Burnley and Wolves were two huge powers of English football back in the day. Massive clubs before the money came in and having played one last week we face the other in the cup on Saturday.
There were a huge range of emotions following the draw against Burnley. For me it was one of frustration. I felt we didn’t seize the opportunity to say to the chasing pack, we’re gone but I am being greedy?
The general consensus was that this was a good point and not many teams will do that well. Perhaps our fans putting a brave face on things as both Arsenal and Manchester City won there. Albeit we played in worse conditions and on a worse pitch. We will have to wait and see what Jose’s bunch and the team in white do. Only then will we really be able to find out how good a point it is.
So after the weekend fixtures we are 8 points clear with a vastly better goal difference than our nearest challengers and only 13 games to go. Will have all dissected the run in, who we have who’s playing who but the basic facts are there are 39 points left to play for and we need 31 to be certain. This reduces if we beat our closest rivals but interestingly those battles do not take place for another 5 games. It’s also impossible to look at our opponents and say we should do this that or indeed the other. There are no givens and no way can we anticipate how much impact the European interruption will hinder those other teams. Ultimately we can only deal with ourselves, FA Cup aside we have no other distractions.
The first 10 minutes in Burnley were sublime. Swift breaks and a quite stunning goal. From then on we appeared to be out thought in terms of tactics. Our usual way of playing was not working, the pitch affected the passing and the control. Systematic fouling and bad conditions disrupted a rhythm we never picked up again. The foul for the goal was lazy but the systematic abuse of Matic on social media post game inexcusable. In my opinion our forwards were equally ineffective the whole of the second half and they got nothing. Once Burnley equalised the rest of the first half was end to end. It was proper old fashion game and the scoreline a fair reflection of the game.
The second half was notable for a poor miss by Gray who froze on the big stage. The much maligned Matic gave the ball away and the extremely incapacitated David Luiz couldn’t move as the ball trickled under his foot. A rare mistake brought about by injury but we survived. We also saw a ridiculous booking for Luiz for having the temerity to be fouled and then question why he didn’t get a free kick. For me a team containing the talent we have should not go 80 plus minutes without a shot on goal. Yes Burnley defended tenaciously but that is not a statistic that Conte will be happy with.
With the game as it was, it speaks volumes as to the lack of faith being shown in Mitchy. I do not for one minute suggest he could have changed things but with Costa having a quieter game by his high standards surely a different problem for the opposition for more than 5 minutes would have been worth a punt. I suspect however this would be more with the “keep what we have ” scenario than a real lack of adventure. It does however show the paucity of attacking options which will undoubtedly be addressed come the summer.
So was it all doom and gloom on Sunday, not really. We showed we are a very tough side to beat. A free kick and a shot were the only real signs were at all vulnerable. For all the spin the media are trying to put out there our defence and keeper are looking solid. If it was so easy to attack our full backs then surely one of the brains trust in the Premier League would have cracked it. In Cesar and Kante it does sometimes appear we have 13 men, their work is tireless and they never give up.
So a break from the title and on to the FA Cup, a great competition and worth winning. The draw had been kind to the Premier League sides which if we win then the quarter final draw will be something special. I would not however wish in any way want to suggest that Wolves away on a Saturday night will be anything other than tough. Their lowly position will mean nothing with their vociferous support behind them and the game should tell us a lot about our youngsters. This is a big deal for them. In the same way Burnley’s crowd were on the back of our players we should expect the same at Molineux.
It is however hard to predict who will start. I suspect as with the previous rounds both wing backs will be rested but I suspect both Cesar and Gary Cahill will play. I would hope that both Chalobah and Loftus Cheek will make an appearance with Mitchy and Willian. When thinking about who will play it will give us all a reminder as to how trimmed down the squad is. There is no Oscar, Mikel or Branna to turn to. We certainly need to rest Luiz and protect both Hazard and Costa albeit I would not mind seeing Diego at some stage
Ultimately the team picked will be decided by how seriously the manager views the cup. I suspect he would like to achieve what Ancelotti did in his first season as Chelsea manager. Now that would be nice but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Author of “Palpable Discord. A Year of drama and dissent at Chelsea” Published by Gate 17