PL Preview: Chelsea v. Manchester United

Help me, I'm having nightmares. More, after the jump:

Fernando-Torres-Chelsea-reacts-missing-Manchester-United-cropped

Cold as ice

I'm not even sure this match is as important as what's transpiring around the orbit of England's Once Brave (Twice-Removed) John Terry- henceforth known as EOBTRJT. Jack cooked up some brilliance on the matter, as always, which I recommend you all read at once. It's the same old script around these parts, regrettably, with off-the-pitch drama and circumstance serving to overshadow the matters that happen weekly on the turf. Despite Andre's best efforts to frame the challenge ahead, not one journalist at Friday's press conference at Cobham cared to know anything aside from:

  • How John is going to cope with the loss of the England captaincy?
  • Will Jose Mourinho return to England?

Seriously, that was the extent of what the media inquired about. Nothing revolving even slightly around the upcoming Sunday showdown (which promises to be, if nothing else, highly entertaining). As dismal as the result was last time around, it was certainly enthralling to watch. What we did learn from Andre's brief conversation with the assembled press contingent was that John remains completely supported by the entire Chelsea hierarchy, and that he will continue to serve as captain of the club. Oh, and apparently that minor knee thing is not good enough for him to give it a chance on Sunday. Which, in all fairness, probably has nothing to do with the knee and everything to do with Andre attempting to do his best to diffuse the scrutiny and intensity of the media spotlight which is firmly fixed on John.

Look, it makes sense. I get it. I do. But it doesn't mean I really like it to be honest. I'm assuming the knee has to be bothering him somewhat, otherwise I would expect John gets on that pitch. And frankly, I say he deserves to be out there. Perhaps he can pull a Willis Reed and come through the tunnel for warm-ups? I'm pretty sure I just lost about half of you with that reference. Enough babbling about, on to the specifics:

Who: Manchester United (est. 1878)
What: Barclays Premier League, Round 24
When: 5 February, 3:30pm local time (10:30am EDT)
Where: Stamford Bridge
How: FOX

Why: Because, as far as I recall, it's a lot more fun when we win matches than toil to needless draws that rely on deflected Jose Bosingwa crosses or controversial penalty decisions to turn in our favor. Face it friends, we're doing an awful job at the moment of creating winning chances, and we're doing ourselves no favors with our lackluster performances of late. Any and all hopes of making a late season surge up the table is dwindling by the second - and our failure to prevail in our last two PL encounters (against Norwich and Swansea) makes that last-gasp of a push seem so distant. I don't want to play the pride card just yet, because until we're mathematically eliminated from anything I'll still believe that there's always a chance we can do some damage. So instead, I'll play the tried and true momentum card. And, I'll sweeten the pot with the 'disruptor' card too. See what I did there? Follow me ...

Nobody's expecting us to win. None of the pundits, few of our fans, and perhaps even several of our current crop of players. I know, it's a jaded and altogether horrible that we'd concede before even lacing them up. But, like it or not, we have a role to play in determining which side of Manchester the PL resides come the end of the year. And, we also have a responsibility to remind these Manchesturian Candidates what we're all about. We might be down, we might be hurt, we might be rebuilding, or restructuring. However you want to spin it, we're in the midst of some semblance of a midlife crisis. But we still have the chops to, on our day, give anyone a right beating. But, regrettably, we're significantly depleted on resources, and ruling John out to injury and Ashley Cole to suspension means it just got thinner on what was already a bench as wide as Kate Upton's waist. Went, fucking, there.

Us: You already know the deal. No Didier, Sala, Obi, John, Ramires, Ashley, and Frank isn't a guarantee. At this point, it's a boot-strapped lineup that'll have to get the business done. Here's what I'm expecting:

329430_Chelsea

Jack did all the hard work, and I stole his graphic. Why? Because it's dead-on with my estimation for what AVB's rolling out there. No Jose, yes Florent. Sadly, this is what we'll see. But, the upside? 4-2-3-1! Finally, two holding midfielders, and Juan floating in a free role behind Fernando. We saw this during the second half of the Swans debacle, and frankly, we dominated the hell out of that second 45-minute frame. So why not start with it from the jump? Why not give The Bison the license to roam the middle of the park, and if he gets winded, bring Raul off the pine for a stretch run? Why not let Juan run the middle of the pitch, spraying passes forward to Nando to latch-onto and Danny to overlap inside with? On paper, it's genius. And hell, with United's personnel on the cards, it's crazy enough to work.

Them: I was hoping they'd have to stick with Famous Amos for Sunday, but alas, it looks like Mr. De Gea will be fit in time for the clash. Also returning to the fray are Nani, Wayne Rooney, and Ashley Young. Damn, damn and damn. As if we didn't have the deck stacked high enough to begin with, now we're contending with a United side that's bringing three of its best attacking forces back into fitness. Also available for the first time since October is Tom Cleverly, though I'd reckon a spot on the pine is all she wrote for little Thomas. For United, this match represents a huge opportunity to keep pace with City, after dragging themselves to par with the Citizens last weekend. You can bet Sir Alex and company will leave nothing behind in going for the full three points on this occasion - and frankly I'd expect United to feature two strikers up top. Perhaps Chicha and Rooney will partner the attack, or Welbeck gets a shout. Either way, our defense has to be dialed in from the jump and ready for war.

Facts: In our favor you ask? Well, United's last PL victory at Stamford Bridge came 10 years ago. Wow. Since then, United have mustered a measly three goals in their last 8 trips to London. So, is it a case of our defense being on point, or United struggling up top? Lets not get carried away, it's certainly a bit of both. We've yet to lose a match in 2012 (W4 D2 L0) which is great, except we're not exactly lighting the league on fire with our performances. So slack has been our offensive output that I've found myself staring into a black hole of emptiness whenever we get the ball in the attacking third. Yes, we're missing Frank at his peak, and we've certainly missed the bruising presence of Didier. But, we can all agree that Fernando has looked positive through the month and is certainly primed to score - the question remains when it'll happen.

I could care less if Fernando scores, or if Petr pulls a Tim Howard. I'll take a 1-0 at this point. It really doesn't matter, I just want to see us put in a full 90-minute shift with a strong demonstration of our desire to reclaim some of the glory that has past us by. If we're evolving, which we are, then so be it. But that doesn't mean we can't still get out there and run these Red Devils around for an hour and a half, and remind them that we're still not to be taken lightly. They can all write us off, and they wouldn't be wrong. But I refuse to do so- and frankly you should too. The season's still got a pulse, and we're still in the hunt for something. Whether or not we can do it remains to be seen. I just know that I can't go through another loss like our Arsenal capitulation from The Bridge experience this season. That Nic Cage montage Jack put up was too apropos in describing my meltdown.

Carefree friends. Wherever you may be - our Super Bowl is here and now.

Go Pats.

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