By, Ayodeji Itasanmi (Twitter: @aryorblueblood)
Amex Stadium/January 20, 2017
It’s five games into the year 2018 for Chelsea Football Club and yet we still await our first win with five successive draws from those five games. While it’s a good thing for a club as big as Chelsea to go on long unbeaten runs, it becomes a big source of concern however when we’re still looking for our first win in six matches even though we haven’t lost any of the previous five matches. And so we head to The Amex Stadium on Saturday lunch time on the quest for the first non-penalty win of the year but we’ll have to do that without our top scorer Alvaro Morata, who was sent off late into extra time against Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night during our FA Cup replay. However, Antonio Conte should still have enough quality in the team to come away from The Amex with all three points in the bag.
After not winning any of our first two encounters against Brighton & Hove Albion (L1 D1) Chelsea have won the last six matches against Brighton including our only encounter in the Premier League last month which we won quite comfortable in the end after Chris Hughton’s team made it somewhat difficult in the first half of that match. Chris Hughton’s side will be wary of the Blues’ attack (even though Chelsea had failed to score in three of their last five matches in all competition) with Chelsea having never failed to score against The Seagulls while not conceding against Brighton in the last four encounters between the two teams. The Seagulls have only lost one of their last six Premier League matches (W2 D3) but that solitary defeat was against a rampant Liverpool side. Chris Hughton and his team are still looking for their first win against a top six side this season having lost all six games against them in the first half on the season, and their only goal in those matches came in the 5-1 defeat to Liverpool in early December.
Antonio Conte will surely be concerned about the confidence of his attacking players with them having 26 shots at the Norwich City goal and still managing just a solitary goal and the fact that the trio of Cesc Fabregas, Pedro and Alvaro Morata will be missing the trip to The Amex due to a combination of injury and suspensions makes the selection process even the more daunting for the Italian. This match may also come a little too soon for Gary Cahill to make his return after sustaining a hamstring injury at the weekend against Leicester City but Ross Barkley may finally get to play his first match for Chelsea having come through a behind-closed-doors friendly game against Queens Park Rangers on Thursday with two goals in a 3-2 win for the Chelsea reserves. The English midfielder may just be what the team need to start firing again with his style suited to the 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation especially in the absence of Cesc Fabregas. Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante, Andreas Christensen, Victor Moses, Antonio Rudiger and Marcos Alonso should all come back into the team having not been fully involved in midweek the latter three missing the match altogether. It’s yet to be seen what role will be given to Michy Batshuayi after his goal-scoring exploits against Norwich especially since Álvaro Morata will be missing the trip due to his sending off on Wednesday night. Willian will most definitely begin this match on the bench having been involved for the entire 120 minutes duration of Wednesday night’s match and even scored our first penalty. It was a little bit of a disappointment, for me personally, that Charly Musonda didn’t get a chance against Norwich City on Wednesday night but he may get a chance to travel with the team with four of the first team regulars set to miss the trip and maybe he gets a chance this time. I think Michy Batshuayi may finally get his chance to lead the line in a Premier League for the first time since our trip Selhurst Park to face Crystal Palace back in October because I don’t think Antonio Conte has all he needs to try the ‘false 9’ system with Pedro suspended and Willian likely to begin on the bench. I only hope the Batman will grab this opportunity to change Antonio Conte’s mind about him.
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Victor Moses, Barkley, Drinkwater, Kante, Alonso; Hazard, Batshuayi.
Last Five Matches: DDDDD
Injuries: Gary Cahill (Hamstring) –Out; Cesc Fabregas (Hamstring) – Doubt; Pedro (Suspended) – Out; Alvaro Morata (Suspended) – Out.
Brighton & Hove Albion
In the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge on Boxing Day, Chris Hughton set up his team to deny Chelsea the space they need to hurt them in a 4-5-1 formation and it almost worked for them as they restricted Chelsea to very few clear cut chances especially in the first half but once Chelsea got into their groove it was hard for Brighton to stop them. And it wasn’t surprising that Matt Ryan, their Australian goalkeeper, was the best player in their team repelling the Chelsea attacks on numerous occasions but ultimately he, and his team, came up short against a rampant Chelsea attack in the second half. Chris Hughton hasn’t kept the same team in the four games that followed their trip to Stamford Bridge and last Saturday’s reverse against West Bromwich Albion their only loss in that time (W2 D1). Barring any unforeseen circumstances Matt Ryan will keep goal for The Seagulls on Saturday and he’s likely to be guarded by the same back four that did so well at Stamford Bridge of Ezequiel Schelotto, Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy and Markus Suttner. It’s yet to be seen if Chris Hughton will set his team up to have a go with this game coming in the comfort of The Amex Stadium and should that be the case he’s likely going to go for the pair Dale Stephens and Davy Propper to anchor the midfield with the trio of Jose Izquierdo, Pascal Gross and Solly March playing behind the lone striker, whether that’s Glen Murray or Tomer Hemed is yet unknown. Gaetan Bong, a victim of a recent racist attack, is an option at left back and so is Anthony Knockaert for the three slots behind the striker.
Ryan; Schelotto, Dunk, Duffy, Suttner; Stephens, Propper; Izquierdo, Gross, March; Hemed.
Last 5 matches: LWDDL
Injuries: Steve Sidwell (Back) –Out; Isaiah Brown (ACL/Ineligible) –Out.
Ross Barkley vs. Dale Stephens
This match is likely to be Ross Barkley’s baptism of fire as a Chelsea player and who better to come up against than a hard-as-nail tackler Dale Stephens. The English defender has been involved in all of Brighton’s matches in the Premier League an indication to what he brings to the team. One thing is certain about this duel and that is Ross Barkley is not going to have it all his own way come Saturday.
N’Golo Kante vs. Pascal Gross
Pascal Gross is the creative mastermind of this current Brighton team and the German has been responsible for nine of Brighton’s seventeen goals in the Premier League (5goals 4assists) so Kante must be alert to the danger posed by the German who’s very comfortable in possession but if anyone can stop him then it’s definitely our ‘French Machine’.
Andreas Christensen vs. Tomer Hemed
Andreas Christensen got a taste of the physicality of the Israeli and he certainly didn’t look ruffled all through the duration and that’s not likely to be the case on Saturday afternoon either. Bring it on again!
With Liverpool not playing until Monday we have the opportunity of usurping their position with a win at the American Express Stadium. We just cannot afford any more slip ups with the rest of the top six now alive to the top four battle. We certainly will not have it all our own way at The Amex on Saturday with Brighton perilously close to the drop zone any kind point against the champions will surely go a long way to ensuring their safety. Antonio Conte certainly will be working on ways for his players to start turning their numerous chances created to goals as we seem to be finding it more difficult to find the back of the net in recent matches and this is as good a game as any for us to go on a scoring spree with so many key fixtures coming up starting with our trip to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday for the second leg of our Carabao Cup semi-final. You can keep a date with me as I preview that match but before then we’ve got the ‘small’ matter of collecting three points at The Amex on Saturday. Keep The Blue Flag Flying High ‘cos Blue remains the colour!
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Daily Mirror
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