This Sunday, Chelsea FC will play their first game since their epic victory over Napoli in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge. The Blues will play hosts again in another cup competition, the FA Cup in the quarterfinals against Leicester City.
Roberto Di Matteo has finally gotten this squad to play up to the level we have all come to expect. The young crop of new faces are fitting in well with the veterans who have found their second wind.
While Leicester City does not pose the kind of threat the Italians did in talent, it is the kind of match that presents itself as the ideal upset scenario.
With a pivotal league game this Wednesday, Di Matteo will have to be creative in his picks so as not to have the players too tired for that match.
Here are my predictions for the starting lineup.
Never can the Chelsea keeper's presence be underestimated. When it comes down to it, his performance Wednesday was not what had us all talking, but had he not made that early kick save, everything would have been different.
If Chelsea play this weekend the way they did against Napoli, the keeper should expect an easy afternoon in net. But you can never take too many chances with the position.
For nearly his entire tenure at Stamford Bridge, Ashley Cole was the only player whose starting spot was guaranteed, but that could be changing soon.
Bertrand has been one of the biggest surprises on the year. Andre Villas-Boas used him far too infrequently, but when he did, the youngster really shined.
He has become a reliable and much needed backup for a player that has played over 500 games for club and country in his career. He should get the start Sunday as Leicester City is probably the easiest side he has faced all season.
Terry is probably still exhausted from the Wednesday match, but I can see him playing anyway. He is at the top of his game and will be needed to ensure absolute perfection in the back.
With the new approach Chelsea takes to the game (which is really just the one they have had for a decade), the backline is not exposed and relied on to exert as much energy. Keeping Terry in the lineup should keep everything stable and make for an easy day.
David Luiz was excellent Wednesday but has not been his best against English clubs. Leicester City is quintessentially domestic.
Cahill, rested and ready, will pair up with Terry in the back. Though they work extremely well together, they will have to be on alert as Jermaine Beckford has been lethal this season for the visitors. If they can shut him down, they should have the game.
Hopefully the Portuguese fullback is over the departure of the only guy who would continue to give him chances, because he has a good chance of starting Sunday.
If he buys into the game plan, it will only make his job easier as he will have coverage in front of him. Many of his glaring mistakes under Villas-Boas were in part due to his lack of help. It should be a good game for him to get back to his top form.
Mikel was not given the time of day under Villas-Boas, but in this system that is more in tune with his style of play, he has again proven his worth.
He is not the most athletic player and clusters the attack more than anything, but he is an excellent defensive player and covers the back line superbly. If he can prevent easy balls from the midfield to Beckford, then the defense's duties will be that much simpler.
Romeu was one of the very few players who actually played well under Villas-Boas. Given that he comes from the Barcelona school, it is obvious why a possession and quick passing style would work for him.
But he is still a teenager, so it is not too late to have him adapt to another brand. Di Matteo should begin the process of developing his incredibly talented ball control and skills into the direct long play Chelsea prefers. If he can, he will become an even more lethal weapon than he was before.
Sturridge has come down to earth from the epic way he started the season. His goal drought is almost as long as Torres’, except for the one he hit against Birmingham a few weeks ago.
But he looks more like a normal player his age than someone out of form. He has made his mark playing out wide as he did on Wednesday. But under Di Matteo and even toward the end of Villas-Boas’ reign, he has been allowed to drift more central.
It is only a matter of time before he gets back on the score sheet, but he should enjoy running all over the place Sunday.
You want to know how big of a change Di Matteo has been? Even Malouda looked like he wanted to play Wednesday!
He may have come on as a late sub to see out the game and take a penalty, but he was excellent in pressing the back line. He even caused a turnover that should have been a goal, if Drogba did not miss.
In a more conventional system, Malouda still can play.
In an interesting role, I think Di Matteo will start Meireles as a high-lying midfielder.
The Portuguese player’s move to Chelsea has been an utter disaster. He has not seemed to really work in any role under Villas-Boas despite getting plenty of chances to prove himself. He is one of the few central midfielders that can go 30 minutes straight without having his name called.
Needing to rest both Lampard and Mata, Di Matteo will try out the former Liverpool player in an advanced attacking role. He does have good vision and can make superb passes at times. But his stability, at least in ball control, should make it a simple game.
At the very least, he has a good outside shot. Defenders will have to close down on him opening up his teammates for passes.
How many times are we going to see Torres fail?
On Wednesday, he could have been the hero and had us all forgiving his debt if he had scored the game winner he missed from an acute angle. Had Chelsea not won, we would still be lamenting on that moment. I hope he took Ivanovic out to a real nice dinner.
But he is getting better, and though Villas-Boas gave him every opportunity, I think Di Matteo doing the opposite has actually improved his play.
It seems like every game we all make the bold proclamation that this will be the one he scores in. So let’s continue the trend!
Leicester City is not to be underestimated, but it also is not the toughest match they have over the next week. This 4-2-3-1 formation has been effective under Di Matteo, and the players I have predicted are all capable of pulling it off.
What do you think will be the starting lineup Sunday?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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