whichever is sooner. The skipper was also dealt bad news on the injury front on Tuesday, with speculation rife that his season could be over with a mystery back problem. But Ancelotti had good news on that front too, suggesting today that Terry could be back within a matter of days, not months. Perhaps it was a ploy all along to lure our rivals into a false sense of security?
So it is expected that Alex will replace Paulo Ferreira in the centre of the defense and partner Branislav Ivanovic. Ancelotti has ruled Yuri Zhirkov out of the game following an injury picked up on the plastic pitches of Moscow in midweek, so Florent Malouda should drop into the midfield, allowing Salomon Kalou to join the attack. The Ivorian was forbidden from entering Poland this week meaning neither him nor Didier Drogba participated in Ivory Coast’s game. Indeed Zhirkov was the only player to return from international duty with an injury. Ramires and Bosingwa played the full ninety minutes for their respective nations and their fitness will no doubt be tested by a fresher Brum outfit.
Chelsea’s recent games at St Andrews have failed to bring goals. The last five games read as follows: 0-0, 0-1, 0-0, 0-1, 0-0. The continuation of that sequence would be most welcome. It’s been four and a half years since Chelsea lost consecutive games in the league; even then, 0-1 defeats at Blackburn and Newcastle were after the title had been sealed in 2005/6. Birmingham themselves are hardly in great form, having recently relinquished their superb home record at the hands of Everton. In their last home outing they had to fight back from two goals down to grab a point with struggling West Ham.
Alex McLeish has favoured a 4-5-1 formation for the Blues this campaign with new signings Nikola Zigic and Alex Hleb the chief offensive players. McLeish can call on his favoured back four tomorrow including the impressive Dann and Johnson at centre back, two players who excelled in last season’s 0-0 draw. Ben Foster has replaced Joe Hart in goal and has picked up where Hart left off from with some crucial contributions. Otherwise expect more of the same; few chances, a midfield scrap with the game likely to be won by a solitary individual contribution, positive or negative.
Chelsea could start the game second in the table if Arsenal beat Spurs at the Emirates and the 4,500-strong travelling support must hope this serves as an extra incentive to get back to winning ways after Sunday’s horror show. A result tomorrow would go a long way to putting that reverse to the back of every player and supporter’s mind before the horrible run of fixtures facing us in December.