Chelsea head north to face Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon at Ewood Park. Our previous four away games have seen us face teams we couldn’t beat on their own patch last season and Saturday’s game is no different. In March we laboured to a 1-1 draw which at the time signaled the end of the Blues’ title bid for many. This season we have already made up six points on games at Wigan, West Ham and Aston Villa from the last campaign and for a chance to make that eight Chelsea will need to be at the very least close to their best to halt a strong and effective Rovers outfit.
Chelsea’s success this season has been built on a mix of opulent attacking football and a defensive solidarity reminiscent of the one enjoyed by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. We have only conceded two league goals this season, namely a wonderful lob from Scott Parker and a devastating finish from Carlos Tevez, but we have still afforded opposition teams chances – Wolves racked up more shots than us last week; the previous week saw Nigel Reo-Coker miss a glorious opportunity at the death, and how different might the Arsenal game have been if Laurent Koscielny hadn’t inexplicably headed over from a yard out? Whilst the clean sheets and the goals against column look impressive, a sense that we might still implode defensively, particularly away from the Bridge, pervades.
One reason for our opponents’ impotence in front of goal is down to Petr Cech. The Czech keeper hasn’t so much returned to form – he never lost it – but I think it’s now fair to say he’s at the very top of his game, and his handling skills will no doubt come in very handy once again against crossing, long-ball hitting Blackburn. Rovers have enjoyed an indifferent start to the campaign. They have only won two games, at home to Everton and at Blackpool, but in all their games there has only been one goal in it; 2-1 defeats to Birmingham, Arsenal and most recently Liverpool, and a 1-0 defeat at Stoke suggest all their games have been tight. Sam Allardyce’s teams don’t buckle easily and only with a two-goal advantage would any Chelsea supporter dare to sit comfortably with proceedings. In March Chelsea dominated and deservedly led by a single goal, but were worn down by a resolute Rovers in the second half and could only manage a score draw.
Allardyce favours a 4-5-1 formation with Croatian Nikola Kalinic leading the line, supported out wide by Morten Gamst Pedersen and El-Hadji Diouf. David Dunn started Sunday’s game at Anfield and can be expected to the side’s chief creator, with the lanky Nzonzi and Brett Emerton attempting to stop the Blues’ midfield prospering. One interesting clash could be Didier Drogba’s against young England under-21 centre-back Phil Jones, who coped admirably with the Ivorian in his first ever Premier League game in March. Jones has gone on to establish himself with club and country since. Chelsea could well name an unchanged starting eleven, although Carlo Ancelotti hinted that Frank Lampard could feature in the matchday squad for the first time since August.
Elsewhere in the league Arsenal host West Ham, Manchester City travel to Wolves whilst Manchester United host Spurs. If Chelsea are to maintain a five point advantage at the league’s summit, they must win on Saturday. Perhaps a 1-0 win will do it – Chelsea haven’t won by that score away from home for over eighteen months. With a trip to Liverpool next Sunday the opportunity to pick up six points at relegation-threatened clubs will hopefully be too good to pass up for the champions.