So another weekend passes without a Premier League game for Chelsea, our fourth in a row. Chelsea supporters’ favourite cooperation, Sky, ruined the chance for a weekend in Blackpool by moving our first league fixture at Bloomfield Road since 1976 to Monday night. At least Blues fans going to the game do so in the knowledge that Arsenal and Manchester United have dropped points, meaning that if Chelsea can manage a third away win in four games they will be nine points behind the Mancunians with a game in hand and another at Old Trafford. Surely this extraordinary season won’t take one more absurd twist?
Chelsea have responded well to the disappointing FA Cup exit at the hands of Everton with a couple of decent wins against FC Copenhagen and Manchester United. A continued blight of the campaign thus far has been false dawns, and Chelsea must do everything they can to ensure that they build on these last two wins with another at Blackpool. Three successive league victories in January were followed by a gutting home defeat to Liverpool and a scoreless draw at Fulham, and it is Chelsea’s inability to string together a run of victories which has really cost them this season. We won our first five league games but since then have only managed one run of three successive victories (the aforementioned run in January) and one of two successive victories. For Chelsea to have any hopes at all of retaining the title so spectacularly won last May, they must surely not drop points in more than one more league game this season, and that is why the Champions must remain such outsiders.
Chelsea’s opponents for this 8pm televised affair are Blackpool, this season’s Premier League ‘fairy tale’. The Seasiders were surprisingly promoted last season despite having one of the smallest budgets in the Championship and for much of this season they have not looked out of place in the top flight. Much of that is down to the excellent work ethic of Ian Holloway’s side, yet it has been their attacking style which has seen them win the hearts of pundits and fans alike. They have so far scored 42 goals this season, only six fewer than Chelsea, and possess the seventh best away record in the division. Their home form has let them down but they have still enjoyed impressive victories against Liverpool and Tottenham, both in 2011. Their open style has seen a remarkable 97 goals scored in their 28 games and they have yet to keep a clean sheet at Bloomfield Road this season, where Fernando Torres has already notched for Liverpool. Perhaps tomorrow is the day the £50 million man breaks his duck.
Tuesday’s victory over Manchester United was especially notable for the performance of David Luiz, who scored a fantastic equaliser and then was fortunate to stay on the pitch. The Brazilian injured his hamstring and has not trained since but Carlo Ancelotti seems confident that he can start his third consecutive league game. Another potential absentee is Mikel, injured in the warm-up before the United game, but he too should be fit to take a place on the bench. The improved recent performances of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien coupled with a change of formation to 4-4-2 mean there simply isn’t a place on the pitch for Mikel, perhaps harsh on one of Chelsea’s better performers this campaign. Another is Ramires, again hugely impressive on Tuesday, and the Brazilian is slowly turning into one of the first names on Ancelotti’s team-sheets with his assured performances both offensively and defensively. A player who may be dropped is Florent Malouda, who has not been at his best in recent months, and Yuri Zhirkov’s bright performance from the bench could convince the Italian to start the Russian for the first time since November. Elsewhere Didier Drogba’s superb cameo should see him back in the starting line-up in place of Nicolas Anelka.
Blackpool will be without two of their most important players tomorrow, with DJ Campbell and Charlie Adam both suspended, and Chelsea will be looking to capitalise on their absence and pick up three more valuable points. Considering Blackpool’s inability to keep clean sheets it seems likely that Chelsea will score so a solid defensive display should see the three points heading back down south, which would be a welcome bonus before a spell of one league game in four weeks.