With the football world thrown into relative hysteria this week following the shock return of Kevin Keegan, it may come as some surprise that there are actually one or two games of football to be played this weekend. For Chelsea, a trip to England’s second city is on the horizon, with a potentially tricky away game against Birmingham on Saturday afternoon. While matches against Birmingham’s fierce rivals Aston Villa rarely bear fruit for Chelsea, the last time the Blues beat, well, the Blues, was way back in 1980, when Birmingham came out on top in a 5-1 win.
While Alex McCleish has certainly given Birmingham a fresh lease of life since joining the relegation candidates, a win like that would only happen again in his dreams. But then again, with Keegan rolling back the years to return to Newcastle, he has proved that anything can happen in football!Avram Grant will be looking to do what he does best though, and turn the predictable result into the possible result. He has kept the side winning over the past few weeks, and there could be a surprise return to help him out, with Frank Lampard reportedly nearing full fitness again and perhaps ready for a place in the match day squad. While Andriy Shevchenko and John Terry still appear to be unavailable for selection, there could be a first start for new signing Nicolas Anelka who looked lively in a substitute role against Tottenham last weekend. Fellow newcomer Branislav Ivanovic is unlikely to feature however, as the defender is lacking match fitness.
Birmingham may also call on some new faces for the game, with McLeish strengthening his squad in the past few days. As well as signing Scottish left-back David Murphy from Hibernian, he is just waiting to cross the ‘t’s’ and dot the ‘i’s’ to complete a deal for Everton forward and fellow Scot James McFadden, scorer of several sensational goals for both club and country. They both could join up with the squad in time for the game and indeed feature at some point. Both men would be a boost to Birmingham, who, as expected, have struggled somewhat this season. Sitting in 16th place in the Premier League table, they are only out of the relegation places as their goal difference is not as bad as the teams below them. However, a draw against Arsenal last weekend at the Emirates Stadium will have given them renewed hope ahead of their meeting with our lads, and McCleish will be looking for more of the same out of his boys.
He will also perhaps expect a similar performance to what we saw on the opening weekend of the season. Birmingham came to Stamford Bridge and almost performed a major upset in a thrilling game. Ex-Chelsea striker Mikael Forssell scored a shock opener before Claudio Pizarro and Florent Malouda bagged one each to put us back in front. However, there was a further twist as a thunderbolt from Olivier Kapo levelled the scores, but in the end we were too strong for Birmingham as Michael Essien bagged the winner in the second-half.
Last time we played at St.Andrews however, it was a completely different story. An April Fools Day encounter in 2006 saw Chelsea end up as the mugs, with a resilient Birmingham backline display helped out by a bumbling Chelsea frontline, resulting in a disappointing 0-0 draw.
With both teams needing a result, Birmingham may open up and go for broke to see if they can get anything out of us. After holding Arsenal last weekend, they may take a while to break down if their defensive display is anything like that, but there is further good news for Chelsea which I have saved for the end of the preview. The referee for the game is the legendary Rob Styles. That’s right, Mr “dodgy penalty” Styles.
Let’s hope we don’t need him this time around though!
Prediction: A battling 2-0 win with the second goal coming late on. An Anelka brace perhaps?