After an international period which has brought success for some and anguish for others (see McLaren, Steve), it’s back to Premier League action for our jetlagged and jaded squad, with a trip to the Riverside Stadium; exactly where we don’t want to go with what’ll most likely be a depleted squad, particularly if you take into account out recent results there.
The last two league meetings in the North-East finished with Boro taking six points out of six, and Avram Grant will be looking to change our fortunes and extend our latest unbeaten run to three games.
The international break is not the only negative factor which has affected our preparation for this game. With France Football magazine publishing a story about star striker Didier Drogba including quotes supposedly from the Ivorian which explain his desire to leave Chelsea, a sour atmosphere has emerged which threatens to put yet another hurdle in the way of our charge towards any kind of success in the near future. Still, we’ve always got Shevchenko haven’t we? Great.
We have three players who are likely to miss the game along with the perennially injured Michael Ballack. John Terry and Ashley Cole could join him on the sidelines following a catastrophic few days with the England squad. Michael Essien should also be out with a calf problem. With ten players in action in mid-week including Claudio Pizarro and Drogba who made cross-continent plane journeys, fatigue may also lead to late withdrawals from the match day squad. John Obi Mikel is back from suspension however and available for selection.
Gareth Southgate’s side only had Stewart Downing and Tuncay on international duty for England and Turkey respectively but have a few injuries to contend with. Mido should return in time for the game, but fellow striker Jeremie Aliadiere is out along with Julio Arca and defenders Emmanuel Pogatetz and Matthew Bates. Former Chelsea centre-back Robert Huth has been plagued with injuries since his move to Boro and isn’t expected to feature due to an ongoing ankle problem.
Our recent record at Boro hasn’t been the best but they are on the back of three straight defeats while we are starting to put results together again. In a week where Middlesbrough was named as the worst place to live in Britain, we just need to go there, do the job and get ourselves back to cosy SW6. There is no reason why we can’t come away with the points and put an end to Boro‘s winning ways against us. It’s time to focus on club football again and we need to start by getting past Middlesbrough to prove we are back. Drogba or no Drogba, we’ll march on.
Prediction: A perhaps frustrating afternoon but eventually producing a hard-fought 1-0 win like the Bolton game almost a fortnight ago. It won’t be pretty but it will be worth it in the end.