Club Focus – Chelsea – Entering wolf territory

Granted a week off, the Blues should be fully rejuvenated ahead of their league clash with Wolverhampton this coming Saturday. Captain John Terry‘s approved absence has reached its closure and the ruthless centre-back will return to action this weekend.

Champions League action was back under way this week although Chelsea’s first leg fate won’t be known until the approaching Wednesday. Arsenal and Manchester United were both in action although picking up mixed results neither will be overly dissatisfied. Chelsea will hope to capitalise on United’s midweek activities, hoping the Red Devils drop points away at an improved Everton side. Chelsea’s disjointed away performances may create some cause for concern as their trips to Wolves and Milan come in quick succession. Chelsea’s home form against the newly promoted sides has been immense, victorious in all three games and accumulating 10 goals without conceding. On the contrary their away form against the newly promoted sides is far from impressive – drawing with Birmingham and requiring a late goal to see off the challenge of Burnley. The impetus for Wolves will therefore be present – Mick McCarthy’s mentality to the game may alter to really attack Chelsea on their home ground. The Londoners have looked uncomfortable defending away from the Bridge this season and if the golden boys from the Midlands take the game to Chelsea, their efforts may earn their rewards.

The reverse fixture saw Chelsea run out clear winners in a 4-0 win with Flourent Malouda, Joe Cole and a Michael Essien double the difference. The victory back in late November extended the Blues lead to eight points at the summit of English football, however, a defeat this weekend could see Chelsea fall to second place. McCarthy admitted his side were “mullered” by the Blues, beaten up by the ball the Wolves manager claimed. However as outlined above, the Chelsea side that play at the Bridge are strides apart from the side that travel on the team coach, and so a repeat the 4-0 rout is unlikely. The change of approach away from home has clearly caused issues amongst the Chelsea ranks and this has become evident on the pitch.

This weekend’s fixture with Wolves will see the start of Yury Zhirkov’s reign in the left-back role – available after suspected long term absentee Ashley Cole suffered a fractured ankle. There is no doubt the England left-back is a sore blow to Chelsea’s season aims, however, fears should be silenced this week as the Russian looks to step up to the mark. The natural winger is more than capable of adopting the more defensive role and his eagerness to play could pay dividends for the Chelsea system as the width and attacking mentality of Cole will not be compromised with Zhirkov as a replacement. Paulo Ferreira or Juliano Belletti, although natural wing-backs, their right-footed preference could see them uncomfortable and predictable on the left-hand side. Branislav Ivanovic on the opposite flank is a centrally inclined player and although is beginning to advance and develop in his role, his naivety in a full-back role would become more evident on the left. Zhirkov has a tendency to overlap and provide delicate balls for Chelsea’s potent strikers, a feat which could see the Blues pick up form away from home.

With the Inter Milan tie on the back of Chelsea and Carlo Ancelotti’s mind, changes could emerge in the side, and although league victories are usually the managerial preference, Champions League triumph is the clear aspiration of owner Roman Abramovich. In the Russian’s reign as owner, disputes between himself and the managers often arise as the latter stages of the Champions League approach. The built up fixture list as well as the apprehension that emerges over fears their season could be shattered in less than five games always causes tension between owners and coaches. This may be the case had Ancelotti and his men lose their following two fixtures, falling behind in the league race and flopping out of Europe could have detrimental consequences. So if anyone ever thought the game against Wolves was a mere formality or redundant in Chelsea’s season aims, they may be proved horribly wrong this week.

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