Chelsea fans will have to wait a little while to watch their club try to erase the stink of a controversial draw against West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge over the weekend. The Blues' next game is now almost two weeks away, a virtual eternity in this fast-paced Digital Age Freak Show that’s become Life As We Now Know It On Planet Earth.
Welcome to the machine, brother. Now please turn off your cell phone. It’s cooking my onions.
After the somewhat grueling scheduling pace of late, which has included games in the English Premier League, the UEFA Champions League and the Capital One Cup, Chelsea’s players are most likely welcoming the break. Although, many would probably love nothing better than to get back out on the pitch and rid that awful performance against the Baggies from their minds.
So, with a nice little break in Chelsea's schedule, let’s take a look at what’s coming up the next month-and-a-half with predictions and a forecast of where the Blues should be right around Christmastime.
On paper at least, it looks like a very promising stretch on the somewhat immediate royal blue horizon for Jose Mourinho and his merry band of global football players. But we all know that the seemingly easy games against teams like FC Basel, Newcastle United and West Brom can end up being the ones which get caught up in the psyche and affecting some teams the most.
When: Saturday, November 23, 2013
Where: Upton Park, East London, England, United Kingdom
Time: 17:30 (UK) 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT
What: English Premier League Week 12
Last Season: West Ham won, 3-1 (Dec. 1)
Potential Entertainment Grade: C-
After the aforementioned debacle against West Brom in West London in their last game, expect Chelsea to be a little more energetic from the start here in East London against Sam Allardyce and West Ham at Upton Park.
The Hammers (2-4-5, 10 points) have been a bit disappointing so far this season, and find themselves in 16th place; just a mere point above the crocodiles and boiling lava that is the Premier League relegation zone.
West Ham is also a disappointing 1-1-3 at home and has scored an anemic five goals in those five games—two less than Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic did on Saturday against Nice in France’s Ligue 1—so the celebrations by the Upton Park faithful have been few and far between, to say the least.
Games in which the Hammers have been involved have also been low-scoring affairs with a total of just 20 goals having been scored in the 11 games to date. Ricardo Vaz Te and Ravel Morrison (2 goals) are West Ham’s two leading scorers in the league, so to try to stay up in England’s top flight of soccer this season, the club will have to do something drastic about the offense.
With so few goals scored (9 total), Hammers goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen has had to be extra special and the 38-year-old Finn has been just that, helping West Ham to the fourth-lowest number of goals allowed total (11) in the Premier League.
Whereas this London derby doesn’t generate the kind of buzz as some of the others, a Chelsea game is a Chelsea game and this will no doubt have its fair share of drama. Expect The Special One to return striker Fernando Torres to the starting XI and possibly midfielder Juan Mata as well.
And Blues fans will also be keeping a wary eye on goalkeeper Petr Cech, after the embarrassing dribbler he let get by for West Brom’s second goal that revealed even the best players in any given sport sometimes do some really stupid things.
In the end, the fear from the points lost from an unexpected draw against the Baggies will drive Chelsea to find a way to win this one. My crystal ball says Cech gets back on form, Ramires has a great game and Torres tallies a rare EPL score. And don’t laugh, Bubba. My crystal ball said that the McRib would be back.
PREDICTION: West Ham 1 Chelsea 2
When: Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Where: St. Jakob-Park, Basel, Switzerland
Time: 19:45 (UK) 2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT
What: UEFA Champions League Matchday 5 (Group stage)
Leg 1: FC Basel won, 2-1 (Sept. 18)
Potential Entertainment Grade: B+
Although first-place Chelsea is looking pretty good in its Group E heading into this one, the storyline will no doubt be revenge after FC Basel 1893 upset the Blues, 2-1 at Stamford Bridge in the opener in this round in the tournament.
And for third-place FC Basel (1-2-1, 5 points), its very survival in the group may ultimately depend on this match, as second-place FC Schalke 04 (2-0-2, 6 points) will be at fourth-place Steaua Bucharest (0-2-2, 2 points) at the same time, with the Bundesliga side having a solid chance to pull even closer to locking up its own spot in the final 16.
With a win, Chelsea (3-0-1, 9 points) would sew up the group and punch its ticket to the knockout stage; no doubt a welcome relief after being eliminated from the tourney at this stage a year ago.
Expect the first-place Swiss Super League giants to be at their best here at home at the Joggeli—as the locals call St. Jakob-Park—and with striker Marco Streller, Mohamed Salah and Giovanni Sio, the RotBlau (Red-Blue) should stretch and frustrate the Europa League champions as they did in the first leg.
But the Blues defense should be up to the challenge and keep Chelsea in this game until a player like Eden Hazard or Andre Schurrle can provide an equalizer.
Should this materialize, the Blues earning one point is acceptable; while for FC Basel, securing just one point may, in the end, contribute to its ultimate ouster in the Champions League.
PREDICTION: FC Basel 1 Chelsea 1
When: Sunday, December 1, 2013
Where: Stamford Bridge, West London, England, United Kingdom
Time: 16:10 (UK) 11:10 a.m. ET/8:10 a.m. PT
What: English Premier League Week 13
Last Season: Draw, 2-2 (Jan. 16)
TV Coverage: Sky Sports 1/HD, Sky Sports 3D, Sky Go, NOW powered by Sky (UK); NBC Sports Network, NBC Sports Live Extra, DirecTV (US)
Potential Entertainment Grade: A+
November has been a pretty tough month for Chelsea recently, and December starts with a fixture that all of a sudden has a different feel to it. With third-place Southampton (6-4-1, 22 points) continuing to play quality football, they're a threat to steal a Champions League qualifying spot from one of the Big Boys in the EPL.
Southampton gets a majority of its scoring from Rickie Lambert (4 goals), Adam Lallana (3) and Jay Rodriguez (3), but the surprising strength of the Saints has been their defense, which has allowed a league-low five goals thanks to a great defense spearheaded by Luke Shaw and goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
In its last game—which vaulted manager Mauricio Pochettino and his team into third place, ahead of Chelsea—Southampton manhandled Hull City, 4-1. Even though this game is at Stamford Bridge, it will prove to be more than a challenge considering the mind-boggling five goals allowed and the fact that the Saints tied the Blues (2-2) at SW6 in this fixture last season.
Chelsea will still have its unbeaten streak at home in league play under Mourinho intact heading into this showdown, but I see Southampton and its lockdown defense putting that to the test in what will likely be a low-scoring affair, with the Blues again losing out on a possible two points at home as they did with West Brom in their home draw.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 1 Southampton 1
When: Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Where: Stadium of Light, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England, United Kingdom
Time: 19:45 (UK) 2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT
What: English Premier League Week 14
Last Season: Chelsea won, 3-1 (Dec. 8)
TV: NBC Sports Live Extra (US)
Potential Entertainment Grade: C
Another spot on the schedule for Chelsea to try to get all three points is on this trip to Sunderland, one of the weaker teams in the league to date and one that also need to be concerned about potential relegation.
The Black Cats (2-1-8, 7 points) are currently in 19th place and have been outscored, 22-8. So statistically, the Blues should be good for at least two goals here at the Stadium of Light, right Dwight?
Sunderland has scored six of their eight goals at home (2-0-4), but when one’s leading scorers—Steven Fletcher, Craig Gardner and Emanuele Giaccherini—all have two goals and it’s near December, then manager Gus Poyet and the Gatos Negros have the type of problems now that bucket-loads of money can’t even solve.
Chelsea rolled to a 3-1 here almost a year ago to the date, and with clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, Southampton, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City now all apparently chasing the same things in the Premier League, the Blues need to win games like this and win them quite convincingly.
Here, I say just that transpires, with Schurrle and a defender like Branislav Ivanovic or Gary Cahill beating Sunderland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood as the visitors get out to an early lead, and then coast in a Cech clean sheet in the first of two straight road league contests.
PREDICTION: Sunderland 0 Chelsea 3
When: Saturday, December 7, 2013
Where: Britannia Stadium, England, United Kingdom
Time: 15:00 (UK) 10 a.m. ET/7 a.m. PT
What: English Premier League Week 15
Last Season: Chelsea won, 4-0 (Jan. 4)
TV: NBC Sports Live Extra
Potential Entertainment Grade: B
Like many teams in this favorable stretch in Chelsea’s schedule, 17th-place Stoke City (2-4-5, 10 points) is near the bottom of the table and seems to have trouble scoring goals.
As a matter of fact, all of the Potters' leading scorers are tied with one goal. Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam each have one of those oh-so-precious scores and against the Blues' vaunted defense, they will be hard-pressed to score.
Stoke City has allowed and has scored three goals at home in league play this season, and with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, they have a chance to hang with Chelsea. But in the end, expect someone like Samuel Eto’o or Oscar to go off with a brace as the Blues return to West London with all three points and in the thick of then what could be a seven-team race.
PREDICTION: Stoke City 0 Chelsea 2
When: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Where: Stamford Bridge, West London, England, United Kingdom
Time: 18:45 (UK) 2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT
What: UEFA Champions League Matchday 6 (Group stage)
Last Leg: Chelsea won, 4-0 (Oct. 1)
Potential Entertainment Grade: C+
Chelsea winds up group stage play with what may end up being a meaningless game against group cellar-dweller Steaua Bucharest (0-2-2, 2 points) in the friendly confines of Stamford Bridge.
Should the Blues already have advanced to the knockout stage, expect Mourinho to start a second-string lineup with guys like Ryan Bertrand, Michael Essien, Demba Ba and Mark Schwarzer.
In the opening leg in Romania, Chelsea shut out the Ros-Albastrii 4-0 behind the strength of two Ramires goals, one by vice captain Frank Lampard and a Steaua own goal. Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf and his side may face a less experienced Blues starting XI, but winning on English soil should still prove to be a hard thing for the visitors to accomplish.
Chelsea will again pepper Steaua goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu with shots, and even if backup Schwarzer does indeed get the call, expect him to stifle Mihai Costea and Raul Rusescu and the Romanians in West London.
It’s hard to predict what kind of motivation both sides will truly have from this distance, but the reality that this is a Champions League game and that it is at home should have whomever is playing for the home team performing at their very best.
PREDICTION: Chelsea 3 Steaua Bucharest 1
So Chelsea goes 4-2-0 over this stretch and gets expected wins against West Ham, Sunderland, Stoke City and Steaua Bucharest, and draws with FC Basel and Southampton. Should the Blues be at their very best for the Basel and Southampton games, Chelsea could very well run off a nice little 6-0-0 spurt.
Next up on Chelsea’s schedule after these six and before 2014 ushers itself in are games vs. Crystal Palace (Dec, 14), at Sunderland (Dec. 17), at Arsenal (Dec. 23), vs. Swansea City (Dec. 26) and vs. Liverpool (Dec. 29); all Premier League matches except for Sunderland which is the quarterfinals of the Capital One Cup.
Whatever happens, the Blues need to accumulate some points over the holiday season as the schedule, upon close scrutiny, appears as appetizing as a perfectly cooked Thanksgiving turkey.
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