Though it’s difficult to remember and hard to compare, this has felt like the most productive and successful pre-season at Chelsea in a very long time. With two big tours of different continents, a good standard of opposition and plenty of games/opportunities for the entire squad to take part, the team look motivated and in good shape with everybody at least injury free, if not fully match-fit going into this mini international break.
With the start of the Premier League season finally just a few days away, thoughts across the Chelsea fan base are turning to the opening fixture against the newly and ridiculously branded ‘Hull City Tigers’, guessing whom Jose Mourinho might play and where. Fortunately for our manager however, the pressure to get the selection and the tactics right for the match aren’t particularly high, as for the eighth year in a row, we’ve been handed an extremely easy first round tie. I honestly haven’t met a single person who isn’t backing Hull for relegation. To put it mildly, I don’t think there’s much chance of Mourinho’s 60 game unbeaten run in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge coming to an end this Sunday.
I’ve read a few previews and line up predictions for the game now and I’m surprised to find that the consensus seems to be anticipating the use of a 4-3-3 formation. Jose has said that rotation we’ll play a key part in his strategy to compete for four trophies and that’ll likely involve the occasional switching from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. But when I think of the advantages of using the latter system, i.e. extra bodies and control in midfield, I’m not sure how necessary that would be in a home game against Hull. To me, the game plan of picking all the best attacking players, battering them 6-0 and moving on from there, sounds like a much better idea than playing out a controlled and ordered small margin victory.
We’ve been told that the team is being run from here on in as a meritocracy and that there are no untouchables in the current squad. There are of course however, two almost completely ‘untouchable’ players in the squad in Petr Cech and Ashley Cole; only injury or what I can only think of describing as a monu-fucking-mental loss of form will see either lose his regular place in the team. Both will surely start against Hull.
At centre-half, after probably his worst season for a decade, John Terry has pretty much managed to walk back into the team with some solid performances in both Asia and the States and will start the season with a place in the XI to lose. David Luiz’ lack of game time means that Gary Cahill will start alongside the captain and with Cesar Azpilicueta flying to Ecuador and back this week; Branislav Ivanovic will almost definitely be picked to start at right back.
In midfield, Ramires’ inclusion is practically a given. Some argue he isn’t suited to playing in a double pivot but I think his speed, energy and physicality make him perfect for that #6 position in a 4-2-3-1, only his passing accuracy lets him down slightly but with the creativity in the side generally being produced further up the pitch, it’s not really that much of an issue. Alongside him in midfield, there’s a case to be made for Marco Van Ginkel starting, with the game being a relatively easy one for him to make his PL debut, but I think personally Michael Essien will play (ahead of the less match-fit Mikel and Frank Lampard) – with the young Dutchman to come on at some point later in the game.
For the attacking positions, Eden Hazard will certainly play and I’m pretty sure that Oscar will too. With questions over Mata’s fitness and two more games to come in the seven days following Hull City, I can’t imagine he’ll be risked. The last midfield slot on the right wing could go to Victor Moses, Kevin De Bruyne or Andre Schurrle. With the latter more of a left wing specialist anyway, I think De Bruyne will edge in over the Nigerian based on pre-season form. Considering the fact Romelu Lukaku is likely to start up front also, the experience KDB will have from playing with the big forward in the Belgium NT, is another reason he’ll probably be preferred to Moses.
Possible Hull Tactics:
As for ‘The Tigers’ themselves, last year in the Championship they used a 3-5-2 formation with Ahmed Elmohamdy and Robbie Brady as wing backs. Against generally weaker teams last season the system worked well, but if Steve Bruce sets his team up with a back three on Sunday then his side will have practically no width going forward, unless they suicidally leave space behind the two aforementioned WBs for Hazard and De Bruyne to break into. New signings upfront, Yannick Sagbo and Danny Graham will both have to contribute heavily goals-wise if Hull are to stay in the division – though I don’t expect either to open their account this weekend.
A lot of stupid results at home were what really cost Chelsea last season, namely the defeat to QPR and the draws against Fulham, Southampton and Liverpool. Had we not lost those nine points then we’d have finished six points clear of Man City in 2nd and only five points behind Man Utd at the top. In Mourinho’s two title winning seasons, our home record was what really set us apart and the efficiency with which the smaller teams were dispatched of was truly remarkable – the likes of Hull used to be lucky to get a shot on target back then, let alone a point. A return to those days is what every fan is hoping for in terms of Stamford Bridge becoming a domestic fortress once again and it all starts hopefully with the hammering of Hull City this Sunday.
Enjoy the game and the season and KTBFFH