England’s captain once again dominates the back pages, but thankfully we all have something much more important to worry about. The new fixture list has been released and although it’s only the “first draft” (I’m sure Sky will have their say as to which Manchester United matches they’d like to be played on a Monday evening) it’s all we have to go on at the moment, So… a glance at the fun and games that lie in store for the Blues in 2003-4.
First up: oh, the irony. We finished last year playing Liverpool at home, and we begin this one at Anfield. As some of us no doubt remember, this was the 2002 fixture immediately following our capitulation to Viking Stavanger, and despite heroic efforts in midfield and an outstanding performance from William Gallas we went down 1-0 after a Heskey shot against the post fell neatly for Michael Owen less than a minute before the whistle. Let’s hope that the Champion’s League provides more motivation for us than UEFA does for the Scousers. The weekend after, we entertain Leicester at the Bridge. My personal least favourite team in the entire football League, even without Robbie Savage, will hopefully still be struggling to adjust to Premiership status. Let’s hope a 5-0 pummelling will get their season off to a really crappy start.
We don’t see the Gooners until the middle of October, when we visit Highbury. An agonising game last term, we went 3-0 down before the team woke up, and Carlo will no doubt be keeping a close eye on Bergkamp after the fluke own goal he forced off of Marcel in the 8th minute. A win here should set us up for yet another pounding of Man City the week after.
November sees a series of potentially tricky fixtures. We start the month at Goodison Park, with Everton no doubt hoping to avenge the lessons in football we gave them in 2002-3. Then home to Newcastle, a 3-0 romp last year, followed by a trip to St Mary’s and then our first chance of the season to get to grips with the champions as we play them at the Bridge. A real game of 2 halves last season, enlivened by a blinder from Bolo and (ok, I admit it) another from Beckham. We’ll wait to see whether the Ronaldinho rumours are true before we discuss this one properly, I think.
The run-up to Christmas usually sees me turning out the pockets in old pairs of jeans, desperately trying to pull together enough change to find the cash for presents and the odd match ticket, although I doubt I’ll be able to afford the trip up to Leeds on the 6th, British Rail prices being what they are. The first West London derby comes 5 days before Christmas and we’ll certainly be aiming to pick up a few points from these after the shared honours of last season. And right after Christmas we welcome new boys Portsmouth to the Bridge. I saw some speculation today concerning a possible move by Harry Redknapp for Bosnich once his ban is up in September. I can think of no finer way of welcoming the Aussie powder monkey back to Chelsea than by sticking 4 or 5 past him.
In the New Year we welcome Liverpool to SW6 on the 7th, , and will be hoping that Heskey is fully fit and starts that encounter. A chance to avenge the 3-2 loss at Blackburn comes at the end of January, and straight after that is the home game to Charlton, off whom we took all 6 points last time round.
April is the cruellest month, according to TS Eliot, and we have a packed fixture list for it after the relative quiet (!) of March and the Champion’s League matches. Tottenham away, Boro at home, Villa away, Everton at home and then Newcastle away. We only took 7 points out of a possible 15 from these matches last year, losing at St James’ and Villa Park and squeezing a draw at the Lane, so plenty of room for improvement there. And the season ends with a visit from Leeds, following a trip to Old Trafford the preceding week.
Some interesting games, as always, with the added spice of top-class European football to keep us going. I’ll be hoping to exorcise some unpleasant memories of going down 2-0 at home to Leicester a few seasons ago, and keeping a weather eye on who United sign to replace their popstar. Here’s to a successful season for the Blues: 30 goals for Eidur, 25 for Franco, 15 for Frank, yet more gravity-defying genius from Carlo and some scorching runs from the Gronk (with JT, William and Marcel maintaining their justified reputation as the finest set of defenders in the League). Personally, new signings or no new signings, I can’t wait.