As far as ‘first world problems’ go, few are as inconsequential as not having any time to blog, so I won’t complain too much. But I’ve had a few ideas for articles to write this past fortnight that sadly now will never be. So this post is just a collection of short blogs to catch up on what’s happened in February so far…
Firstly, well done to Chelsea’s Nigerian players who won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. There have been a few shock winners at International tournaments since the last World Cup, Uruguay at the Copa America, and Zambia at the ACON two years ago etc. Nigeria’s success on this occasion may trump them all however, given the competing political interests and corruption in Nigerian football as well as all the cliques and tribal divides. On many occasions (including the final) it was Victor Moses who made the difference for the Super Eagles – ultimately it was the quality of our #13 which separated the two sides in what were quite frankly, some incredibly dull games. Nigeria’s best player however, was Mikel.
I’m practically convinced there isn’t a player in the Premier League as underappreciated as he is – we missed him endlessly in his absence. Mikel has damn-near mastered his role now as a defensive midfielder. He just radiates confidence, never gives the ball away, he brings a calmness and order to Chelsea’s passing that has gone underappreciated for far too long, if you ask me. It’s good to have him back.
Secondly, it’s also good to we’re see maintaining our habit of progressing through to latter stages of the FA Cup at an extremely unconvincing canter. Chelsea’s last three successful Cup runs have all seemed to follow a similar pattern, whereby we get unreasonably good fortune in the draw, and then put together a streak of scrappy victories before delivering with the big performances at Wembley. This time however (assuming we get past Middlesbrough) we’re going to need to start trying a bit sooner, as we got drawn to play at Old Trafford in the quarter finals. With the league practically over, Madrid still favourites to progress in the Champions League and with Utd overdue any sort of decent cup-run, I think it’s safe to say they’ll be up for it and we’ll need to be at our best if we’re to knock them out. You would guess that the law of diminishing returns would be starting to apply now to Chelsea with FA Cup wins, but if anything the opposite is true – they just keep getting sweeter and sweeter.
As for the Europa League, the results and performances could’ve been a lot better, but on the whole, I think the Round of 32 went pretty well. We progressed with minimum fuss, courtesy of two fantastic late individual goals, whilst arguably our two greatest threats in the tournament, Napoli and Atletico Madrid (homes of the top two strikers in the world) were both eliminated. In our 8th of the draw, Steaua Bucharest also managed to overturn a two goal lead against Ajax, making our passage to the quarters (on paper at least) that extra bit easier.
Over the past few years, Chelsea have really developed a reputation as a great match-playing side. Comparisons could be made with James Wade (darts), John Higgins (snooker) or Andy Murray (tennis) – all great sportsman, but at the same time sportsmen who fans don’t seem to notice so much compared to their more spectacular rivals. Almost without fail however, regardless of form you can expect them to fight and scrap their way to the latter stages of a competition. Nobody ever gives them much chance of winning but nobody ever takes them lightly either. I think that sums up Chelsea as a knock-out football side at the moment.
Finally, looking ahead to tomorrow’s game at Manchester City, I don’t think we could possibly pick a better time to play them. They’ve blown the league, morale is low, the manager is under pressure and the form book doesn’t look great at the moment (not that ours is especially remarkable) but this collection of City players won’t ever get much more beatable than they are now. Of their five big name players from last season: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Kun Aguero, only the latter has come close to repeating his title winning form this year, the others have all failed to live up to the hype they built for themselves last season. David Silva especially – not so long ago he was indisputably the best midfielder in the division, now even the most passionate City fans would have trouble denying Juan Mata has left his former Valencia teammate trailing in his wake. Our #10 currently has as many goals this season as Silva has scored in his entire Man City career.
With a full strength squad to choose from, it’s been a very long time since I’ve had such little clue who Benitez will select. Frank Lampard, Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz, who were all rested at the weekend, will presumably all return to the starting line up. Given in the reverse fixture (probably the most boring game of the entire league season so far) Pablo Zabaleta gave us some trouble down the left wing, and since Benitez would probably settle for a draw, perhaps Ramires or Bertrand will start wide left at the expense of Victor Moses, which also unfortunately means, despite his fantastic form as of late, there will no room for Oscar in the XI either.
Predicted XI: Cech, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole, David Luiz, Lampard, Ramires, Mata, Hazard, Ba
City used to be statistically our favourite away ground but our last three visits in the league have all ended in defeat. Just like in his first Chelsea game I think Benitez will set us up to defend and clog up the midfield. If we score the first goal I think there’s a good chance we could frustrate them and hold on to the lead. If I had to put money on it though I’d go for a draw, either 0-0 or 1-1.