So that was Coventry. Hmm. Some things can make you forget where you are, and the strange atmosphere surrounding the Ricoh Arena is surely one of them. First of all, there was sun. In the Midlands. No, seriously. Then we were treated to a Ferris Bueller-esque dance troupe of cheerleaders jigging away to Twist and Shout before an operatic ‘Jerusalem’ was belted out by a blonde in the centre circle. It almost put our odd soprano version of ‘Blue is the Colour’ to shame!
Then there was Alex’s goal in the second-half of the game, a composed finish following a lung-busting run which saw the Brazilian eat up the entire pitch to get into the opposition box. By Alex. No, seriously. I started to think, is Coventry the most magical place on earth? And then came the coins and beer from the ape-like Sky Blue fans, and my senses all came flooding back to me. It’s only Coventry, no more, no less, and magic doesn’t exist. Still doesn’t explain Alex’s goal though…
But moving on from that away day, and the fixture list has thrown up the perfect antidote to a Saturday in Coventry, with Juventus and Turin waiting for the Blues. We head to the classy Italian city for the second-leg of the Champions League first knockout stage, having beaten Claudio Ranieri’s La Vecchia Signora 1-0 at the Bridge courtesy of a Didier Drogba strike two weeks ago.
Since playing us in that game, Tiago et al haven’t exactly set the world alight. A 1-0 home win over Napoli was followed up by a 2-1 away defeat against Lazio in the Coppa Italia, with their latest result a 1-0 derby win over city rivals Torino with Giorgio Chiellini’s 81st minute goal securing the points for Juve. They still sit in second place in Serie A, seven points behind José Mourinho’s Inter Milan.
Juventus will be without Momo Sissoko – he of Liverpool fame and a great player until he has the ball – after fracturing a metatarsal against Torino, and he could be joined on the sidelines by Mauro Camoranesi, who fractured a rib against Chelsea at the Bridge.
The aforementioned ‘Coventry experience’ was also notable for a couple of timely returns to the Chelsea squad. Ricardo Carvalho – who has been missing for what seems to be a few decades due to a hamstring injury – was part of the substitutes bench, while Michael Essien – the messiah, the saviour and a thoroughly nice chap – went one better than the Portuguese centre-back and made it onto the pitch and off again – thankfully unscathed – in the second half. The inspirational Ghanaian midfielder may even be in line for a shock start against Juventus, possibly taking the place of either Michael Ballack or John Mikel Obi.
Nicolas Anelka is likely to miss out with a foot injury which has seen him absent from the last couple of games, but Didier Drogba’s return to form has covered up the Frenchman’s absence and restored a lot of fans’ faith in the histrionic Ivorian. Additionally, John Terry is one yellow card away from a one game suspension.
Unbeaten under Guus Hiddink and turning in professional, ‘just enough’, performances, some of the old steel and substance is returning to the Blues’ ranks day by day. Petr Cech is looking unbeatable again, Terry is almost back to his best – now with added stepovers – while Frank Lampard continues to act as the heartbeat in the middle of the pitch. Ranieri will again be looking to put one over on Chelsea, and perhaps messrs Abramovich and Kenyon, and will be aided by the noisy Juventus fans and the intimidating nature of an Italian stadium.
But believe in Guus, and believe in the Blues. We can do this.