Chelsea will welcome Swansea City to Stamford Bridge for their festive fixture on Boxing Day. A drab 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Monday kept the Blues in the title race, and they will be looking to take maximum points against the South Wales side ahead of the visit of League leaders Liverpool.
Following the game at the Emirates, Jose Mourinho told chelseafc.com:
We came to win, we wanted to win but it was very important not to lose, because if we did we are five points behind the leader. With a point we are two behind the two leaders, and that is a completely different picture. We tried to win, but we are not unhappy with the point.
The Special One will be pleased to have kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for the first time since mid-November. Lining up in a 4-3-3 gave the side much more stability, and Chelsea will look to build on the control that this formation gave them at Arsenal.
Gary Cahill started alongside John Terry at the Emirates ahead of David Luiz, but the Brazilian will likely return to the starting lineup to face Swansea. He made 10 effective clearances in his last game against Crystal Palace, compared with Cahill’s five against Arsenal. Luiz is also better at closing down and tackling than Cahill, and these traits will be key to stopping Pablo Hernandez in particular.
Cesar Azpilicueta put in another stand-out performance against Arsenal having scored his first goal for Chelsea against them in the Capital One Cup earlier in the season. “Dave” made five tackles and 10 clearances at the Emirates, including one off the line in the dying minutes of the game. This crucial action alone should see him keep his place ahead of out-of-favour Ashley Cole.
Frank Lampard came closest to breaking the deadlock against Arsenal, but could only watch his strike bounce off the bar and out. Mourinho said after the game (per Goal.com) “I’m glad we have goal-line technology so nobody could complain,” presumably including himself in the list of potential plaintiffs. Lampard will probably partner Ramires in midfield against Swansea, while the third spot in midfield is still up for grabs.
John Obi Mikel is lucky that he is not banned for the Boxing Day clash after a poorly-timed challenge on Mikel Arteta had the Arsenal bench up in arms, via Sky Sports. If Mourinho decides to stick with the 4-3-3, you can almost guarantee that Mikel will start alongside Lampard and Ramires. However, this match could offer him the chance to try something different.
Oscar has been the favoured No. 10 so far this season due to his contribution in both attack and defence. Despite his slight build, the Brazilian maestro has made 34 tackles in 11 Premier League starts. That’s nearly three times as many as Eden Hazard, who has started five more games than Oscar.
This statistic in particular suggests that Oscar could thrive in a deeper midfield role as a playmaker, who is equally capable of providing defensive cover as well as attacking chances.
Whatever formation Mourinho decides to start with against Swansea, it is clear he will expect more from his attacking players. He told chelseafc.com after the Arsenal game:
If we scored goals in direct relation to what we produce we would be in a fantastic situation. We are not scoring enough goals, and it's not just the problem of the strikers not scoring goals, it is also the problem of the other people who do not transform half-chances into goals. I call half-chances the half a dozen ones today when you recover the ball, you have space and the opponent is not balanced. You feel the goal can happen, but then you are not aggressive and sharp. So when you are not this, you come to control the game, and we controlled the game.
Hazard has been on fine form and is Chelsea’s top scorer in all competitions with seven goals so far this season. It is likely that he will replace Willian on the left of the attack, with Juan Mata flanking him on the right.
If Mourinho does opt to start Mata, it makes sense to favour Fernando Torres up front, as the two Spaniards have an understanding that will yield goals sooner rather than later.
With Liverpool travelling to Manchester City in the day’s late kick-off, and Arsenal facing a tricky trip to West Ham, Chelsea could give their supporters a late Christmas present by going top of the table. Mourinho will know how important a win will be to the mentality of his squad, and you can guarantee that winning will be far more important than not losing on Thursday.
All stats provided by Whoscored.