Football takes a back seat to begin with in this preview, with the tragic news of Frank Lampard’s mother Pat’s passing, after suffering with pneumonia. All our thoughts are with Frank at this time, and I personally would like to extend my condolences to the Lampard family, as well as my gratitude to all of the fans who have posted messages of support, including Liverpool, West Ham, and Manchester United-the visitors to Stamford Bridge on Saturday.While matches like this are always hyperbole-driven and over-hyped, this heartbreaking story puts the game back into perspective, and hopefully Saturday’s meeting will be observed respectfully by both sets of fans and players alike.
Lampard should rightfully sit out the match, which could bring Michael Essien-suspended for the 1-1 draw with Liverpool-back into the starting line-up. Carlo Cudicini is the only injury doubt, so Avram Grant has a near-full squad to choose from, as he looks to dent league leaders Manchester United’s title bid.
United have less time to prepare for this game after their 0-0 draw with Barcelona on Wednesday night. Sturdy centre-back Nemanja Vidic missed the trip to the Nou Camp with a stomach infection, and is also a doubt for the game at the Bridge. He joins the injury-plagued Louis Saha on the sidelines at Old Trafford, with the French striker currently out of contention with a hamstring problem.
Obviously the match has been overshadowed by recent events, but there is still a lot at stake with the Premier League title either heading to Manchester United or Chelsea this season. This will be Avram Grant’s 50th game in charge since he took the reins back in September, and ironically his first match was against the Red Devils. Back then, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side came out on top with a 2-0 win in a game which saw John Mikel Obi sent-off, but with Chelsea on the back of an 18-match unbeaten record in the league, accompanied by the incredible 80-match unbeaten league run at home, the Blues will be more confident of picking up the three points this Saturday.
The last time United won in SW6 was back in April 2002, after we had beaten them 3-0 in Manchester. They got their own back with the same scoreline, goals coming from Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Happier times came back in October 1999, when an early Gustavo Poyet header set up a memorable rout. Even Chris Sutton got on the score sheet, and after Nicky Butt was sent off for United, Poyet got another, Henning Berg scored an own goal, and Jody Morris made it 5-0.
John Terry will be making his 350th appearance for Chelsea on Saturday, and with Lampard seemingly unavailable, his leadership will be even more vital against Manchester United, as he must try to focus his team-mates’ minds on the challenge ahead of them. This could be the moment our season hinges on, and with Liverpool again next Wednesday, it is the second game of three cup finals.
Three league games left, three points behind Manchester United in the table. It’s just another hurdle to jump in the end-of-season sprint at the end of the day, and with a place at the top at stake (albeit a shared place due to United’s superior goal difference), the opportunity is there to be grabbed. Let’s hope it’s the Blues who gain the upper hand.
Prediction: 1-0. For Frank.