With Olympic football still in full swing across the capital at Wembley Stadium, Villa Park will host the traditional English season curtain raiser that we have become so familiar with over the last few years. Stamford Bridge has actually guest hosted the Community Shield more times than any other stadium; that would have been nice! Sunday’s game gives us the opportunity to set up in our first competitive game since that oh so fateful night in Munich, whilst the stakes may be at opposite ends of the silverware spectrum, the 90 minutes in Birmingham may see Roberto Di Matteo show the Chelsea faithful a few new hands.
Whilst Chelsea’s preseason results have stuttered in the name of fitness and tactics, City have registered wins over Limerick, Wolfsburg and an Arsenal XI in a European tour. The Citizens have been seen deploying a continental 3–5–2, exercising their agile midfielders and accommodating Adam Johnson in the past few matches. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic will be entrusted with keeping the shackles on City’s wide men come Sunday. Mancini’s men boast a complete squad other than Euro 2012 absentee Gareth Barry, with Tevez and the boss best buddies again, Dzeko apparently staying and Ballotelli looking to be involved. The doors to the Mansour family goldmine have been under lock and key this summer, leaving Mancini upset and flustered over being unable to pay over the odds for another of Arsene’s main men, leaving the Italian perplexed over Wenger’s reluctance to post a net profit this summer. It’s a hard life.
Our blessing has been curse worthy this summer. Whilst the European Championships and the Olympic football tournament have truly filled a void in our close season, many of the Chelsea contingent have sacrificed their preseason preparations for the international circuit, of course, rightly so. Fernando returned to the squad for the final US fixture, whilst Mata, Romeu, Studge and Bertrand joined up at Cobham this week after their Olympic exits, whilst a great performance from Oscar means the Brazilian will play in the Olympic final the night before our Community Shield bout.
However, the influx of nippy, intelligent wingers Eden Hazard and Marko Marin certainly have the ability to make quite an impression on the Fulham Road this campaign. Our preseason campaign would have us believe Chelsea will line up as 4–2–3–1 on Sunday with much of our season hinging on how we construct our new look midfield. In my opinion; alongside the more defensive Mikel, Lampard should drop deeper, anchoring and pinging balls out far and wide to our creative minds Hazard, Mata and Marin. Ramires, although the provider of some sensational moments last season, a la Barcelona, shrugging off Luis Enrique in the FA cup final, is certainly capable in a wide position, yet is surely more dangerous penetrating defences from the middle of the park, where one touch and burst from the leggy Brazilian would be enough to beat any centre back in the world.
So the conundrum really involves whether you play Ramires wide, whilst Marin finds his feet, allowing Chelsea’s Spaniard’s Mata and Torres to forge a partnership for us through the middle, or if RDM still wants to allow Frank in that forward 3, or even play one holding midfielder, and use Mata or Hazard as a free roaming number 10 in a ‘red arrows’ dimension. Now try to accommodate Sturridge, Meireles, Benayoun, Lukaku, Kakuta, Oscar (on return), Essien, McEachran and Malouda and Roberto Di Matteo really earns his money. By my reckoning, Benayoun, Essien and Malouda will depart Stamford Bridge this summer, whilst McEachran, Lukaku, Kakuta and maybe Piazon are apparently available on loan deals. Sturridge will finally be able to play at number 9, as cover for Fernando, as long as his patience allows.
I believe the line up on Sunday will be as follows; Cech, Cole, Terry, Cahill, Ivanovic, Mikel, Lampard, Hazard, Ramires, Meireles, Torres. Mata is just back from the Olympics while Oscar will also addressed when he meets up with the team at Cobham next week. Not to mention, many a fan still believing a deal for Hulk is alive and well.
Phew. Well, things are shaping up to be another unforgettable season; tears and cheers, flicks, free kicks and hat tricks, away days and home games, the champions league and David Luiz! Neville on Sky Sports and London city transport, half time team talks, in behind the back four. 11 v 11, men from the boys, more than a game, match of the day, the only place to be every other Saturday. Don’t know about you lot, but I can’t bloody wait. Keep the blue flag flying high folks.
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Simon Phillips – News Editor
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