Please, for just one weekend, let‘s just have it easy. I know it may be too much to ask right now but just one Saturday. It can’t be that hard to do, we used to do it all the time. Come on, just let this FA Cup tie against Ipswich Town be a routine win with no drama, no shocks, no alarms and no surprises. As the Chelsea soap opera continues on from last weekend’s cliff-hanger finish against Stoke, let’s just have the equivalent of a clip show, you know when the writers get lazy and show the ‘best bits’ instead of penning a whole new script. We could have a Lampard long-ranger, a display of Cech’s commanding presence, and of course now a Stoch slalom through a bewildered defence. All coming to a head with a Chelsea win. That seems a lot easier than trying to explain what happened in last week’s show anyway.
A morale-boosting injury-time victory over Stoke alleviates the pressure slightly on Luis Felipe Scolari and his squad, but testing games will come thick and fast from now until the end of May. Refreshingly, the goal we conceded against the Potters didn’t come from a set-piece which shows some signs of improvement from the past few weeks. Ok, so it did come from a set-piece specialist, but Rory Delap was able to waltz through our defence without needing to use his trebuchet arms. Hang on, is that a good thing after all?
With defensive frailties in existence in one guise or another you would look towards the strongest, most influential centre-back we have to sort things out and lead by example. But John Terry’s rumoured to be out injured with a recurrence of his back injury. So we’re left with Alex unless Scolari suddenly has an epiphany and realises that he has been watching a different Alex to the rest of us, and figures out that he needs to drop the clumsy giant. Branislav Ivanovic and Michael Mancienne are waiting in the wings, with Ricardo Carvalho likely to start in the other centre-back berth. Young winger and breath of fresh air Stoch may be in line for a full debut while ageing striker and overall bad egg Didier Drogba returns to the squad following a couple of games out with a bruised ego.
There are still doubts over Deco while Joe Cole and Michael Essien are long-term injury victims. John Obi Mikel is suspended after picking up too many yellow cards, while one more caution each for Terry and José Bosingwa will see them suffer the same consequences and miss the Liverpool game against Anfield next Sunday.
Championship side Ipswich Town will be looking to emulate their lower league counterparts Southend United who left Stamford Bridge with a draw a couple of weeks ago in the FA Cup third round. The Tractor Boys currently sit 11th in the second tier of English league football, but they do boast a few famous names in their ranks. Goalkeeper Richard Wright has played in the Premier League for Arsenal, Everton and West Ham while Jamaican striker Kevin Lisbie once scored an 88th minute winner for Charlton Athletic at the Bridge. Moritz Volz – on loan from Fulham – scored the Premier League’s 15,000th goal against Chelsea in 2006, while portly Spanish midfielder Ivan Campo spent six years at Bolton Wanderers before leaving for Ipswich in 2008. However, the latter two players miss the Chelsea tie with injury.
Ipswich can call upon defender David Wright who is returning from injury while there will be a late check on Ben Thatcher who is suffering from a virus. Intriguingly, Ipswich boss Jim Magilton is considering calling up 15-year-old striker Connor Wickham to the matchday squad after watching the youngster bag a hat-trick in a mid-week FA Youth Cup tie. Pablo Counago, Lisbie, Jon Stead and Owen Garvan are all tied on six goals in terms of league games, but Counago leads the overall scoring charts on eight. Ipswich made it through into the fourth round by turning over Chesterfield 3-0, while their last game was an emphatic 4-1 away win over Crystal Palace last weekend.
The last time we lost against Ipswich was back in August 1993, though they haven’t won at Stamford Bridge since May 1979. The last time we played Ipswich was at Portman Road in the 2001/02 season which ended in the Tractor Boys suffering relegation from the Premiership. A 0-0 draw in Ipswich followed a narrow 2-1 win earlier in the season in SW6, with a late Sam Dalla Bona goal the difference between the two sides. In 1998 however, it took a little more to separate Chelsea and Ipswich. A League Cup quarter-final finished 2-2 in normal time, and with no further goals in extra-time the game went to penalties. Chelsea went on to win 4-1, and eventually win the League Cup, but were doomed to fail in every subsequent shoot-out in competitive fixtures until the end of time. Probably.
Hopefully that’s the only time the word ‘fail’ is associated with this game, as we are supposedly back on track following the narrow win over Stoke last weekend. Team spirit is high, the lads are all pulling together, and wins are achievable again. But the proof will be on the pitch on Saturday afternoon.