Fulham v Chelsea Match Preview (Premier League) – Saturday 1st March 2014

Fulham host Chelsea in a west London derby that both sides will be desperate to win for very different reasons. The Cottagers are adrift at the bottom of the table whilst the Blues are clear at the top and whilst there is a huge 39 points between the teams, this game could be a lot closer than the table suggests.

Fulham are on their third manager of the campaign, with former Bayern Munich boss and German international Felix Magath now at the helm following Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen. Magath is well known for being a tough disciplinarian who places a lot of emphasis on fitness and organisation, earning him the nickname “Saddam” and leading one former player to call him the “last dictator in Europe”.

If the players buy in to his methods he could be just what Fulham need but if they don’t he could be a total disaster. In his last job he led Wolfsburg to survival from a difficult position and that is exactly what is needed here with Fulham four points away from West Brom in 17th. Magath began life at Fulham with a 1-1 draw at the Baggies but could have won the game as his side led until the 86th minute. Fulham would have been fortunate to get the win but there were signs, even after just a few days in charge, that the German was reshaping the side into a much more workmanlike and disciplined outfit and that could make them hard for the Pensioners to breakdown.

Of course, unpicking the defences of sides set out to defend against them – or play 19th century football if you prefer Jose’s vernacular – has been a problem for Chelsea all season. They lack a top notch striker and, despite their wealth of creative talents in the attacking midfield areas, they do not create enough clear cut chances. With the home side certain to defend in numbers and work exceptionally hard off the ball there is every danger that Jose Mourinho’s men could slip up here, giving Arsenal a chance to return to the top of the Premier League.

The visitors will not have been helped by the fact that they had a game away at Galatasaray on Wednesday either. It was a tough match and the 1-1 draw again demonstrated Chelsea’s occasional lack of cutting edge. Mourinho has no new injury concerns from the game though and David Luiz remains the only doubt, whilst the Cottagers are in a similar position in terms of their squad.

Back in September Chelsea won 2-0 at the Bridge whilst they won the corresponding fixture last season 3-0. The four games before that, two each at either ground, ended in 1-1 or 0-0 draws and we fancy this one will be similarly close, or perhaps settled by a single goal. It really is a tough one to call but spring is in the air and we’re feeling optimistic so 1-0 to the Blues it is!

LCN Verdict: 1-0 to Chelsea

Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea Match Report (Champions League) – Wednesday 27th February 2014

Chelsea were pegged back by Turkish side Galatasaray with a second half goal from Aurelien Chedjou enough to earn the home side a 1-1 draw and keep them in the tie. The Blues will be confident of finishing the job on home soil but after having started brightly they will be disappointed to have only come away from Istanbul with a draw.

Of course, avoiding defeat and scoring an away goal would have been two of Chelsea’s main objectives but Jose Mourinho was left once more to rue the inefficiency of his strikers. The game was billed as a battle between Didier Drogba and his former club and how Mourinho must have longed for a player of the quality the Ivorian displayed during his peak years with the Pensioners.

Fernando Torres started the game brightly, linking play and looking sharp and the Spaniard got his reward after just 10 minutes when he silenced the home crowd with the opener. The hosts were far too open in the early stages, committing men forward and maintaining a high defensive line and when an attack broke down Cesar Azpilicueta – improving with every game – countered quickly before squaring for Torres who had an easy finish.

However, rather than serving to boost his confidence, Torres reverted to recent form after the goal and any hope that he might put in a really dominant performance was quashed when he wasted a good chance early in the second half. Fernando Muslera made a solid save but Torres should have done better from 15 yards after fine work by Eden Hazard. In a game of few real chances such profligacy was shown to be costly when Gala equalised not long after.

Unbeaten in 16 games at the Turk Telecom Arena, Roberto Mancini’s side had struck the post moments before they scored. Skipper Selcuk Inan saw his effort after a Drogba header rebound off the woodwork but his frustration was short-lived as soon after Chedjou converted Wesley Sneijder’s corner to keep the home side firmly in the game.

All in all it was a disappointing game and Mancini may feel he got the better of Mourinho, the man that replaced him at Inter Milan and with whom there is little love lost, as the game turned on a tactical change made by the Italian after just 31 minutes. Mancini, aware that the Chelsea full backs were getting too much space on the break, replaced winger Izet Hajrovic and switched to 4-5-1 with central midfielder Yekta Kurtulus providing more cover against the visitors’ attacks.

Whilst Mourinho bemoaned his team’s lack of cutting edge, on this occasion he may have to accept that a draw was not such a bad result at an intimidating ground. The Blues undoubtedly lack that X factor in the final third but it is not so much the strikers missing chances as the side – for whatever reason – not creating enough really good openings.

Tactical musings aside, however, at 1-1 John Terry – rarely troubled here – and co will be highly confident of progression, with a win or a clean sheet enough to see them through to the quarters, possibly as sole English representatives.

Galatasaray v Chelsea Match Preview (Champions League) – 26th February 2014

Chelsea edged to a 1-0 victory over Everton at the weekend to stay in pole position in the race for the Premier League title, but it will be the Champions League that is their main priority in midweek when they travel to Turkey to play Galatasaray. The Istanbul-based side are managed by former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini and they have a striker who might just be recognised by the Blues faithful… a certain Didier Drogba. It promises to be quite an occasion!

Chelsea progressed to the knockout stage of Europe’s premier club competition by topping Group E ahead of Schalke, Basel and Steaua Bucharest, but they didn’t have it all their own way, losing home and away to Swiss side Basel. Having said that, Jose Mourinho’s men conceded only three goals from their six group matches (the joint best defensive record of all the teams in the competition, alongside Atletico Madrid and – perhaps surprisingly – Manchester United); and having won their other four matches they were worthy of their finishing position at the top of the group.

Mancini’s Galatasaray, meanwhile, did well to progress to the Round of 16 given they were drawn in a very tough group along with Real Madrid and Juventus (and Copenhagen, but they are hardly in the same class as the other two). Things started badly for the Turks as they were hammered 6-1 at home by Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo showing his supreme ability with a fine hat-trick. Galatasaray got into their rhythm soon after, though, with a well-deserved 2-2 draw in Turin against Juve and a home win over Copenhagen. Away defeats to the Danes and Real followed before the all-important home win for Mancini’s men against Juve in their final group game, allowing them to sneak through, just a point ahead of the Serie A leaders.

Chelsea are massive favourites with the bookies to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and over two legs we would agree they should have more than enough to triumph. But we feel they won’t have things all their own way in Istanbul, the atmosphere and perhaps an air of superiority conspiring to lessen Chelsea’s effectiveness. Drogba will be more than eager to score against his former employers and given the Blues have never really replaced the burly striker in terms of attacking potency, there is always a chance the home side could nick this one 1-0.

Having said that, Mourinho has been around the European block more than a few times and he will know exactly what to expect. We fancy he’ll set up in such as way as to push hard for the away goal while also attempting to keep things relatively tight. With John Terry fit again, he and Gary Cahill are sure to relish the challenge of nullifying Drogba’s threat and it will almost certainly be a relatively low-scoring game.

Overall we suspect both managers would be reasonably happy with a draw and if the Blues get the away goal in the process they’ll be in the driving seat for the return leg at the bridge. So our prediction is for the match to end 1-1 to leave the tie alive but Chelsea as the favourites to progress.

LCN Verdict: Galatasaray 1-1 Chelsea

Chelsea 1-0 Everton Match Report (Premier League) – 22nd February 2014

Chelsea earned a crucial 1-0 victory over Everton at Stamford Bridge in the early kick off on Saturday to maintain their position at the top of the Premier League table. Jose Mourinho’s men left it very late in the day after some exceptional defending from Everton’s back four kept them at bay for most of the game. In the end it well into injury time before John Terry – who returned after an injury lay-off – bundled in a Frank Lampard free kick, leaving the visitors dejected and pointless.

Despite Roberto Martinez’s men having the slight edge in terms of possession (53% to 47%), it was the home side who created the best chances in the match. Eden Hazard, Samuel Eto’o, Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic were all denied by the impressive Everton keeper, Tim Howard, and – in all fairness – the Blues were the better side over the 90 minutes.

That is not to say Everton didn’t perform well, with Seamus Coleman, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines looking solid for the vast majority of the match. But with Romelu Lukaku ineligible to play against his parent club despite having returned to fitness, Martinez had to rely on Steven Naismith to lead the line. The Scot is not a bad player, but he simply does not possess the ability, pace or power to get the better of Terry and Gary Cahill. As such Everton lacked that cutting edge in the final third and the home side were rarely threatened.

Chelsea were not overly impressive in the first period, with Oscar in particular looking out of sorts. The Brazilian was subbed for countryman Ramires at the break and Mourinho’s men looked all the more dangerous for the change.

The victory for the Pensioners moves them on to 60 points from their 27 games and extends their unbeaten home record in the league under Mourinho to an astounding 74 matches. For Everton, it was the fourth loss on the road to teams above them in the table (their one point when visiting a top five club came at Arsenal in December). It leaves the Toffees with a mountain to climb if they are to finish in the top four, with Liverpool and Spurs both above them and playing well.

The Blues face a potentially tricky trip to Istanbul to face Galatasaray in the Champions League in midweek, followed by league matches against Fulham then Spurs, and wins from those three will give Mourinho’s men a great deal of momentum as the season approaches its crescendo.

Chelsea have the best defensive record in the Premier League having conceded just 21 goals from their 27 games – six fewer than Arsenal. It is just as well they are tight at the back given the lack of potency up front. But with plenty of matches to go and Arsenal and Man City promising to challenge Chelsea all the way, it promises to be as exciting a title battle as we’ve seen in years!

Chelsea v Everton Match Preview (Premier League) – Saturday 22nd February 2014

Chelsea are top of the Premier League and whilst they were knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend they are still competing on two fronts and in with a great chance of success in the league or Champions League. However, with Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool maintaining a relentless pace just behind them they simply have to keep winning if they are to end the season as a prize-winning thoroughbred rather than a show pony or also ran. So, on to the runners and riders here…

Everton, with Roberto Martinez in the saddle… okay, we’ll stop the horse metaphors now, but Jose started it and if it’s good enough for the Special One, well, it’s good enough for us here at LCN! Anyway, Everton, managed by the likeable Martinez, are having a solid season and progressed to the FA Cup quarters at the weekend with a 3-1 home win over Swansea. They weren’t at their best though, and having lost two of their last three in the league – away at Spurs and Liverpool – they will be keen to bounce back and get three more points in the league.

Of course, the Pensioners too will be keen to get a win under their belts after the 2-0 FA Cup defeat at City and the 1-1 draw at West Brom in the league prior to that. Moreover, Mourinho and co will want some revenge after their 1-0 loss at Goodison Park back in September when Steven Naismith’s goal was enough to see the Toffees take the spoils. Chelsea were a tad unlucky that day, dominating possession and having twice as many shots as their opponents (though, symptomatic of how their season has developed, the same number on target – just five from 22) but at this stage of the campaign hard luck stories don’t matter, only points.

In terms of points these sides have been very evenly matched and, in fact, in the last 14 league games between them the record is even, with four wins each and six draws. Almost all of those wins have been by a single goal and so we can be relatively confident this game will be another close affair. The recent head to head record is littered with 0-0s and 1-1s and given Chelsea have the best defence in the top flight and Everton the division’s third best, this one seems unlikely to be a goalfest.

Romelu Lukaku, the best striker that the home side don’t have at their disposal after loaning him out to the Toffees, may be fit for Everton but will not be allowed to play against his parent club. This means that neither side will have a top notch striker, in form, confident and likely to register. Both offer a good threat from midfield though and it is Chelsea’s superiority here and, of course, home advantage, that lead us to believe they will just about do enough to get the result. Another clean sheet for Petr Cech and co and perfect revenge for the reverse fixture are the order of the day here.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 1-0

Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea Match Report (FA Cup 5th Round) – 15th February 2014

Manchester City exacted sweet revenge over Chelsea on Saturday as their 2-0 victory in the FA Cup afforded them passage to the quarter-finals and eased the pain of their recent defeat to the Blues in the league. Goals from Stevan Jovetic and second half substitute Samir Nasri were the difference in a game in which Chelsea created little from an attacking point of view, not managing a single shot on target.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men face Barcelona in midweek and as such the Chilean coach opted to leave Joe Hart, Alvaro Negredo, Nasri and one or two others on the bench, bringing in James Milner and Jovetic to the starting line-up. Chelsea were not playing until the following Saturday as their own Champions League Round of 16 match against Galatasaray is not until the following week, so Jose Mourinho was able to field a full strength side. Having said that, having played against West Brom last Tuesday may have made some difference given City’s own midweek match was postponed due to the high winds.

Chelsea’s downfall in the match was due in no small part to the excellent job James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta did on the visitors’ player of the season so far, Eden Hazard. The Belgian didn’t have the time or space he’s enjoyed in other matches and things that would usually flow for him stuttered and failed to come off.

The win marks only the second victory for Pellegrini over Mourinho, and he certainly won the tactical battle with his enigmatic Portuguese counterpart on this occasion, giving the visitors no space in the final third and also offering the wherewithal to nullify Chelsea’s main attacking threat of hitting the home side on the break. Indeed, the Blues were limited to just three shots from distance in the whole match, none of which required a save from Costel Pantilimon.

The goal from Jovetic – in the 16th minute – put the writing on the wall for Mourinho’s men, who knew they needed to keep City at bay for as long as possible if they were to be in with a real chance of repeating their recent success at the Etihad. The Montenegrin struck low and true after good work from Edin Dzeko and David Silva to give Pellegrini’s team the lead.

Despite no little effort from the Blues, they lacked the spark and intensity they had shown on their last visit to City and that – combined with the home side being wise to their visitors’ tactics – meant there was only ever going to be one result after the Citizens had taken the lead. And so it proved, with Nasri’s goal in the 67th minute coming just minutes after being introduced to the match after a five-week injury layoff and giving the home side an unassailable 2-0 lead.

After the match Mourinho was – for him – magnanimous in defeat, admitting City were the better side. He then went on to say the referee was rubbish and that the second goal was offside… but then that’s Jose for you. Everton are up next in the Premier League, a crucial game – as if any aren’t at this stage of the season.

Manchester City v Chelsea Match Preview (FA Cup) – Saturday 15th February 2014

One of two huge FA Cup ties in the fifth round, Chelsea’s visit to Man City, is Saturday’s biggest game and is live on ITV1 for UK viewers. It’s sure to be an enthralling match and with City still smarting from their recent home defeat in the Premier League they are certain to be out for revenge. Read on for our preview and analysis of this exciting fixture.

The teams played each other on the 3rd February and amid predictions that Jose Mourinho would “park the bus” and play for a draw against a then seemingly unstoppable City, the Pensioners played superbly and got the win. It was 1-0 but though the home side had the lion’s share of possession, Mourinho’s men thrice hit the woodwork and executed their counter attacking plan superbly.

Since then the Citizens have stumbled, drawing 0-0 at Norwich and dropping further off the title pace when their game with Sunderland was postponed on Wednesday due to the bad weather. To some extent both teams will be glad to put the pressure of the league behind them here and we could see an open, attacking game, as indeed we did at the start of the month.

City are clearly missing Sergio Aguero and, good as Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo are, it is the Argentine who brings real X factor to the squad. However, they are unlikely to stutter for long and one has to consider their overall home record when assessing this game. The loss to Chelsea was their first home defeat of the campaign and only their fifth since the 2009-2010 campaign in the league. They are formidable at the Etihad and just because Chelsea have managed to win their once (as well as winning the league clash at the Bridge earlier in the season) it does not mean it will be easy second time round.

Though Mourinho holds a very good record against City’s Chilean boss Manuel Pellegrini from their days in Spain, the wily former Malaga boss will have learned from the most recent contest and his tactics are sure to be subtly different this time around. Of course, that could lead to a more muted affair, with neither side keen to overexpose themselves but we think with the shackles of the Premier League off, as the game wears on it is certain to come to life.

There is just too much quality on show for goals not to be scored and once either side breaks the deadlock the other will be forced into action. Overall we think that home advantage will be crucial, although with City facing Barcelona shortly after this game (the Blues’ Champions League campaign does not resume until the 26th) Pellegrini may well be tempted to rest key players. However, City’s second string managed to win at Bayern Munich and so must not be underestimated and, sadly, we think Chelsea’s FA Cup campaign ends here.

LCN Verdict: Manchester City 2 – 1 Chelsea

West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Chelsea Match Report (Premier League) – 11th February 2013

Chelsea missed the opportunity to cement their position at the top of the Premier League table on Tuesday evening as they let the lead slip when drawing 1-1 with West Brom at the Hawthorns. Jose Mourinho’s men dominated for much of the game but it took until almost the stroke of half time for them to turn that superiority into a goal, Branislav Ivanovic knocking it in after a David Luiz flick from a corner, only for a late Victor Anichebe equaliser to stun the travelling Chelsea fans and add yet another twist to the race for the title.

In the early stages of the second half Chelsea looked comfortable as Pepe Mel’s men found it difficult to fashion any meaningful chances. But, as has been the case on a number of occasions this season, the Blues were unable to convert territorial advantage into the clear cut chances they needed. The Baggies realised that Eden Hazard was Chelsea’s main danger man (the Belgian’s hat-trick against Newcastle giving Mel and his staff all the evidence they needed for such an assertion) and the creative midfielder was marshalled well for much of the game, the home side often doubling up to limit his options and space.

Chelsea’s main issue this season (as we continue to mention on this site) has been their lack of an effective striker. Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba have mustered just 11 league goals between them this season, just one more than Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud and four less than Man City’s Sergio Aguero. Eto’o started the match at the Hawthorns but couldn’t find the space he enjoyed against Newcastle (when he set up one of Hazard’s goals and won the penalty for another). He was eventually replaced by Torres in the 69th minute, but the Spaniard also looked ineffectual and unlikely to force the second goal.

The home side increased in confidence as the second half wore on and, as the Blues looked to tire in the latter stages, created some chances of their own. Captain Chris Brunt and James Morrison both had chances to level but fluffed their lines, but it was left to former Everton striker Anichebe to get the crucial goal in the 87th minute as he nipped in front of David Luiz to head in a cross from Saido Berahino.

The point moved the Baggies out of the bottom three (prior to the Wednesday matches at least) and moved Chelsea two clear of second-placed Arsenal and three ahead of Man City, both of whom would leapfrog Mourinho’s men if they win on Wednesday.

After the match, Portuguese boss Mourinho suggested his side lacked “personality” when letting the Baggies back into the game by inviting the pressure in the latter stages of the game. But given the Special One always suggested his side wouldn’t win the title this year, perhaps his players are just trying to prove him right. Next up is another trip to Man City (in the FA Cup) followed by a tough home match against Everton. Are Chelsea good enough to win the title? We have our doubts after this match.

West Bromwich Albion v Chelsea Match Preview (Premier League) – 11th February 2014

Chelsea are flying high at the top of the Premier League table after their 3-0 victory over Newcastle on Saturday and their crucial 1-0 triumph over title rivals Manchester City at the Etihad last Monday. But Jose Mourinho knows his side cannot afford to rest on their laurels if they are to maintain their challenge at the top, and this is just the sort of tricky fixture that could be their undoing if they are not as professional and determined as they were against Man City.

The added spice that is sprinkled on this fixture comes from the fact that West Brom were very unlucky not to have taken victory when they visited Stamford Bridge in November. The Baggies – then managed by Steve Clarke – were barely a minute away from the three points before a highly contentious penalty was awarded to the home side after Steven Reid was adjudged to have brought down Ramires in the area – a decision that looked wholly incorrect when viewed on the replays.

West Brom are now managed by former Real Betis boss Pepe Mel and the Spaniard will be hoping he can catch the Blues on an off day given the increasingly desperate plight in which his side find themselves. The Baggies are currently in 18th place, just three points ahead of bottom club Fulham but only a point behind Sunderland who occupy that all-important 17th spot. But with only one win from their last 15 in the league, the omens do not look great for Mel’s men.

Having said that, they really haven’t done too badly against Chelsea in recent years; as well as almost beating them at the Bridge in November, the Baggies won on each of the last two occasions they have played the Blues at the Hawthorns, 2-1 in November 2012 and 1-0 in March of the same year. Chelsea have also lost three league matches on the road this term, against Everton, Newcastle and Stoke, and haven’t always found their feet when venturing out of the capital.

Of course, the Blues’ 1-0 victory at Man City last week will give them great confidence of getting the necessary results when playing away, and given they have lost just once in the last 15 we believe there is only one winner likely to emerge from this one. Eden Hazard is the most effective and dangerous midfielder in the Premier League at present and with Willian, Oscar and others offering excellent support, we can’t see how West Brom will be able to avoid defeat on Tuesday. There is some hope drawn from 1-1 draws against Everton and Liverpool in their last two home matches, but we think the Blues have the bit between their teeth at the moment and that they will do enough to get the win… but they’ll certainly have to work for it.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-1

Chelsea 3-0 Newcastle United Match Report (Premier League) – 9th February 2014

Chelsea gave their title credentials a massive boost on Saturday as they comfortably beat Newcastle 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. With Arsenal getting hammered 5-1 by Liverpool at Anfield and Manchester City being held to a goalless draw by Norwich at Carrow Road, the victory for Jose Mourinho’s side moves them to the top of the Premier League table and – despite the Portuguese boss suggesting otherwise – they are now in pole position for the title.

The Blues now have amassed a total of 56 points from their 25 games with a goal difference of plus 27; Arsenal are in second on 55 points with a plus 22 goal difference and City are third on 54 with the best goal difference in the division of plus 41. While it is almost certainly a race between the current top three, Liverpool still have an outside chance of sneaking into contention as they are on 50 points with a goal difference of plus 33. But we think it’s going to be between Chelsea and City (Arsenal are showing signs of their annual crumble so might do well to hold on to a top three finish).

Saturday’s win over Newcastle was Chelsea’s seventh victory in their last eight top flight games and was thanks to a fine hat-trick from Belgian genius Eden Hazard. A fine drive into the bottom corner for the opener set the ball rolling for the home side after 27 minutes, but it was the second goal which impressed the most: Hazard passed to Samuel Eto’o and the Cameroonian back-heeled into the Belgian’s path before a cool finish gave Tim Krul no chance.

Hazard’s third goal – in the 63rd minute – came from the penalty spot after Eto’o was rugby tackled in the area by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at a corner, and it capped off a solid display that will please Mourinho no end, not least because his side were able to take a good proportion of the chances they created, which has not been the case too often this season.

Alan Pardew bemoaned the fact that some of his key players were missing through injury, but his men put up a reasonable fight at the Bridge, creating 12 goal-scoring opportunities (to Chelsea’s 18) with six shots on target (to the home side’s eight). The difference was that Chelsea took their chances and Newcastle stuttered and lacked composure in the final third.

Mourinho is almost certainly playing mind games or attempting to keep the pressure off his players when suggesting City are still favourites for the title. Given the Blues have done the double over Manuel Pellegrini’s men this season and also have the easier run-in, we are confident the Special One not only knows his side have a great chance of winning the title but that he fully expects they will do so. If they continue to put in commanding performances such as the one they exhibited on Saturday we are inclined to agree.