Chelsea’s final friendly of the pre-season campaign takes place in Glasgow this Saturday against Rangers. Whilst the fans have always seemed to get on famously, forming two-thirds of the Blues Brothers triumvirate, alongside Northern Ireland’s Linfield, Andre will not be looking for sentiments or companionship at Ibrox as things start to get serious with only a week to go until the Premiership campaign begins in earnest.
Rangers on the other hand are already around two weeks into their campaign and have postponed their scheduled game against Kilmarnock to face us, in similar fashion to how their fierce rivals Celtic chose to compete in the Dublin Cup last weekend. The Gers first competitive victory of 2011/02 came courtesy of a 2-0 victory over St Johnstone last Saturday, after a shaky start which included a 1-1 draw with Hearts and a 1-0 home defeat to Malmo in the Champions League 3rd qualifying round 1st leg. The Scottish Champions have like us this summer, albeit for different reasons, changed manager. Walter Smith, who bowed out with his third SPL title in a row, much to the discontent of their foes from Parkhead, has been replaced at the helm by his assistant and former player of 581 appearances Ally McCoist, who had been touted to take the hot seat for quite some time. It remains to be seen whether Ally can follow up Walter’s recent success; he will hope that new signings Lee Wallace, Dorin Goian and Juanma Ortiz play their part in producing another successful season.
There is no doubt the game will be competitive, as it was when we lasted travelled up to Scotland in August 2007 when we were defeated 2-0, with Filip Sebo and Nacho Novo hitting the target on that occasion. McCoist has certainly been full of praise for our Blue boys in the run up to this encounter, stating “they are a fantastic club and their squad is packed with world class players so I have no doubt this game will capture the imagination of our supporters.”
His opposite number, Andre Villas-Boas, will aim to give players more match time, while desperately seeking to get his tactics and line up thought up ahead of our visit to Stoke on Sunday the 13th. Whilst much of our squad impressed on the tour of Asia in which we returned home as Asia Cup winners, there still seems to be work to do, with many still proclaiming that our squad isn’t strong enough to win the title and needs reinforcements, particularly a playmaker and a winger. Those reinforcements aren’t so likely until some of the deadwood of the squad is sold, as the club needs to comply to UEFA’s 25 man squad rules. The rule is likely to see more homegrown and English talent breakthrough, and the performances of Josh McEachran, Daniel Sturridge, Billy Clifford and Nat Chalobah have been appeasing over the past couple of months. Josh is now seemingly pushing for a first team berth, but there is still a question mark over whether he’ll go on loan, with Fabio Capello calling for him to achieve regular first-team football this season. It now seems unlikely Sturridge will again go on loan, but he is of course suspended at the start of the season after a red card for Bolton in the last game of last season, so he may not be picked for this encounter.
Yuri Zhirkov looks to seemingly being the first to leave the Bridge with a £13m move home to rich Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala looking likely over the next few days. Yuri has always been a squad player and never quite fitted in or been given a starring role, but we wish him all the best for the future. It is dubious as to whether many others will follow him out of the door before the transfer window slams shut.
Andre will hope to blood Brazilians Ramiers and Luiz into the team after their forays for the national team, although Luiz may now find it difficult to disintegrate the central defensive partnership of Terry and Ivanovic, which has worked so well.
With only a week until the season starts, anticipation and excitement has reached fever pitch. Many pundits are predicting a close three horse race between us and the two Manchester clubs, who have both performed impeccably over pre-season. Talk of Arsenal and Liverpool mounting a substantial title challenge has tailed off slightly with poor results. Arsenal failed to win their own trophy, drawing with both Boca Juniors and New York Red Bulls, and were booed off but that’s nothing compared to Liverpool’s anguish of successive 3-0 defeats to Hull and Galatasaray and a 3-3 draw with a weak Valarenga side.
Do pre-season results really matter? On our current form, in which we have won every game with our 100% clean sheet record still intact, we would hope so. Let’s hope we continue our winning streak through this weekend and as the season starts, as we look to start in a flourish as we did last August.
Enjoy the game.