I don’t know about you, but I’m getting really bored of hearing how we don’t have the stomach for a fight. Clearly in the build up to a Chelsea encounter, the focus is always going to be on how they have outmuscled us in the past, Drogba in particular, but the popular perception seems to be that they want it more and work harder than our ‘powderpuff team’.
I don’t buy it, I really don’t. There is no doubting that they are a more imposing team from a purely physical point of view – their players are taller, broader and more powerful, but you could say the same of Blackburn, Stoke and Bolton, teams we’ve defeated regularly in recent years despite what their managers would have you believe.
And in fairness to Chelsea, claiming their physical power is the only reason they’ve defeated us six times in a row is doing them a massive disservice. They’re a more technically able team than they’re given credit for, particularly the rejuvenated Malouda, who must be shut down tomorrow else he provides Drogba with the sort of service with which to continue his hoodoo.
If Chelsea beat us tomorrow, it will not be because we can’t handle physicality. Jack Wilshere was subjected to a series of crunching challenges against Spurs in the Carling Cup, getting up and carrying on every time. And Tuesday night saw an impressive win over a Partizan team who played in precisely the manner we allegedly cannot cope with.
It is lazy journalism – parroting the line that our team is too small and weak, and claiming that as a reason why bigger teams defeat us. Here’s a heads up – pretty much every team in the league is bigger than us. Yet we’re not near the relegation zone like, say, Liverpool.
It frustrates me that the same tired lines may come out around 6pm tomorrow. ‘We need a Vieira’, ‘We need an Adams’, ‘Our goalkeeper cocked up’. Okay, that last one might be fair.
Speaking of the goalkeepers, Fabianski will continue after his excellent game in midweek. Almunia is still out injured (I debated whether to put injured in inverted commas), and while it was fantastic to see the Pole smiling after a game, it will need many similar performances before we stop having kittens at seeing him in the lineup. At least his confidence is up a notch.
Another player whose confidence is rising is Alex Song, although perversely he is being criticised for it. Few would argue with the assertion that he was one of our best players last season, and this year he has pushed forward a lot more, offering a greater presence in the final third. This may have come at the expense of his defensive positioning, but I am of the opinion that he deserves better than the flak he’s receiving for that. He is merely trying to expand his game, almost certainly under instruction, and whenever a player finds himself further forward he will occasionally leave gaps.
Having said that, if he were to choose a game to sit and protect, tomorrow would be a good one. In Essien, Chelsea have the master of his position – a spoiler who offers a massive threat going forward, and Song would do well to make sure he doesn’t pass him by.
On the flip side, that heaps the pressure on Nasri and Wilshere, but the former was deliberately rested on Tuesday for this game, and is in his best form since joining the club. As for Wilshere, all evidence points to him not being fazed – he simply doesn’t seem overawed by any situation. He was excellent in a cauldron atmosphere on Tuesday, and I see no reason not to throw him in the deep end tomorrow. He is good enough and mature enough to cope.
We will begin the game as underdogs, and rightly so, and the continued absence of the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie and Vermaelen will make it more difficult – that is the spine of our first team, after all. But it isn’t an impossible task – Chelsea are not the unbeatable force the press build them up to be, as City showed last week, and a few of our players have a point to prove after their dismal showing later the same day.
1-1 sound good to you?