Just when things feel like they can’t get any worse, they inevitably do. One nil down to Spurs last weekend and Mikel hobbled off injured, two nil down and three substitutions made, Drogba starts limping.
It’s been much the same this week. Initially reports suggested that Essien might be ready to make a comeback in this weekend’s vital game against Stoke, but the club later quashed that rumour by confirming he almost certainly won’t play again this season. Similarly the prognosis on Mikel looked promising initially, with the club suggesting he was just ‘a doubt’ for Sunday. Soon afterwards came the news that he may not play against this season either.
Chelsea now look alarmingly short of options in the defensive midfield role, but hopefully Ballack or Deco should be able to do more than a good enough job against a team who shouldn’t enjoy long spells of possession.
In defence there is mixed news, too. Ashley Cole, arguably Chelsea’s best player of the season until his untimely injury in early February, is fit to return and Ivanovic suffered no ill effects after his strong second half showing against Spurs. John Terry however, will of course miss the Stoke game.
And it is the Chelsea captain’s absence that Stoke are most pleased about. Potters’ coach Mark O’Connor is in a bullish mood, saying “I don’t think they’ve got other players of his (Terry’s) ability. They’ve got players coming in of a good standard but I’m hoping they’ll miss him and we can exploit that. There’s a belief within our squad that we can get something at Chelsea.”
If Chelsea play anything like they did against Spurs, he might just be right. But Chelsea have responded well to bad results over the last few months, and there is a marked difference between the team’s results home and away. At Stamford Bridge the Blues have won a massive 84% of games (albeit including some awkward performances, against Bolton for example) scoring nearly three goals a game on average. Away from home, Chelsea have won just 50% of their matches.
Utd will win against Spurs on Saturday (it’s telling that Spurs haven’t won away from home against a ‘big four’ side in 66 games – yes, 66 games), so a repeat of Chelsea’s two wins so far this season against Stoke is a must. If Chelsea don’t get a result, it won’t be because of the defence – Ivanovic is just as capable as Terry when countering long throws and balls into the box - it will be because the players put in another insipid performance. Chelsea need to give an explosive performance early on and set the tone for the match, to avoid the run-in jitters that will otherwise inevitably follow.