Chelsea return to league action against Swansea City on Saturday. After beating Wolves with notable absentees, expect the usual suspects to return to the first eleven here.
Swansea have experienced a real upturn in form since appointing our ex development squad and assistant manager Paul Clement. A 2-1 defeat away at Manchester City their only loss in four, with wins either side of that over Southampton, and most recently 2-0 over Leicester City. They have also recorded a famous 2-3 win over Liverpool at Anfield since his arrival. Well respected for his work at Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti rated him extremely highly, taking him with him as his assistant everywhere after they worked together at Chelsea. This has resulted in coaching experience gained at Real Madrid, PSG, and Bayern Munich. Clement has made the swans more solid defensively, with a back line of Naughton, Fernandez, Mawson, and the impressive Swedish international left back Olsson. He has also switched shape; using a 4-3-3 system, with ex Chelsea man Cork offering steel and a good range of passing in midfield. Key to there attack is Gylfi Sigurdsson. A demon from set pieces, he regularly pops up with goals from open play as well, and can provide the killer ball in the final third. He has eight goals and eight assists in the league so far this season. Spanish forward Fernando Llorente took time to adapt, but is looking like the superb signing that anyone who saw him playing for Juventus and Atletico Madrid thought he would be. A real danger in the air, his hold up play can also provide chances for Sigurdsson. This is likely to be a tough test.
Conte rested the whole back three and our usual midfield pairing of Kante and Matic against Wolves, but all five regulars are highly likely to return. Tracking Sigurdsson when he attempts to drop into the space in front of our defence will be a key defensive mission. It may require Azpilicueta or Cahill to come out of the back three to do this, especially if Kante and Matic end up pressing Cork and Fer in the middle. At the other end, Swansea are likely to have the same problem, but twofold, with both Hazard and Pedro dropping in. Cork may have his hands full, pinning an extra midfielder deep with sustained possession and key movement in these areas off the ball could swing the balance of the play in our favour. As has been demonstrated notably at Sunderland, as well as at home to Hull, and most recently in the second half at Burnley in our last league fixture, it has not always been easy for us to break down deep lying sides. Swansea have found the net in their last four fixtures though, including at the Etihad against Manchester City, as well as netting four in their last two trips to Stamford Bridge, and I don’t expect Clement to bring them here and be content to sit deep with two banks all match. At least I hope he won’t anyway, as catching them in transition is one of our best chances of scoring. Much will depend on the abilities of Cork, Fer, and Carroll to deal with defensive duties in front of their backline, and also how Clement sets them up to deal with our wing-backs. Will Dyer and Sigurdsson track Moses and Alonso consistently? It only needs one lapse in concentration to be punished.
Swansea drew at Stamford Bridge last season, 2-2. This was the first point they have gained at Stamford Bridge. Having said that, Chelsea are three without a win against Swansea. Our last meeting was also 2-2, at the Liberty stadium earlier this season, but arguably we should have put this to bed long before a catalogue of errors ended in us throwing a two goal lead away. Costa scored both our goals there, and he loves scoring against the Welsh side. He has seven in four appearances against them, and an astonishing strike rate of 1.75 goals a match versus Swansea. Not a bad bet for first scorer here.
The last three times we have dropped points in the premier league this season (against Arsenal, Tottenham, and Liverpool) We have bounced straight back with a win. After drawing last time out in the league at Burnley, lets hope we can continue that pattern.