We head oop North this Sunday for a league clash with Blackburn Rovers knowing that the six point gap between Chelsea and top of the table Arsenal needs to be eradicated as soon as possible, by one way and one way only; wins, wins, and more wins. The tricky Christmas and New Year period can often make or break a team’s chances of success in a season, so a trip to the cold, wet, Ewood Park on a Sunday afternoon is not ideal. But it is not an impossible task, especially considering the fact that Mark Hughes’ side have conceded 14 goals in their last five games and not won since the turn of the month. Northern grit is no match for our southern style, as Avram’s attacking football will hopefully show.
We go into the game knowing that a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals is secured, a two-legged tie against Everton, following a convincing win over Liverpool on Wednesday night. Blackburn meanwhile had to play 120 minutes of football before eventually succumbing to Arsenal’s under-12’s. Mark Hughes has hinted at changes for the Chelsea clash, mixing up his weary troops and aiming to plug up Blackburn’s recently sieve-like defence.
Giant defender Christopher Samba is out through suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in his side’s 5-3 defeat at Wigan last weekend. Blackburn must have one of the best physio’s in the game, as they have just the one player on the sidelines, unfortunately for Rovers it’s another defender out, as Andre Ooijer nurses a hamstring injury. At the other end of the pitch, the free-scoring Roque Santa Cruz will need constant attention from our own defence.
Avram Grant is expected to make changes too after the mid-week game. Alex will hopefully return after missing out to witness the birth of his new-born baby girl. Congratulations of course to Mr and Mrs Rodrigo Dias Da Costa, now watch him bag a 40-yard screamer and perform the famous baby-rocking celebration. It could happen! There are still doubts over the fitness-or existence-of Florent Malouda who seems to have disappeared, while Didier Drogba and John Terry are long-term injury doubts. Michael Ballack made a brief but positive return against Liverpool and will be pushing for a start but there are question marks over Andriy Shevchenko, whose goal was set up by Ballack, and John Obi Mikel, who was victim to Peter Crouch’s first lesson in kung-fu and limped off the pitch.
Blackburn held us to a 0-0 draw at the Bridge but we have been more successful in recent seasons at Ewood Park. Two 2-0 wins last season, one in the league and one in the Carling Cup, and of course that pivotal 1-0 victory in 2005 which set us well on our way to the title. A win this Sunday wouldn’t have quite the same effect but the three points are certainly vital at this stage of the season. It would not only be a win, but it would show what we are really made of. A turbulent 2007 is coming to an end, so let’s finish it with a flourish, starting with Blackburn.
Prediction: Attacking football not necessary, just win it by any means! Another 2-0 would follow the form book and be the perfect early Christmas present but I’m sure we’d all take a scrappy 1-0 with a goal coming from, well, anyone!