A spell away from club duties, but many players were required to put in gritty shifts on the international stage. With England’s World Cup future already determined, Ashley Cole was able to enjoy a midweek rest although Frank Lampard (who joined Marcel Desailly as Chelsea’s most capped international player) and John Terry were called upon to regain dented pride from the defeat to Ukraine. Michael Ballack, despite a suspected ankle injury sustained during the weekend performance, was called upon to play in the first half of the German’s draw against Finland. Nicolas Anelka and Yury Zhirkov were also handed midweek rests while Florent Malouda played 90 minutes in the French 3-1 triumph over Austria. Petr Cech also played the full 90, however his clean sheet was in vain as the Czech Republic’s 0-0 result with Northern Ireland will see the Chelsea keeper cancel his trip to South Africa next summer. Chelsea’s array of Portuguese flair will progress to the play-off stage after an expected and resounding victory over minnows, Malta.
Both Salomon Kalou and Alex secured new deals with the Blues, of which manager Carlo Ancelotti described himself as being delighted with the signings. Kalou is in his fourth year with the west Londoners and despite often being rumoured with moves to Chelsea rivals, Arsenal, the contract will see Kalou sporting the blue kit until 2012. The Ivorians sealed their place in the World Cup finals last weekend, and Kalou will be eagerly anticipating his first chance to shine in the tournament. Alex will also look to integrate himself back into the Chelsea and Brazilian side after returning to full training earlier this week. Ancelotti may opt for Alex at centre-back ahead of Ricardo Carvalho when the defender is announced match fit. Carvalho has had a largely faultless start to the season, however, the Blues defensive record may beg to differ as to date the side have been leaking early goals. The Alex-Terry partnership may be criticised for its lack of pace in comparison to the defensive duo’s of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, however the Brazilian is perhaps more competent in dealing with the sole target man many lesser teams opt for up top. The likes of Peter Crouch, James Beattie and John Carew (who faces the Blues this weekend) have often proved a thorn in the Chelsea side. Unlike Carvalho’s grit and determination in pursuing his opponents, Alex favours a no nonsense defensive philosophy more suited to combat the 4-5-1 formation.
The trouble for Chelsea this weekend is Alex is not available and the Blues may look to the full-backs to compensate for the lack of pace through the centre of the park. Cole and Bosingwa attain natural speed on and off the ball, as well as contesting the acceleration of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young the full-backs may look to penetrate the defensive liabilities the Villa wingers encompass. The Blues will look to cut off supply to Carew who possesses the ability to dominate the game – if able to hold up the ball the striker can draw the creativity of Young, Agbonlahor and James Milner into the fray. The main problems should not however be faced by the Blues, as the strike force of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka have terrorised and tormented teams this season and will look to continue in the same vein. Richard Dunne – after being replaced and axed by Manchester City – will be granted the undesirable job of containing the powerful Ivoriain while keeping a sharp eye on the predator-esque capabilities of the prolific Frenchman. Not forgetting a deeper role for Lampard and a possible start for Joe Cole on the horizon. Nevertheless the Villa centre-back has developed into a top Premier League defender and has a wealth of experience against world class strikers both for club and country.
Aston Villa shaped up well against a fellow ‘top four’ team earlier this season, seeing off Liverpool with a 3-1 victory of whom similarly Chelsea are coming into this game on the back of a 2-0 win over the Merseysiders. Villa have a decent record against the Londoners, and similarly striker Emile Heskey is prone to a goal against the top teams had he earn a starting position (which may be unlikely with accusations the former Liverpool man is ready to quit the club). Prepare for a battle in Aston this Saturday as Ancelotti’s men surge to increase their lead at the top, and Villa look to capitalise on their early season form.
Chelsea Club Focus
Terry commits future to positive Blues set-up – July 29
Reading ask all the questions of Chelsea – August 5
Chelsea start as they mean to go on – August 12
Patience is a virtue – August 18
Christmas comes early for the Blues – August 21
Chelsea maintain 100% record – August 25
Blues to cruise over Burnley pot-hole – August 28
Cole-scoring prowess – September 1
Blues stunned by transfer ban – September 4
Ban dilemma for Blues – September 8
Blues look to bounce back from ban – September 11 Perfect start continues, just – September 15
Blues aim to follow in United’s footsteps – September 18
Ancelotti magic continues – September 22
Anelka to thrive with the return of Cole – September 25
An off day but how many more are to follow? – September 29
Ancelotti’s tactics face scrutiny – October 2
Now he’s the master tactician – October 6
Up to speed? – October 16