So, Chelsea are the next team to visit the Boleyn Ground in what is a very difficult run of fixtures. As I write this, our boys are doing OK, with a creditable draw against Stoke City, but the difficulty is ramping up now with a succession of matches against the so-called “bigger” sides.
A look at our recent head-tohead record against Chelsea doesn’t make very good reading. Actually, that’s an understatement – it’s truly awful reading. Since 2003, we’ve played Chelsea 13 times, winning precisely none of them, scoring seven goals and conceding a whopping 31. Only nearly two and a half goals conceded per game then. In fact, you have to go back to our relegation season of 2002/3 to see the last time we gained any kind of victory over the Blues – you might remember the match at Stamford Bridge where Paolo Di Canio scored a wonderful goal for a memorable 3-2 victory, and the return fixture towards the end of that season where we beat Chelsea 1-0.
That match, of course, was notable because at that point we were managed (briefly) by Sir Trevor, winning a series of matches to give us some false hope that we might stay up that season. (Ironically, in the following match, Bolton stayed up at our expense, then managed by Sam Allardyce. Funny how it all comes around.) So, what hope do we have for this fixture then? Well in reality it’ll be tricky, but perhaps there are some grounds for optimism. Chelsea have hit a bit of a sticky patch, having had some iffy results of late – including a home draw against stuttering Liverpool and defeat at West Brom.
We keep saying the same thing but the key will be to take our chances, as we will get them – Chelsea are not the most defensively-minded team. Sadly, our strikers have consistently failed to do this so far, and whilst Andy Carroll has been effective and caused defenders problems, ultimately, as a striker, you’re judged by how many you stick in the net. We need to bear in mind that Chelsea had a lot of chances against West Brom (in fact, more than double the number of chances West Brom had) and didn’t take them.
That’s slightly worrying: top teams rarely go on an indifferent run for too long, and their dip in form has coincided with injuries to a number of their defenders including, of course, everyone’s favourite, John Terry. Our defence will need to be on top form for this one, as there’s the potential for a Chelsea backlash. That said, I’m heartened by recent results in the Premier League. The West Brom win over Chelsea, and the Norwich wins over Arsenal and Manchester United do prove that these teams are not unbeatable. Much will depend on which West Ham team turns up – if it’s the first-half one against Stoke, we’ll be battered out of sight. If it’s the second-half one, we might just have a chance.