Chelsea’s new era, under AVB, begins with a potential ‘banana skin’ tie against resurgent Stoke City under the guidance of, wily old fox, Tony Pulis. However, Chelsea travel with the best opening day record of all 92 league teams, a very impressive nine consecutive wins.
Stoke City enjoyed relative success last year finishing 13th in the League, with impressive home wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and eight other teams. They lost five at home and drew four, including an unlucky draw against the Blues. Chelsea, meanwhile, had a very mediocre away record winning seven, drawing five and losing seven. Ultimately this led to the downfall of Carlo Ancelotti. AVB will prepare the team more thoroughly for these, difficult away fixtures.
Fernando Torres is a major doubt for the Blues having come off in the midweek international, with concussion. Torres had a hospital check up before rejoining his team mates, after the match. I do, however, expect Torres to make the bench. Mikel has picked up a knock but is expected to be fit. Chelsea should start with AVB’s favoured line-up 4-3-3 made up of Cech, behind Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Cole, with a midfield trio of Mikel, Ramires and Lampard and a three-pronged attack of Malouda, Drogba and Anelka. This game could be won from the bench with Benayoun, Kalou and Torres coming on to steal the show.
One concern may be that this Chelsea line-up has a very familiar ring to it and therefore, where is the improvement from our last visit to the Britannia stadium, when we were fortunate to come away with a point? The answer lies with AVB. Our successful pre-season saw us play with higher tempo, quicker passing and a Barcelona-esque desire to win the ball back during transition phases. Chelsea are a very fit team with superb, off the ball, movement. Therein lies the difference. AVB prepares his teams to the ‘Nth’ degree and Chelsea will control the match with ball possession and desire to win.
JT has already labelled this match as a ‘must win’ and I feel our unrivalled first day success will continue with a hard fought 2-0 victory. We will then need to continue this form, with victories, setting up our first major test against Man Utd in September.
The referee on Sunday is Mark Halsey, who will need to be ‘on his game’ in front of the partisan and vociferous locals.