The collective boredom and frustration which is borne out by the September international break, has now practically become a most unwanted aspect of early season tradition. Even for those of us who enjoy this format of the sport, the combination of tedium that surrounds the opening fixtures of a qualifying campaign, coupled with the inconvenience of a break in the Premier League season, just as it was getting going and the window had finally closed, has made this a very long fortnight indeed. It is now however, finally over! And the Premier League returns tomorrow with Chelsea’s 3-o-clock kick-off pitting together the only two remaining teams in the division with 100% winning records.
Overall, it wasn’t a vintage two week period for our players with their national teams. Diego Costa and Eden Hazard both picked up small injuries and were unable to really contribute. Andre Schurrle did manage to score his 17th goal for Germany but only after his team had already gone down 4-0 to Argentina. Willian also scored the only goal in a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador as Brazil look to rebuild and restore pride after their shocking end to the World Cup. Perhaps the two most impressive performances though came from Gary Cahill, his country’s new vice-captain, who made an outstanding goal-line clearance against Switzerland to keep his side 1-0 up, and Loic Remy, our new French striker who came off the bench to score an excellent winner against Spain.
Obviously the most important thing however, is that everyone has returned seemingly fit and available for selection tomorrow, in what has to be billed as the battle of the league’s two in-form teams. Both sides have had their manager and two players nominated for the PL Manager/Player of the month awards as they sit together at the top of the table. It wouldn’t be surprising or particularly unfair if both accolades went to South Wales, but I’ve got a feeling Swansea will be slightly more concerned about the continued form of Costa and Cesc Fabregas, than we should be about Nathan Dyer and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
A lot of credit is due though, to Garry Monk, for the work he’s done dragging his club out of the mid-table mediocrity which they found themselves last season. By having merged the effective, fast paced forward play of Michael Laudrup’s regime, with the hard work and the energy which Brendan Rodgers had instilled, he’s created a well balanced, dangerous looking team, for whom a top half finish looks a lot more than just a feasible possibility. Chelsea clearly enjoyed the most successful transfer window this summer (maybe in all of Europe) but Swansea completed some excellent business also. The returning Sigurdsson and Ki Sung-Yueng bring a lot of quality back to the midfield; holding onto powerful front man Wilfried Bony may feel like a signing in and of itself, whilst the removal of the majority of the Spanish clique which had reportedly divided the squad last season, seems to have replenished the cohesiveness and the level of teamwork which defined the Welsh club when they were first promoted three years ago.
Once again for Chelsea, the main story regarding selection centres around Diego Costa and his reported hamstring injury. Reports say he’ll be available for selection but with the player’s history and reputation for ignoring injuries, it’s hard not to wonder just how smart he’s being. With the Champions League starting this week and some big upcoming league fixtures, we need the Spaniard to stay fully fit, his record of scoring in patches of form, and then suffering relative droughts, throughout his career, may be tempting Mourinho to cash in on his current explosive goal-scoring form however.
Elsewhere, the other big decision will be at left-back. Having started both games for Brazil last week, Filipe Luis is now clearly fit to start, which means if he again loses out to Cesar Azpilicueta, it will be hard not to conclude that the manager once again considers the Spaniard his first choice for the position, despite spending £16m on Filipe this summer. Schurrle, who was injured for the Everton game, looks to be in a similar position, where selection in the line-up would confirm his place in Mourinho’s first choice starting XI, over the ever-reliable Willian. Having signed a new five year contract this week, Thibaut Courtois will be looking to keep his second home clean sheet in as many games.
For Swansea, the in-form Dyer and Routledge represent a serious counter-attacking threat on the wings, while Sigurdsson and Ki are both fine midfielders and have played well and scored against Chelsea in the past. New signing from Napoli Federico Fernandez had an awful World Cup for Argentina and may be about to be handed an extremely difficult debut, while Jonjo Shelvey is going to have a huge task on his hands, trying to limit Fabregas’ involvement in the game.
It may sound counter-intuitive but I think Swansea’s great start to the season may play into our hands quite nicely. With nine points from nine and practically nothing to lose coming to Stamford Bridge, they should arrive with the confidence to play open and ambitious football, which should hopefully lead to another entertaining game, in which we enjoy plenty of good goal-scoring opportunities. This is also usually a straightforward fixture. We’ve never failed to beat Swansea at home in the league, and only once, in the League Cup have they managed to defeat us since 2011, on what was probably the worst night of Branislav Ivanovic’s Chelsea career. Still, they remain a dangerous team with no obvious weaknesses and a clear threat on the counter. Some more early goals would be helpful to settle the nerves, but I predict another fairly comfortable victory by two goals.
With Man City set for a tough match at Arsenal earlier in the afternoon, there’s a huge possibility that a win against Swansea could put us five or six points clear of the Champions before our visit to the Etihad next week, which would then a represent an opportunity to put some not negligible daylight between ourselves and (what currently seem like) our only serious contenders for the title. Since May, things really haven’t stopped going right for Chelsea, and if they could carry on going right for another couple of weeks, we could find ourselves in an ominously strong early position. And when Mourinho’s team are flying at the top of the table, they are of course, notoriously difficult to catch.