Without wanting to sound too dramatic about it, yesterday was the start of a twelve day period that will shape the rest of our season. By the evening of January 31st we could be in the League Cup Final, into the 5th round of the FA Cup and eight points ahead of our nearest rivals for the title and a goal difference of at least plus eleven. That’s what the optimist in me believes and hopes.
On the other end of the scale lies the quasi-oblivion, the nightmare we cannot even contemplate. Out of the League Cup, out of the FA Cup and City only two points behind us and Wilfried Bony and Yaya Toure on their way back from the Africa Cup of Nations.
While the last two performances have once again filled us with belief it is going to be far from an easy ride. Between today and the City match Chelsea have a two legged semi-final against a team who has a more than decent record against us in cup competitions while the City players can stay at home with their feet up watching the telly. I can nearly picture Joe Harte with his freshly washed hair sitting in his armchair, puffing away at his pipe drinking a piping hot cup of tea and watching reruns of Dad’s Army while our lads battle the Scouse hoards up at Anfield on a freezing cold night.
In my article last week I expressed my concern about whether Jose’s lack of rotation had had any effect on the performance of the team over the holiday fixtures. I think that the Newcastle and Swansea results confirmed my worst fears. In the sense that once the players got back into the one game a week schedule, form and performances went back to the stellar heights shown in previous fixtures.
It will be interesting to see how Jose’ tackles the Liverpool games and which players he uses. If I were the manager I would field my best eleven and go for broke in the first game in the hope of putting the tie to bed in the first leg. That would give us the opportunity to make changes for the second leg at home and hopefully keep our powder dry for the big game against City.
Jose’ being Jose’, we will go into the tie with confidence supremely high but I confess to a certain amount of trepidation when I hear the words Liverpool, cup semi-final and Jose’ all in one sentence. Even though a decade has passed since that first Champions League semi-final, the trauma of that night at Anfield is still fresh in a lot of people’s mind. As is the second Champions league semi against them a couple of years later. What tends to get lost in the mist of time is the FA Cup semi-final in the year in between.
Although in the end we can consider ourselves unlucky when Joe Cole missed a sitter in injury time, the 2 – 1 defeat against Liverpool was probably Mourinho’s tactical low point of his initial three year stint in charge at the Bridge. Paolo Ferreira for some inexplicable reason was played in midfield with Joe Cole, Damien Duff and Arjen Robben all left on the bench.
One big call Jose’ will have to make in the coming days is who to play in goal for the cup matches. Petr Cech has been his usual reliable, solid self since his recall into the team due to Courtois’s injury. If, as the press is suggesting, Courtois is fit to start against Liverpool does Jose’ stick with Big Pete, who has played all the other League Cup games or does he bring in Courtois? I don’t think that there is one single fan who wouldn’t like Cech to keep his place in goal for all three ties but that would then mean that if chosen, Courtois would go into the Manchester City game not having played for a month, the Tottenham game on New Year’s day being his last appearance.
For loyalty’s sake Jose’ just has to stick with Cech for the Liverpool games and give Courtois a run out in the Bradford game. In a way the semi-final ties are Cech’s by right. He has behaved in the way we all thought he would, that is as the perfect gentleman, when unceremoniously relegated to Courtois’s understudy. He shut up and accepted the situation and played in the previous League Cup rounds. This is no ordinary goalkeeper we are talking about here. This is by far Chelsea’s best and most successful goalie ever, undoubtedly still in the top five worldwide and arguably world number one, at least in my eyes.
So ladies and gentleman sit tight and get ready for action. It promises to be an exciting nail biting couple of weeks which will define the rest of our season. And one last word of advice for our manager – no Jon Obi Mikel if we’re winning 1 – 0.