Chelsea follow their New Year’s Day victory at Anfield with a home clash with Middlesbrough on Tuesday. Jose Mourinho’s squad has so far accumulated maximum points from the festive season, and a win against Steve McClaren’s side would complete a rare full house from Chelsea’s four fixtures at Christmas and New Year.
The Blues’ squad has dealt admirably thus far with the string of minor injuries that have laid off the likes of Ricardo Carvalho and Wayne Bridge, and Boro’ represent the final hurdle before the manager will be able to rest key players in the FA Cup tie with Scunthorpe. Taking three points from Boro’ will not be as straight forward as in years gone by however.
Didier Drogba’s goal separated the sides at the Riverside Stadium in September, in a game that Chelsea were somewhat fortunate to win. McClaren has instilled a spirit in his side that has since seen them climb to fifth in the Premiership, ahead of the likes of Newcastle and Liverpool. This character has been complimented by some shrewd additions to the squad, not least that of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who will on Monday return to Stamford Bridge for the first time since he left the club last summer.
Another player prominent in Boro’s recent success has been Stewart Downing. The young left-winger has been receiving rave reviews of late and many onlookers believe him to be the future solution to the national side’s left sided problems.
Chelsea may see a degree of rotation for this match following their exertions at Liverpool. Joe Cole is once again banging on the door for a starting berth following his second goal in a week. Mourinho may choose to rest either Damien Duff of Arjen Robben, though Tiago’s nervy performance at Anfield may see him dropped to the bench.
Wayne Bridge should be fit enough to return to action by Monday, and this may see him slot in at left-back with Paolo Ferreira reverting to his preferred right-sided berth. This will benefit the Chelsea defence, since despite featuring in two clean sheets, Glen Johnson has not found the form he displayed in his first season in West London of late.
Another clean sheet will be the order of the day from Mourinho, and mark Viduka’s fitness concerns may help Chelsea’s cause. In any case, keeping Joseph Desire Job and Hasselbaink quiet should provide John Terry and William Gallas with a busy afternoon. Stamford Bridge has become a fortress for the Blues of late however, and it is hard to see the Riversider’s breaching the defences.