Chelsea: Breaking Down the Blues' 8 Biggest Matchups Before Christmas
In your average football calendar, Christmas is usually looked upon as a landmark part of the year when any side can turn their season around, and Chelsea are no different.
The festive period generally heralds in a colder part of the year in the English top flight, a climate in which some teams have the knack to thrive.
As such, the Blues will be keen to grab all the points they can before 2013 is ushered in.
Despite the comfortable settling in of Eden Hazard, the changed form of Fernando Torres and the defensive heroics of Branislav Ivanovic, the next three months still have a lot of twists and turns for the current league leaders.
With that in mind, let’s preview the hardest obstacles Chelsea will face before that wonderful time of year that is December 25th.
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When: 15th September
With both sides almost at polar opposite ends of the Premier League table, you wouldn’t think that September's short trip to Loftus Road would be much of a bother to Roberto Di Matteo and his men.
However, QPR were in a similar position last year and managed to scrape by their west London rivals with a 1-0 victory.
In that fixture, Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa were both shown red cards while seven of the Chelsea players finished the loss with a yellow card to their name.
A Heidar Helguson penalty separated the two sides on that day and although the Icelandic striker is no longer around to save the day, the Rs have several star names to change the tide.
What’s more, a local derby always has a habit of throwing up an upset every now and then, as talent on paper is washed away in place of determination, grit and desire.
When: 29th September
Perhaps the most difficult game that Chelsea will play before Christmas features a trip to the Emirates Stadium, which has become a very difficult place to score in the last year.
Even with the dazzling footwork of Hazard, the west Londoners will need to be on their toes if they are to break down a Gunners defense that is yet to concede this season.
That staunch backline has been particularly impressive on home turf in the last season or so, and finished the 2011-12 campaign with 42 percent of its games as clean sheets.
Arsene Wenger will be the first “Top Four” manager that Di Matteo goes up against this season and will be the biggest test as to whether the Blues can continue their inspirational start to 2012-13.
Tottenham Hotspur (Away)
When: 20th October
From the best of north London’s representatives to what is, at the moment, its worst, Tottenham haven’t got off to the start that they would have wanted but have the talent to recover in time for this game.
The October fixture will be Andre Villas Boas’ first encounter against the side with whom he endured such a torrid time, and wouldn’t it just be poetic if the Portuguese manager pulled out a result against Chelsea?
Spurs are yet to grab a win this season but made some major squad acquisitions over the summer, and another month may just be enough for those new faces to start gelling.
Since replacing AVB, RDM has seen nothing but success and this will be the truest test of who really rules above the other acronyms.
Manchester United (Home)
When: 28th October
For the foreseeable future, a fixture against Manchester United will do nothing but contend when it comes to the competition for biggest matchup.
These two sides will be looked upon as challengers for the Premier League title and will also be well into their Champions League tournaments by the time this game rolls around.
Last season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s men finished up with the best away attack in the league and don’t appear likely to shirk away from the pressures of Stamford Bridge.
This game will also be Robin van Persie’s return to the west London ground and the Dutchman will be smelling blood after bagging a hat-trick on his last visit.
After some early season slip-ups, this encounter gives the Red Devils a chance to claw some points back from some tough title contenders and will pose difficult opposition as a result.
Swansea City (Away)
When: 3rd November
This season’s surprise outfit, a trip to the Liberty Stadium could be even more daunting this term than it was last time around.
In 2011-12, the Swans managed to concede an average of just 0.87 goals per game when playing with the home advantage. Michael Laudrup will not be keen on losing that record.
The Welsh representatives have kept clean sheets in two of their opening three Premier League games this campaign, and look strong.
However, Laudrup has injected a more significant attacking edge into his team and as if their defense wasn’t enough to worry about, the team is substantially more threatening in 2012-13.
Di Matteo would be smart to make sure that surprise package, Michu, gets as little of the ball as possible if he wants to make his trip to Wales a successful one.
West Brom (Away)
When: 17th November
Another of this season’s teams to come out of the woodwork, West Brom currently find themselves with their heads in the clouds following a hugely successful start.
Little was known of how Steve Clarke would get on in his first full managerial position but the Scot, if anything, has improved upon the legacy that Roy Hodgson left behind at the Hawthorns.
Chelsea will undoubtedly be an even bigger challenge for Clarke’s men but if early season form is anything to go by, they have a chance of overcoming the obstacle.
This match presents a special significance to Clarke, who spent 11 years as a player with the Blues, as well as an eight-year career at Stamford Bridge as youth and assistant coach.
You can imagine the headlines now.
Manchester City (Home)
When: 25th November
Possibly one of the hardest home matches Roberto Di Matteo will come upon all season, never mind before Christmas, Manchester City will challenge as we can predict they will.
Roberto Mancini’s team have already dropped points this season after drawing with Liverpool at Anfield, but have scored at least two goals in every game.
This record isn’t really a wonder when a team has Sergios Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko all in one squad, but is impressive nonetheless.
Chelsea will need John Terry back amongst their ranks if they are to cope with the Citizens’ onslaught and this match between two of England’s giants promises to weed out who is the stronger of the two spending titans of the Premier League.
When: 8th December
One of the Blues’ more difficult trips before Christmas, traveling to the colder temperatures of the north-east is never the easiest part of a team’s campaign.
Last season, the Londoners managed to grab a 2-1 win in this fixture, but that was before Martin O’Neill came in and staged his mid-season turnaround for the Black Cats.
Now in his first full season as manager at the Stadium of Light, O’Neill is yet to lose a fixture and has taken hard-earned points away from the Emirates and Liberty Stadiums, neither of which are easy trips.
The Northern Irishman is no stranger to these kind of matchups and will use some of those excellent man-managing skills to prepare his side for the game ahead.
December on Wearside is never the warmest time of the year, and the strong British contingent in Sunderland’s ranks will undoubtedly be better prepared for the weather than some of the continentals in Chelsea’s squad.
As a result, it will be interesting to see how the likes of Hazard & co. cope with the murky trip.
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