After our narrow defeat to last year’s Champions, Manchester City at the Etihad last Saturday, and our fizzing meeting against the iconic Liverpool FC at Anfield on Wednesday night, at which we came out victorious, and with a degree of style at 3-1, in a tie made bitter/sweet against our previous Manager BR, this Saturday we get to entertain the current leaders of the PL, the reigning Champions League holders and modern perennial winners Chelsea FC at our very own Liberty Stadium.
Can I recommend taking a deep breath here – this, after all, is the exalted company we keep nowadays, and with no disrespect, it makes (for many SCFC fans) all those chilly and wet nights spent at Kidderminster, Rochdale, Torquay et al all seem worthwhile. It’s all about perspective, and whilst I’d hate to be accused of being a little precious, we also must realise that it’s where our terrific Club deserves to be, so let’s just enjoy the ride as we fight to retain our current status. That, unsurprisingly, is that of a Club that plays good football, and is where it is on merit, both on and off the field. Just be proud.
That Liverpool Cup Tie, of course, was at least not any sort of threat in the physical sense, since Chelsea, just like us, had their own tough tie at Home to Manchester Utd again, so both teams come into this game having rotated (to a greater or lesser degree), and having to deal with their third game in a week.
Our team at that game last night was this – and we’ll come back to it later…………Tremmel, Tiendalli, Williams, Flores, Richards, Britton, de Guzman, Ki, Dyer, Hernandez, Michu.
The two ties turned out with similar outcomes (wins for us both), and neither will be sadder than the other.
Chelsea’s line up looked like this……….Cech (c); Azpilicueta, Cahill, D Luiz, Bertrand; Romeu, Mikel; Moses, Mata, Piazon; Sturridge.
Anyway, back to Saturday.
It’s been great both last year (and continues to be this) to entertain teams of this stature at the Liberty. Chelsea’s current squad continues to support that statement, and some would say, to an ever more pleasing degree.
This is a Club that after their fantastic capture of the Champion’s League title at the end of last season, and continuing on and off field kerfuffle of deep seriousness, took the brave decision to make their squad both younger and more football vibrant, to echo their owner’s obsession with achieving an on-pitch performance that could be admired worldwide – as Barcelona undoubtedly are.
Consequently, the squad has evolved in both substance and priority, to exciting ends.
The general consensus in Football seems to be that they needed to get “younger”, which, coincidentally, seemed to be the brief under Andre Villas Boas, prior to his sacking under reported senior-player mutiny at the back end of last season.
The former player Roberto di Matteo (the assistant coach at the time) then took over on a temporary basis, and via his and the team’s fantastic closure to the season, has this year gone on to both change the personnel and to keep them running at the top, and whatever conjecture about the future, it can’t be argued that since his permanent appointment, on the field the team has thrived.
Don’t forget that they have Thibault Courtois, now Belgium’s no 1 keeper on loan at Atletico Madrid, so whilst the excellent Petr Czech continues to keep the shirt, the future is secure. Similar quality out on loan includes Romelu Lukaku at West Brom, Kevin de Bruin at Werder Bremen, and Jeffrey Bruma at Hamburg. Lukaku, a bruising forward, de Bruin, a clever winger/Mf’er, and Bruma, an accomplished defender, all would like to think they have a future at their parent club.
The current first team squad is this………
1 Petr Cech, 2 Branislav Ivanovic, 3 Ashley Cole, 4 David Luiz, 6 Oriol Romeu, 7 Ramires, 8 Frank Lampard, 9 Fernando Torres, 10 Juan Mata, 11 Oscar, 12 Mikel, 13 Victor Moses, 15 Florent Malouda, 17 Eden Hazard, 19 Paulo Ferreira, 21 Marko Marin, 22 Ross Turnbull, 23 Daniel Sturridge, 24 Gary Cahill, 26 John Terry, 28 Cesar Azpilicueta, 34 Ryan Bertrand, 35 Lucas Piazon, 40 Henrique Hilario
In comparison to last year the newcomers are these………..
Oscar, the precocious modern-day Kaka signed from Internacional at £25m+, Victor Moses, the exciting British winger/striker peeled from Wigan at a paltry £8/10m, Eden Hazard, Ligue1’s player of the year for the past 2 years and a Belgian superstar at £32m, Marko Marin, a German International winger from Werder Bremen at £7m + who, through injury, has yet to make his debut, and Cesar Azpilicueta,the Spaniard signed from Marseille for again £7m + a fantastic raiding RB who has not yet settled fully in. Another squad addition is Lucas Piazon, a superbly talented forward from Brazil, again, who has come through their Academy structure.
When you add that to the established players in the group, it’s hard to argue that they’ve got any weaker, in any sense.
Czech will keep goal, and their back 4 has usually comprised Branislav Ivanovic at RB, Terry/Cahill/David Luiz central (2 from 3) and Ashley Cole at LB. I think we’ll agree they all can play a bit.
Generally, they play a 4-2-3-1, so in front of that back 4 it’s been mainly the case that it’s protected by John Obi Mikel, the talented Nigerian, and Ramires, the outrageously gifted Brazilian runner who seems to have 3 lungs. Both of these players took some time to settle in to the PL, but nowadays you would find most PL Managers coveting their plentiful influence and wishing they were theirs. The holding MF’er has become a great influence in the modern game, and these are 2 of the best of their kind, albeit both have differing skills.
This year, it’s the front 4 who have been most impressive.
Supporting the advanced Fernando Torres, the 3 behind are Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard. Whilst they may start in that set up right to left, what is most effective is that they constantly switch and swivel, with each gracing the others previous position with an equal and confusing fluidity that means it’s difficult in the extreme for their defenders/opponents to keep any sort of tab on them. They each are the precision mechanism that makes this Rolex Oyster of a team tick. Whilst both Oscar and Hazard have been excellent, Juan Mata has been a street above, Thus far into the season, this is the player who has most impressed in all of the Premier League at ANY club. If it’s possible to enjoy an opponent (and I’m sure it is), keep a close eye on this talent and just enjoy.
In front of that, Chelsea this year have put their money on Fernando Torres. Oft derided since his move from Liverpool, and last year suffering from his sporadic support role to the iconic Didier Drogba, this year he’s freed of that shackle, and whilst some would argue that his lack of prolific goals suggest that not much has changed (in his head), I prefer the suggestion that his performances have been what makes the supporting 3 so successful, with influential runs, ball retension and threat being what makes it all work.
As a first choice team, that is SOME threat.
Having said all that – and we’ve not even considered Lampard, Terry, Romeu, Bertrand, or Danny Sturridge (and several others). We daren’t get starstruck. No “rabbit in the headlights” moments allowed.
As I said earlier, we are in this Division on merit, and have earned the right to play in this sort of game, so whilst we fans can take delight in seeing players of this calibre, our team will be out to do them down, and, thank goodness for that. I’m all for offering considered respect to worthy opponents, but I’d much rather beat the buggers.
So, what about us?
As hinted above, the decently performing line up at Anfield brought home an excellent win, to take us into the Quarter Finals with a Home draw against Middlesbrough, so ML will have a great degree of choice, since all of the squad is performing well. On we go then.
Well, with Michel Vorm’s unfortunate injury, this is the first time Gerhard Tremmel will have had a run in the side, and whilst his sporadic appearances for the first team have been nervous, it now behoves us as fans to give him every support and every respect. Vorsprung Durch Technik and all that. Go Gerhard!!
The CB’s are almost easy – Chico Flores (if recovered) and Ash Williams are our Premier pair, and Angel Rangel, following his suspension, is surely a shoe in at RB. Similarly, young Ben Davies has been so reliable I’d be surprised to see anyone in advance of him.
At the Etihad last week, it seemed to me that the MF 3 were really very good, so Ki and Leon must hold. Whilst we always play 2 wide – and I don’t expect us to do any different this week – a perm 2 from 3 from Nathan Dyer, Pablo Hernandez and Wayne Routledge will do me, although it does seem that Wayne has been the player in advance of the other 2 on form, and will thus be retained.
Miguel Michu is undroppable at the moment, so it seems that the question again will be whether we play him as a “false 9” with Jonathan de Guzman (who was excellent last week and last night) as the offensive MF’er or do we pull Michu deeper to support the clever (but underperforming so far) Danny Graham. Personally I’d go for the same set up, but there you go – it’s all about opinions.
Whatever the team selections one thing we can be absolutely sure about – this Saturday we get to see a top class, important, fascinating Match, and that, surely, is what we’ve all dreamed about for years.
Whatever the outcome I promise you that I’m going to enjoy another fabulous day in this, our latest, mind blowing incantation.
Onward, Swansea City.