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Sam Hayes

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Crystal Palace vs Chelsea Preview – Blues Looking to Put Eagles to the Sword

Chelsea travel across London later looking to inflict yet more misery on lowly Crystal Palace and get their season back on track. The Blues struggled to cope with Manchester City’s all-action approach last time out, and with injuries to N’Golo Kante and Alvaro Morata, Antonio Conte will have to introduce some of his squad players against Roy Hodgson’s men.

N’Golo Kante Hamstring Problem Adds to Chelsea’s Injury Woes

Fresh from his maiden Ballon d’Or nomination, N’Golo Kante has suffered a hamstring injury on international duty with France, leaving Antonio Conte desperately searching for positives.

At first glance, the international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Chelsea, with the Blues still reeling from being completely outplayed in the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. Record signing Alvaro Morata limped off in the first half of the loss with what has been confirmed as a month-long hamstring injury, with Kante’s issue heightening the ill-feeling around the Bridge even further this week.

Early season beset with injuries

For much of last season, Chelsea were blessed by a lack of injuries within the squad, a situation that allowed Conte to retain a familiar side on a weekly basis in the Premier League. This term, however, has posed different problems, with Eden Hazard missing the first month of the new campaign through an ankle injury and new signing Danny Drinkwater yet to be fit enough to feature for his new employers.

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The squad’s relatively clean bill of health was cited by most observers as a major factor in the Blues winning the title last term, along with the absence of any European football. Indeed, having a larger fixture list already looks to be taking its toll on the squad this term.

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Kante didn’t feature in the 5-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest but has still played 12 games in 56 days – a greatly increased workload on last season – and his all-action approach looks to have got the better of him momentarily. Morata’s injury is similar in nature and the Blues medical staff will be sincerely hoping that the increased amount of injuries is nothing to do with the training methods used by the staff at Cobham.

Irreplaceable talent?

Morata and Kante have been the two star performers for Chelsea already this season and replacing both of them would be a huge challenge for Conte. Injuries are inevitable and squads are built to fight on four fronts – which is something Chelsea are looking to do this campaign.

During his time in the Premier League, Antonio Conte has shown himself to be an innovative coach that can deal with the ever-changing environment of English football. Whilst he and the Chelsea faithful will be praying Kante and Morata’s injuries are not as serious as they first appear, finding a tactical answer to the problem could be the Italian’s biggest test to date at Stamford Bridge.

Header image by @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs) (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Chelsea Star Makes Ballon d’Or 2017 Shortlist

As Chelsea cantered to the Premier League title last season, one man grabbed all the headlines for his incredible performances: N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman won the PFA Players Player of the Year, the Football Writers’ Player of the Season and picked up his second Premier League medal in as many seasons, after winning the title with Leicester City in 2015-16.

Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea Preview – Blues Must Be at Their Best to Stay Top

Chelsea travel to Madrid to take on Champions League specialists Atletico Madrid in what promises to be a fascinating encounter later this evening. The Blues sit two points clear at the top of Group C but will be fully aware of the defensive capabilities of Diego Simeone’s men and will have to be at their best to break them down.

The atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano promises to be electric, in Atletico’s first Champions League game in their new home.

Formation

Antonio Conte will not budge from his 3-4-3 formation that has served him so well domestically, and implementing it against FK Qarabag on match day one saw the Blues pick up a comprehensive 6-0 victory. With Atletico Madrid being notoriously difficult to break down, Conte will be hoping his creative influences within the team can pose sufficient problems for the Atletico defence.

Team Selection

Thibaut Courtois returns to the club that accommodated him on loan with his place as the Blues number 1 firmly cemented.

Andreas Christensen has been one of the star performers for the Blues this term and could flank the returning David Luiz and in-form Cesar Azpilicueta in the heart of Chelsea’s defence, with Gary Cahill set to miss out.

Marcos Alonso struggled at Stoke on Saturday but doesn’t seem to have much competition at left wing-back whilst the right-wing back debate continues with Victor Moses seemingly in pole position to start in the Spanish capital – despite Davide Zappacosta’s instant impact.

Integral to Chelsea’s success will be the stability in midfield, which N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko will need to provide to nullify the threats of Antoine Griezmann and company.

Creative opportunities against the notoriously resolute Atletico could be few and far between so Conte will be looking to Eden Hazard, Pedro and Saturday’s hat-trick hero, Alvaro Morata, to provide the firepower in what promises to be a game of few chances.

Predicted Starting XI

Courtois (GK)
Moses
Christensen
Luiz (c)
Azpilicueta
Alonso
Kante
Bakayoko
Hazard
Pedro
Morata

Where the Game Will Be Won or Lost

In front of their adoring home support, Atletico are one of the most difficult teams to encounter in European football. Their clinical forward players, coupled with stern defence, make it a daunting task for Europe’s elite and they have reached the final of the competition twice in the last four years. As always, N’Golo Kante will have to protect Chelsea’s back four in his usual combative style and it promises to be a big test for Tiemoue Bakayoko – although he demonstrated his capabilities in Monaco’s run to the Champions League semi-finals last season.

Match Prediction

Chelsea will be desperate to leave Madrid in their toughest-looking match of the group whilst Atletico will be eager to make up for the two points they dropped at Roma on match day one. With defence being the order of the day, these two European heavyweights could well cancel each other out.

1-1 Draw

Header image: “Champions League Ball” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by prakash_ut

Chelsea vs Arsenal Preview: Toughest Test of the Season So Far

Premier League action returns to Stamford Bridge tomorrow, with Chelsea taking on arch-rivals Arsenal in what promises to be one of the games of the season so far. The Blues look to have shaken off their early season worries – winning three tough-looking Premier League games on the bounce whilst Arsenal have struggled for consistency and would dearly love to put a marker down here.

Formation

Nothing seems to sway Antonio Conte away from his 3-4-3 formation – which is now being replicated by most of the teams in the Premier League. Having three at the back centrally seems to give the Blues plenty of security, both in and out of possession and as a result, the creative influences on the team (Hazard, Fabregas etc.) seem to benefit from being awarded more space in the middle of the field.

Team Selection

Conte gave a Champions League start to Thibaut Courtois, which is perhaps an indication of the importance he’s placing on European competition this season – and the Belgian will start again here.

Gary Cahill impressed in the Champions League in midweek and should return following a domestic suspension, whilst David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta should also feature in the heart of the defence.

Marcos Alonso has been in fine form and will retain his place at left wing-back but Conte has a decision to make at right wing-back. Victor Moses was the unsung hero of last year’s title-winning campaign but Davide Zappacosta has arrived from Torino and looks to be a serious contender for this position and impressed greatly against FK Qarabag on Tuesday evening.

N’Golo Kante will be keeping things ticking in midfield, whether that’s alongside Cesc Fabregas or Tiemoue Bakayoko is another call Conte will have to make with Danny Drinkwater still out.

Alvaro Morata has scored in each of his Premier League games at Stamford Bridge and will lead the line. Eden Hazard is now fit after recovering from his ankle injury and in contention with Willian and Pedro also vying for the two places flanking Morata up front.

Predicted Starting XI 

Courtois (GK)

Moses

Cahill

Luiz

Azpilicueta

Alonso

Kante

Bakayoko

Hazard

Willian

Morata

Where the Game Will Be Won or Lost

Both teams come into this game on the back of European wins and will be eager to make a winning return to domestic football.

Chelsea have a well-oiled formation and tactical setup that will allow them to control the game from the back and look to play balls in between the lines into the likes of Hazard and Morata. The width provided by the wing-backs could also be a determining factor in the game as they are integral to the way the Blues operate.

Arsenal are blessed with quality all over the pitch but have seemed to lack conviction this term – particularly away from home. Arsene Wenger’s men have lost both of their Premier League games on their travels this term and have looked vulnerable defensively – something Chelsea will be looking to exploit. Alexis Sanchez’s return could give the Gunners a huge boost going into this one, though.

N’Golo Kante is integral to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation.

Match Prediction

Both teams have lofty ambitions this term and whilst Chelsea seem to look stronger every week, Arsenal’s problems seem to be mounting up and the Blues should have too much for the Gunners here.

Chelsea to win 2-0.

Arsenal, Look Out: Eden Hazard is Back!

 

Following the opening day defeat to Burnley, most of the Stamford Bridge faithful were keeping their fingers and toes crossed for an imminent Eden Hazard return.

The subsequent four games have produced 12 points (three league wins and a Champions League triumph) and the return to full fitness of Chelsea’s number 10 is adding to the feel-good factor around Stamford Bridge at the moment.

When Hazard broke his ankle on international duty back in June, few thought he would be anywhere near ready to play with just four rounds of Premier League fixtures completed. But the Belgian has made two substitute appearances as he steps up his full recovery and this weekend’s clash with Arsenal looks to have provided the perfect opportunity for the 2014-15 PFA Player of the Year to return. 

What Eden Hazard Brings to This Chelsea XI:

‘Attacking the Opposition’

Few players were as effective as Hazard in the Premier League in forward areas last season, and he created, on average, over three chances per game for his team – in addition to his 16 league goal contribution. A massive part of Hazard’s game is his ability to beat a man in tight areas – he averaged over five successful dribbles per game last term, which was an essential element of Conte’s title-winning 3-4-3 formation.

‘Floating Role’

Despite the departure of Nemanja Matic, Chelsea have recruited in holding midfield positions, with Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko brought in to lighten the load on N’Golo Kante. Whichever combination Conte opts for in the middle of the park, the system is designed to give Hazard the freedom to roam wherever he wishes in between the lines of the opposition. 

‘World Class Talent

For as much as Chelsea have a wealth of attacking options at their disposal, Hazard is the one player in the Blues line up that genuinely strikes fear into the opposition. His shooting accuracy was 21% last season and he achieved 74.5% of his attempted dribbles successfully and that ‘X’ factor makes him one of the first names on Antonio Conte’s team sheet. 

‘Proven Winner’

During his time at Stamford Bridge, Hazard has won the Premier League twice, the League Cup and the Europa League and is driven to succeed at the highest level. After the departure of John Terry this summer, Chelsea are looking for leaders on the field and the enigmatic 26-year-old leads by example with his all-action performances.

Whether or not Hazard is fully fit to play 90 minutes against Arsenal on Sunday remains to be seen, as his only competitive minutes so far this season have been for Belgium and substitute appearances for Chelsea, but having their number 10 back will come as a huge boost for the Blues and their fans.

If he can replicate his performances from last season and lead Chelsea to a second consecutive Premier League crown under Antonio Conte, Nemanja Matic and Diego Costa will be long forgotten about on the King’s Road.

Header image: “Eden Hazard / Эден Азар” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Aleksandr Osipov

Chelsea vs FK Qarabag Preview: Blues’ Long-Awaited Return to Champions League

Chelsea play their first Champions League fixture for two seasons on Tuesday night and look to have a favourable opening to proceedings in Group C. The Blues have reached the knockout stages of the Champions League on 13 previous occasions and will be eager to get three points on the board in a tricky-looking group containing Atletico Madrid and Roma.

Formation

Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 formation is a hallmark of this Chelsea side and his charges seem to be in good form at present. Three consecutive wins against Tottenham, Everton and Leicester have propelled the Blues up to third in the Premier League table – behind the two Manchester clubs – and it will be interesting to see if the 3-5-2 line up works as well in Europe as it does domestically.

Team Selection

Conte has spoken of his desire to rotate the squad at every possible opportunity this season and this looks like the ideal fixture to use the whole roster at his disposal. Willy Caballero looks set to be given his debut in goal, following his free transfer during the summer from Manchester City.

Gary Cahill is also set to return after serving his three-game suspension in the Premier League following his opening-day red card at home to Burnley. He looks set to be flanked in central defence by summer signing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen. Davide Zappacosta is lined up to make his home debut at right wing-back following his deadline-day move from Torino, whilst Marcos Alonso should retain his place at left wing-back.

N’Golo Kante is the first name on the team sheet in midfield and with Danny Drinkwater ruled out with a calf injury, Cesc Fabregas could be called upon to add some creativity in the middle of the park.

Conte has confirmed that Eden Hazard will start on the bench, meaning that Willian and Pedro could be given starting berths in support of the striker. Alvaro Morata’s form has delighted the Chelsea faithful, who had their concerns following the ousting of Diego Costa and he should get the nod here over Michy Batshuayi.

Predicted Starting XI

Caballero (GK)

Zappacosta

Christensen

Cahill (c)

Rudiger

Alonso

Kante

Fabregas

Pedro

Willian

Morata

Where the Game Will Be Won or Lost

FK Qarabag are the first team to ever qualify for the group stages of the Champions League from Azerbaijan and have come through three rounds of qualifying to reach this stage. They will be looking to make this game difficult for Chelsea but the Blues have a great record at home under Conte and should have too much for the Azerbaijani side here.

The creativity of Willian, Cesc Fabregas and Pedro will be important in order to break down the Qarabag defence and Gurban Gurbanov has already spoken of his desire to set up defensively at Stamford Bridge.

Match Prediction

The Azerbaijani champions have done extremely well to get to this point and they will have dreamt of nights like this – but Chelsea should have too much experience and guile here.

Chelsea to win 3-0.