After proving our title ambitions with that brilliant turnaround against Arsenal last Sunday, it’s now Middlesbrough’s turn to attempt to de-rail us at the Bridge this weekend. Having proved ourselves against the big boys, it is worth noting that wins against the Boro’s of this World are also worth three points, and therefore just as valuable. A slip-up now would be extremely costly, and practically undo all the hard work put in to the title challenge so far, so another impressive performance will be required in order to hurdle Gareth Southgate’s side and continue our charge towards glory.Avram Grant has been on the charm offensive ahead of this game, winning a few friends in the process with his alleged dry humour and gutsy approach to the speculation which surrounds him. He may be without some of his club allies however, with question marks hanging over a few members of the ‘spine’ of the team. Petr Cech is still doubtful with an ankle injury picked up at the beginning of the month, while Frank Lampard is still struggling with illness, which ruled him out of the England side which lost 1-0 in mid-week. John Terry came off at half-time in that game with a hamstring strain, however he is expected to be fit for the visit from Middlesbrough. International weeks are always bothersome to the Blues, with thirteen players involved in match action this time, and more travelling with their countries, possibly giving Grant a selection headache.
Boro themselves had five players who picked up caps, including Stewart Downing who replaced Joe Cole at half-time in the England game and showed a fair amount of creativity. Ex-Blue Robert Huth was in the Germany squad, however, he had to pull out of his country’s friendly with Switzerland as his injury problems persisted once again. This time around he suffered an inflamed joint in his foot, which makes him very doubtful to play in Sunday’s game. Boro may also miss fellow defender Luke Young, while there are also worries over tenacious midfielder Lee Cattermole and record signing Afonso Alves, who so far has struggled with fitness since his switch from Dutch side Heerenveen. Mido and Fabio Rochemback are also out through suspension.
With the North-East side somewhat of a bogey side to us in recent years, it was pleasing to see a 2-0 win for the Blues the last time we met Boro, back in October. An 8th minute Didier Drogba goal was eclipsed by a second-half free-kick rocket from centre-back Alex, which almost travelled at the speed of sound and put him in serious contention for goal of the season.
Despite the dodgy away form at the Riverside, we haven’t lost to Boro in London since March 1975, and with our incredible home record still standing despite a near-relinquishing against Arsenal last weekend, we should really take another step towards Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table. Boro may make it tough, but with selection problems and inconsistency a feature of their season so far, a home win looks the most likely result. Let’s hope so!
Prediction: As I said, Boro haven’t got luck on their side right now and we should consign them to defeat. I’m going for a repeat of the 1997 FA Cup Final, and a 2-0 win for the Blues. Now who’s going to score inside 42 seconds this time around?