While the defeat at Villa has not quite left the memory yet, the 4-0 thumping of Athletico Madrid on Wednesday night helped to quieten the doom mongers and remind the critics that, hey, we can play a bit sometimes. With Ricardo ‘marking? Nah, it’s not for me’ Carvalho seemingly dropped and replaced by Branislav ‘solid’ Ivanovic for the Champions League game, we looked a lot more assured and steady at the back. Superb timing then, as Saturday’s visitors to the Bridge are Blackburn Rovers, bossed by Sam Allardyce, a man infamous for using physicality and strength in his sides. So will the soft-centred Blues crumble in the face of Jason Roberts et al? Or will it be a John Terry-led display of defensive capability?
A pre-match certainty is the fact that Blackburn’s young, impressive target man will be missing from the starting line-up. Franco di Santo – you may have heard of him – will remain on the sidelines as per the terms of his loan agreement, and he has also admitted that he will be cheering on his adopted side on Saturday. Di Santo said, diplomatically: “At this moment in time, I wish that Blackburn beat Chelsea. Now, I play for Blackburn and so I hope that Blackburn do better than Chelsea. Now – I’m Blackburn, in January – maybe I’m Chelsea!”
And they say that football fans are fickle.
Rovers have a couple of injury doubts, with Vincenzo Grella and Steven Reid possibly missing out on Saturday. 13th placed Blackburn have lost all three away games in the league so far this season, and they have not won on their travels in the Premier League since 11th March, as they edged past Fulham 2-1 with goals from El Hadji Diouf and Roberts. David Dunn currently leads their scoring chart, with four goals in the league, and the injury-prone midfielder has been given a new lease of life in a roaming midfield position just behind the target man.
Chelsea have been big winners following Champions League games so far this season. After the 1-0 win over Porto on matchday one, Spurs were on the receiving end of a 3-0 rout, while the narrow victory against APOEL was followed up by a 2-0 win against Liverpool. Chelsea have also not conceded a home goal since Hull’s opener on the first day of the season.
Didier Drogba returns to the squad after missing out on Wednesday following his football phone-in style rant and subsequent European suspension, while there are doubts over the fitness of José Bosingwa, Alex, and John Obi Mikel – all of whom also did not feature against Athletico.
Chelsea have not lost against Blackburn since May 2006, when a solitary Reid goal sealed the points for Rovers, against a Blues side who were already Champions. Chelsea do have a great record against Blackburn however, winning eight of the last ten games in all competitions. The last meeting at Stamford Bridge saw an early Florent Malouda goal added to in the second-half by Nicolas Anelka at the end of May of this year.
Alan Wiley is the man in the middle this Saturday, and the Staffordshire ref has already overseen a Chelsea win this season, as he reffed our opening day win over Hull. In his ten games so far this season he has shown at least three yellow cards on nine separate occasions, while also brandishing the red three times, with two in his last two games. With Michael Essien reverting back to leg-breaker mode on Wednesday, Wiley may have already set his sights on the Ghanaian midfielder.
A big mention should go out to John Terry, who is set to make his 400th start in a Chelsea shirt. If he helps to keep a clean sheet then all the better.
With defensive frailties exposed at Villa Park, the evening kick-off at the Bridge on Saturday should be our opportunity to iron out the mistakes and claim a comfortable victory. Of course, that probably won’t happen and we will make hard work of it. It won’t be easy, but we have the quality to win it and silence the Blackburn fans – di Santo included – just to spoil their long journey home.
With Liverpool and Manchester United facing off the day after, it is a chance to shake things up at the top. We could see an entertaining game in the offing, with Drogba doing his thing at one end and the defence not doing theirs at the other. Or, and more preferably, it will be reminiscent of Wednesday’s win, with goals aplenty (at their end) and memories of winning 4-0 every week will come flooding back.