Tottenham v Chelsea Preview (Premier League) – 1st January 2015

Chelsea start 2015 as the Premier League leaders, and they face their first game of the year at White Hart Lane against a Tottenham side who are nothing if not unpredictable. The Blues will be looking to bounce back from their draw at Southampton on Sunday, but they face a Spurs side who have been playing better of late as they look to make a push for the top four.

Coming into this one, the Blues actually have Burnley to thank for their spot at the top of the table. The draw with Southampton meant Manchester City could have taken over top spot ahead of this game, as they kick off earlier on Thursday. But Burnley rallied at the Etihad and came back from two goals down to draw with City, keeping Manuel Pellegrini’s men three points behind the league leaders.

Chelsea are going to face a battle to keep that advantage with Spurs in good form and given that the north Londoners have really started to improve defensively. They held Manchester United to a 0-0 draw on Sunday, and they won their last four games before that. They’re just two points off fourth place after picking themselves up from a poor start and problems that occurred as a result of trying to balance domestic and European football.

The hosts also come into this with a fully fit squad, so they have a chance at turning around the awful form they have against Chelsea. They’ve failed to beat the Blues in 10 meetings, including their 3-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge at the start of December. If they’re going to get a positive result, they’ll need the likes of Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane to be at their best.

Jan Vertonghen is another one to watch, as he’s formed a good partnership with Federico Fazio this season. They’ve only lost one game while playing together, but that was the defeat at Stamford Bridge, and Vertonghen put in a poor performance that day. Given that came against Didier Drogba and, later, Loic Remy, it will be interesting to see how they fare against the more wily Diego Costa.

Chelsea have no injury worries heading in to this one, and after the rotation at Southampton and the subsequent four day break we expect to see close to the strongest team back for the trip to north London. With Mourinho looking to get back to winning ways, it’s hard to see him rotating much before this game, especially when he can change the side for the weekend cup game against Watford.

While this is a tough game for the league leaders, it is also an important one, as it highlights the difficulty of their fixture list compared to City. The game at Spurs is their fifth of six away games against last season’s top seven, while City have only faced one of those teams on the road. Even if the lead at the top shortens on Thursday, the Blues know they’ve overcome one of the last big challenges they have on their path to the title.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-1

Southampton 1-1 Chelsea Match Report – 28th December 2014

Chelsea could only manage a draw at Southampton in their final game of 2014, but they still remain top of the Premier League table heading in to the New Year. Saido Mane put the hosts ahead, before Eden Hazard equalised just before half time. Referee Anthony Taylor was in the firing line after the game, as he booked Cesc Fabregas for diving in the penalty area, despite it looking as though the Spaniard had been fouled.

The Blues came to the south coast just two days after playing West Ham, and they had to make several changes to that side. John Obi Mikel came in for Oscar, leaving Fabregas playing further forward in the number 10 position. Willian was replaced by Andre Schurrle, while Filipe Luis replaced Cesar Azpilicueta at left back.

Those changes may have affected the rhythm of the team as the Saints started off the better of the two sides. The home side were rewarded for that positive start just after a quarter of an hour when Mane went through on goal and lifted the ball over the helpless Thibaut Courtois. The forward’s pace seemed to have the beating of the visitors’ central defenders, something Saints’ boss Ronald Koeman said was a weak point in this Chelsea team.

With the league leaders pushing for an equaliser, they managed to go in level at the break, after Hazard scored with just seconds left in the half. Fabregas provided his 13th assist of the season by playing a fantastic ball over the top to the Belgian who then glided past half of the hosts’ backline before firing home.

The second half saw Willian come on for Schurrle, as Jose Mourinho’s charges went in search of the lead. He was infuriated after seeing his side have a penalty claim turned down when Fabregas looked to have been tripped by the right leg of Matt Targett, but the referee gave the Chelsea man a yellow card, apparently for diving.

Chelsea were handed an advantage when Southampton went down to 10 men, with Morgan Schneiderlin receiving two yellow cards, but the Saints managed to hang on after the dismissal, earning a point to keep their place in the top four.

After the game, Mourinho left no one in any doubt about his feelings on referee Anthony Taylor’s performance. He told the press after the game, “There is a campaign against Chelsea I don’t know why there is this campaign and I do not care. Everybody knows it was a penalty. The referee made a mistake, people make mistakes and he made a big mistake. He is a good referee and a good guy, he is young, he has years and years of football ahead of him but it is a big mistake.”

Despite that draw, the Blues remain three points clear at the top of the Premier League, and they kick off 2015 with a potentially tough trip to rivals Tottenham on New Year’s Day.

LCN Man of the Match: Cesc Fabregas

Southampton v Chelsea Preview (Premier League) – 28th December 2014

Chelsea visit Southampton on Sunday just two days after playing West Ham at home. It’s a quick turnaround for the Blues, like all Premier League sides, playing two games across this Christmas weekend. With another big away game to come next week, the trip to Spurs, we could see a bit of squd rotation here.

The Blues come in to this one on the back of a 2-0 win over West Ham, so Jose Mourinho will be unlikely to make too many changes, but there will be a few who need a break. The advanced midfield players would be most prone to injury in this situation, given their playing style, so we could see one or two of them miss out. Mourinho has been fantastic at keeping his team fresh this year, so hopefully he can keep that up.

Southampton will be facing the same issues, and they have a much smaller squad. Their team was in London on Boxing Day for a trip to Crystal Palace. The Saints are currently fifth in the Premier League table, having had a great season so far. Given their recent blip where they lost to Man City, Arsenal and Manchester United, you’d expect Chelsea to be heavy favourites for this one, regardless of the fixture list.

Still, to be in that position at this stage of the season shows just how well they’ve been playing, and their defence has been a big part of that. Alongside Chelsea, they have the best defensive record in the league this season. That may just make this game quite a low scoring affair.

Interestingly, the Blues actually kicked off 2014 in the same place that they’ll end it. This trip to St Marys is their last match of the year, and they visited here on New Year’s Day last season. They beat Southampton 3-0 that day, but the game is most remembered for the constant close ups of the soon to depart Juan Mata, after he was hauled off. Chelsea struggled for the first hour down there, before Fernando Torres, Willian and Oscar put the game to bed.

The Blues would take another result like that, as they look to go in to 2015 as Premier League leaders. Manchester City are hot on their tails, and they have a much easier Christmas fixture list, with Sunderland and Burnley visiting the Etihad over the next week. With City unlikely to drop points, this is a must win game for Chelsea.

The Blues have a good record against Southampton, and they should be able to get a win here. Expect to see a couple of changes from the side that beat West Ham, but both teams will need to make changes and, as said, it is the Blues who possess the greater depth of talent. This is the part of the season when Chelsea’s squad should help them through, and they’ll need more than just 15 great players if they want to win the title.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-0

Chelsea 2–0 West Ham Match Report – 26th December 2014

Chelsea kept themselves at the top of the Premier League table with a Boxing Day victory over London rivals West Ham at Stamford Bridge. John Terry and Diego Costa scored the all-important goals to see off the fourth placed Hammers, thus extending their lead over City to six points before the champions played later in the day (and won at West Brom).

Last week’s win at Stoke felt like a big victory for the team, keeping them top on Christmas Day, and Mourinho was looking to follow that up with another one here. The Blues returned to what is considered their best team, with John Obi Mikel making way for Oscar. Given West Ham’s defensive performance in their last game at the Bridge, the so-called “19th century football”, the extra attacking numbers would be needed.

This time, the West Ham defensive barrier wasn’t quite so difficult to crack. The Blues took the lead after the half hour mark, with Terry scoring the opener from a corner for the second game in a row. Cesc Fabregas’ corner was headed down by Costa, straight into the path of the captain who stuck out a foot and tapped it home from a few yards out, which was the perfect way to silence the away support.

The Blues dominated for the rest of the half, and there was controversy when Branislav Ivanovic went down in the area under a challenge from Andy Carroll. The striker looked to have had his arm out, but a penalty would have been a little on the harsh side. There was a coming together of several players in the aftermath, and the referee handled it smartly by keeping his cards pocketed.

The second half was quite even, with West Ham pushing forward with more energy and belief. Chelsea had opportunities from free kicks, with Willian and Costa going close before the home side finally doubled the lead, through top scorer Costa. Possession fell to Eden Hazard on the half way line, and he quickly fed it to the Spaniard. He straight away went looking for goal, and – after twisting and turning – Costa evaded the attentions of three West Ham defenders and fired home from just outside the box.

Thibaut Courtois was given a couple of scares towards the end after going largely without hassle for most of the match. Morgan Amalfitano’s header caught the keeper off guard, and it went just wide of the post. He got even closer moments later, jinking past Terry and Gary Cahill before seeing his shot come back off the post.

That little revival for West Ham came to nothing, with the Blues recording a 14th clean sheet in 17 home Premier League games. It was a Mourinho special, a goal in each half, a clean sheet and a comfortable 2-0 win. It was a deserved three points, and they’ll now be looking forward to their visit to Southampton on Sunday, as the games just keep on coming.

LCN Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic

Chelsea v West Ham Preview (Premier League) – 26th December 2014

Chelsea kick off early on Boxing Day as they host fourth placed West Ham at Stamford Bridge. It’s the start of a tough week for the league leaders, with games at home to Southampton and away to Spurs coming up in double-quick time.

The Blues are looking to protect their narrow lead at the top of the Premier League table, with second placed Manchester City having a much easier set of fixtures between now and New Year’s Day. That could hand them the advantage going into 2015, given the tough games Chelsea have. Chelsea will be looking to rise to the occasion over the next week, which they’ll need to do to become champions.

West Ham know they’ll be in for a very tough game here, after their win over Manchester City earlier this season their manager Sam Allardyce said Chelsea were a more difficult side to face than City. He talked about how tactically ridged City were, while Chelsea could adapt their tactics from game to game depending on the opposition.

West Ham have that ability too, as they have shown this season. They’ve been known as a physical, aerial side in recent years, but fan protests last season have led to them adding more firepower and adopting a more attacking style. Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho joined in the summer, and they’ve given West Ham more options up front, and that means they can also play football on the floor and have someone up top to finish it off. They can still play a direct game, with Andy Carroll coming back into the fold.

That makes them a difficult team to play against, and it is part of the reason they’re doing so well this season. Given Andy Carroll’s recent form and the problems he causes John Terry, he should make an impact against the Blues on Friday. Stewart Downing is another one to watch, he’s been in excellent form for West Ham this season.

For Chelsea, expect a couple of changes from the side that won at Stoke on Tuesday night. Oscar will be a prime candidate to come in, possibly for Mikel. Aside from that, it’s hard to see Mourinho making many other changes, unless they’re enforced. He’s given nearly all the players a rest at some point this month, so they should be fresh for this clash after Christmas.

This game last season finished 0-0, with Jose Mourinho criticising West Ham’s defensive tactics. This fixture is hardly likely to be the same, and we think there should be goals here with both sides having an attacking outlook. That result was one of the games where Chelsea couldn’t finish off their chances, which led to the signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa. A few goals would be good for Chelsea in this one, as would a start like the one they had against Stoke on Monday night.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-1

Stoke 0-2 Chelsea Match Report – 22nd December 2014

Chelsea cemented their position at the top of the tree for Christmas after a battling win over a physical Stoke side at the Britannia Stadium. John Terry scored early on in the game, before Cesc Fabregas added a second goal with just over 10 minutes to go. That win puts the Blues three points clear of City once more, after the champions won 3-0 against Crystal Palace at the weekend.

Jose Mourinho made changes to his team selection to prevent a repeat of the 3-2 defeat they suffered at Stoke last year. John Obi Mikel came in alongside Nemanja Matic in a deeper midfield role, targeting Bojan and cutting off service to him. Aside from that, it was the usual team, with Thibaut Courtois replacing Petr Cech in goal.

The team hit the ground running, getting on the front foot from the first whistle. As always at Stoke, questions were asked about how the visitors would deal with set pieces, but the Blues scored from a corner themselves after just 95 seconds. Cesc Fabregas got yet another assist, delivering the corner, and John Terry rose to meet it on his 650th appearance for the Blues.

That goal edged the visitors ahead, and they then went on to control most of the play from that point. Mourinho got animated on the touchline at the referee twice, after he got in the way of a quick counter attack, and after he gave Phil Bardsley just a yellow card for a thumping tackle on Eden Hazard. Despite that, he will have gone in happy at the break, with his side leading 1-0.

Stoke had more of the game in the second half, but they couldn’t work a real chance. Thibaut Courtois dealt with the aerial threat of Stoke well, and this kind of game was made for him given his height and confidence from set pieces. The league leaders had their defence put through their paces, and they came out of this one looking in good shape.

The Mikel and Matic combination worked well, and that allowed Cesc Fabregas to play further forward in the number 10 role. That paid off for him, as he got his name on the score sheet. Eden Hazard was the provider, he found Cesc in the box, and his mis-control actually took him in to space before he found the net. It wasn’t the typical goal that the former Barcelona man has been involved in, but it was a crucial one.

The Blues held on to win 2-0, keeping them top of the tree this Christmas. Despite the performances of Fabregas and Terry, the star was no doubt Matic. He was in fantastic form, breaking up play and denying the home side space. The Blues have been top of the Premier League table on Christmas Day on three occasions, and they won the league every time. That’s should make Christmas Day more enjoyable for Mourinho and his men, but the hard work starts again on Boxing Day against West Ham.

LCN Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic

Stoke v Chelsea Preview (Premier League) – 22nd December 2014

Chelsea head to Stoke on Monday night looking to maintain their narrow three point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. This game kicks off a hectic period that incorporates four games in 10 days for the Blues, a tough run into the New Year which could make or break their title challenge.

They’ll be glad of the six day rest between the Derby game and this one, but it’s doubtful that Jose Mourinho will stay tight lipped about his title rivals having an extra two days rest before the Boxing Day games. On top of that, Stoke is a very difficult place to go. They may have seen their home form drop off this season compared to the last few years, but the Britannia Stadium on the Monday before Christmas isn’t an ideal trip for many players and managers.

Mourinho will have an eye on the tough run of games following this, with fourth placed West Ham next up before trips to Southampton and Spurs. With title rivals Man City facing four of the current bottom six between now and New Year’s Day, Chelsea have a very important few games coming up if they’re to lead the table coming in to 2015.

In this fixture last season, Stoke came out 3-2 winners after hitting a late winner. Fans may remember that Andre Schurrle was hauled off in that game after Mourinho thought he was being too selfish. Schurrle had scored twice, and looked to be going all out to get a hat-trick. Little things like that are what the manager does to keep everyone’s feet on the ground and their minds focused. While that seemed harsh at the time, it is exactly the approach needed at this stage of the season.

It’s unlikely that we’ll see Schurrle start here, despite two goals in his last two games. Mourinho should revert to his usual 11 after making changes in the League Cup last time out. With almost a week in between this and the last game, there should be no need to rest anyone. Diego Costa is likely to come back in up front for Didier Drogba, and you’d imagine he’d relish this sort of game against a physical side like Stoke. The only worry is his discipline, hopefully he remembers to keep his cool.

Stoke will be coming into this game on the back of a nine day break, so it’s safe enough to say that they’ll be well rested. Their recent form has been patchy, to say the least; they’ve won one, drawn one and lost three of their last five games. Bojan is the player to watch out for on their side, but Peter Crouch is another who has hit a rich vein of form. The lanky striker has scored on his last two outings, and John Terry never seems to like playing against him. Hopefully this time, Terry and the Blues can manage to edge this one.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 2-1

Derby 1-3 Chelsea Match Report – 16th December 2014

Chelsea clinched a place in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup with a comfortable win over Derby on Tuesday evening. Goals from Eden Hazard, Filipe Luis and Andre Schurrle helped the Blues through, with Craig Bryson scoring for the home side. Adam Buxton was sent off for Derby, while Chelsea had Kurt Zouma taken off with a head injury.

Chelsea fielded a strong side for the game, with only a few changes made and only one young player included, in the aforementioned Zouma. The likes of Didier Drogba and World Cup winners Andre Schurrle and Cesc Fabregas came into the side, showing that Mourinho is taking this competition seriously as he looks to bring an end to his two year spell without a trophy. Of course, the time gap between this game and Monday’s meeting with Stoke will have played a part.

There was a slow start at the iPro as neither side really did much in the game during the opening exchanges, but the Blues managed to seize on a Derby mistake to make a breakthrough. The visitors pressed from the start, and Eden Hazard picked up on a slip from Andy Keogh. He then attempted to make up for his mistake and clear the ball, which landed right at the feet of Fabregas. He gave the ball back to the Belgian, who found himself some space in the box and applied the finish.

The Premier League leaders took control from that point on, but they were unable to take advantage. Derby had a late rally in the first half, and after they got a corner Zouma was involved in a collision with Petr Cech, leaving him on the floor for several minutes before being stretchered off. Branislav Ivanovic came on to replace him.

Will Hughes went close for the Championship side, with Petr Cech and John Obi Mikel getting in the way of his shot. They found themselves two goals behind just 10 minutes into the second half, after Hughes fouled Drogba. It was Luis who stepped up to take the free kick, curling in a fantastic effort to open his account for the club in impressive fashion.

The hosts pulled a goal back when Bryson swept a shot home from just outside the area, which looked like it would set up a grandstand finish. Before they could really push for an equaliser, however, Remy ran through on goal and was dragged back by Buxton, who was then sent off. While it looked harsh at the time, replays suggested the referee made the right call.

That allowed Chelsea to pour forward again, and the game was sealed when Schurrle added the third goal. Fabregas played in Remy, who saw his shot saved, before the German slotted the ball home to restore their two goal lead. That was enough to put the Blues through to the next round, with the semi-finals due to be played next month.

LCN Man of the Match: Cesc Fabregas

Derby v Chelsea Preview (League Cup) – 16th December 2014

Chelsea are looking to claim a place in the semi finals of the League Cup with a win at Championship side Derby this week. Expect changes to the Blues team but with a few first choice players in the side, as Mourinho will be eying some silverware in this competition.

It was at this stage last season where Chelsea crashed out, going down 2-1 at Sunderland after extra time. They lead at the Stadium of Light for most of the game, but they couldn’t finish their chances and conceded late on against the buoyed Mackems. Hopefully there will be a different outcome this season.

That game highlighted many problems for Mourinho, and after that he went to a more defensive approach, because he didn’t trust his strikers to finish enough chances. He went out and improved that in the summer, signing Diego Costa, Loic Remy and Didier Drogba.

The Blues have certainly been impressive going forward this term, no matter which striker has featured up front. For this game at Derby, expect manager Jose Mourinho to make more changes. He said that every player would get a rest in December, given the number of fixtures they have to play. Most have already been given a break, but expect to see a few of the fringe players come in. With the next game after the League Cup tie being next Monday’s visit to Stoke, there’s a long enough break for a few first teamers to start.

Petr Cech had to come in against Hull after Thibaut Courtois picked up a muscle injury, and Cech will probably keep his place for the trip to Derby. In defence Gary Cahill is likely to sit out, with Kurt Zouma coming in. Expect Branislav Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta to start in the full back positions.

Given that Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas have been given breaks in recent weeks through suspension, they could be in line to play this week. Fabregas missed the game against Hull on Saturday, so don’t be surprised to see him come in. Another man who may make an appearance is Ramires, as he’s had few starting opportunities in recent weeks.

Further forward, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Willian got a rest in the game at home to Sporting last week, but don’t expect all of them to feature here. Mourinho praised Mohammed Salah in his press conference before the Hull game, while Andre Schurrle was impressive in his last start. Oscar could start alongside them, as Mourinho tends to play him in the cup games.

Finally, up front is once again a hard one to call. Many had expected Costa to be given a rest last week against Sporting, but he started. You’d think if he was fine for a meaningless Champions League game that he could start here, but Mourinho may rest him for the game at Stoke. Both Drogba and Remy have looked good of late, so you’d be confident here with any of them starting.

LCN Verdict: Chelsea to win 3-1

Chelsea 2-0 Hull Match Report – 13th December 2014

Chelsea continued their 100% home league record with a comfortable win over an out of form Hull side. Goals from Eden Hazard and Diego Costa fired the Blues to victory, keeping them three points clear at the top of the table. In between those strikes, the visitors had Tom Huddlestone sent off.

The hosts weren’t quite at their strongest, as they had Cesc Fabregas missing through suspension. That allowed John Obi Mikel to start, as he and Nemanja Matic formed a formidable defensive shield in the middle. Thibaut Courtois was injured late in the week, with Petr Cech coming in to replace him. As far as replacements go, those were two pretty good ones.

The home support didn’t have to wait long for the opening goal, with the Blues ahead within seven minutes. Matic, who missed out last week through suspension, sent in a fantastic cross which was headed in by Hazard of all people. The Belgian found himself unmarked in the box, and he got his head on it to put Chelsea ahead.

There was an air of complacency after that, with the league leaders dropping down a gear and letting Hull back in to it. Steve Bruce’s men couldn’t really force a chance, but there was little threat coming from the Chelsea attack. They carried a narrow 1-0 lead in at half time, needing to step things up in the second half.

The second period started off evenly matched, but the red card just before the hour mark really hit Hull. Huddlestone went in with an ugly challenge on Filipe Luis, which deserved a straight red. With the visitors down to 10, Chelsea knew they had this one in their control.

That control was extended soon after, when they doubled their lead. Hazard was impressive, and he teed up Costa who ended a four game goalless drought. It was a well taken goal by the former Atletico Madrid man, and it showed that he’s at his best when going on instinct. He’s seemed a little hesitant in the last couple of weeks, but he hit this one before he had time to think and buried it in the Hull net.

It was by no means the best performance from Chelsea this season, but it was classic Mourinho. Early goal, double the lead in the second half, keep a clean sheet and head home with a 2-0 win. While many will have wanted to see them press on for a bigger win, that energy is better saved with many more games to come in the next few weeks.

This result kept Chelsea three points ahead of Man City, who won 1-0 at Leicester. While the dives from Gary Cahill and Willian will dominate the news cycle, what’s more important is Chelsea are back to winning ways in the Premier League. Next up for the Blues is a trip to Derby on Tuesday night in the Capital One Cup.

LCN Man of the Match: Eden Hazard