Portsmouth play host to Chelsea in what is our second match of the Christmas period, a mere two days after the last one. Mourinho has predicted goals from both teams on the basis of fatigue, and both are suffering from niggling injuries to key areas. The similarities continue further, both teams recording 1-0 wins in their last game, all be it Portsmouth in an away fixture to Palace. The home crowd is sure to make a lot of noise and this is a difficult match be played at an awkward time.
The last match at Fratton Park involved title rivals Arsenal scrapping a 1-0 win, despite Pompey spurning a number of glorious chances. Fuller was the biggest culprit missing two clear chances and only an unlikely goal from Campbell saved the Gooner’s blushes, as Arsenal failed to find another gear (a feature available to Chelsea with the flick of a switch on past performances). Yakubu came off the bench after recovering from an injury layoff and followed that by starting the last game, so is sure to be nearing full match fitness, where he should start up front on his own. He represents a genuine threat, powerful and a talented striker. One of the impressive performers, goal celebrations and all, Lua Lua is out after having an operation on a troublesome ear infection. This is clearly a boost as he has terrorised full backs playing on the right flank, supporting the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation. Hislop should start in goal as he did against Palace, the other keeper, Jamie Ashdown, who deputised in Hislop’s absence through injury, has picked up a groin strain of his own. Key defenders Stefanovic and penalty taker Unsworth are also ruled out injured.
We have defensive worries of our own with Huth definitely out, Carvalho returning rapidly from a broken toe, Gallas picking up and ankle injury and Terry receiving a battering against Villa; we are not in ideal shape. A big concern in the first half of the Villa game was an accidental clash between Terry and Gallas. Gallas finished the worse off landing very heavily, the thud echoing around the Matthew Harding Lower and leaving the pitch, dazed, with the help of physio Mike Banks. Second half he turned his ankle, but reports are it is not as bad as first feared. He trained on Monday afternoon and is in the 18-man squad that travelled down to Portsmouth last night. Terry after colliding with Gallas, also suffered from an aerial challenge with Angel, from which he was left tentatively feeling his back, and yet another collision with a team mate, this time Petr Cech after a break down in communication in the box.
Tiago played the whole match, along with the other midfielders, Makelele and Lampard in the three, but Mourinho has been known to rotate the players who do not quite form the spine. Tiago is starting to make the position his own, but there is a good chance that fit again Smertin will come in, especially given his successful season at Portsmouth last year, although Mourinho has already shown he is not one for sentiment. All of the front three were bought off in the last game, but in Robben’s case only the final couple of minutes. The question is whether Eidur will continue upfront or Drogba be given a chance from the start? Eidur came off with about 30 minutes left so fitness shouldn’t be the issue; it’s all down to who Mourinho believes is the striker for the job.
One man sure to get a lot of abuse is former Southampton player, Wayne Bridge. In the wake of last season’s goal celebration against Portsmouth he is even less likely to gain the admiration of the home fans. If he scores again and with the excessive clamping down on celebrations, he has to be careful not to overstep the line. Another defender missing through suspension really doesn’t bode well given our current state.
The importance is that we do not drop points; a win is a win, no matter what the winning score or performance. Arsenal are fortunate in that they get an extra days rest, playing on Wednesday, but do have to face a tough trip up North (comments Sir Alex?), against an unpredictable Newcastle team, either the awful or the reasonable, which turns up we will see on the day. We find ourselves in the envious position where we can listen to Wenger’s advice and only concern ourselves with the results in our matches, the chasers cannot despite what they may try and make out. Three points please.
Kick off is at 3 o’clock.
Referee: Alan Wiley, Burntwood.
Team Prediction: Cech, Ferreira, Terry, Carvalho, Bridge, Makelele, Smertin, Lampard, Robben, Duff and Drogba.
Score Prediction: 1-0 – Bridge to score and silence the crowd.