Chelsea maintained their impressive run at the friendly, non-toxic confines of Stamford Bridge on Sunday as they dispatched Swansea City with rather surprising ease. This followed up a weird, yet ultimately pleasing 2-1 away result in Basel to help us mostly forget all about the Donner Party reenactment that happened at Anfield.
But this weekend once again looms large, and despite a currently advantageous league position, that all-important top four finish is still nowhere near guaranteed. And when you factor in that Spurs come to town next Wednesday, the veritable season decider coming as the third match of three in a span of seven days ... and all of a sudden you realize that it's not yet next season and Jose Mourinho is still in Madrid, and ... well, you see where I'm going with this.
But that home form is impressive, so let's talk about that for a minute. Seven wins in a row; ten wins from eleven - all part of a twelve match undefeated streak at the Bridge following a certain Branislav Ivanovic horror show versus Swansea City in the League Cup semifinal. If you can't quite remember much else about that match, there's a reason for it - it was way back on January 9! Chelsea are about a week shy of having gone four months undefeated at home, while the seven wins in a row are the longest home winning streak since Andre Villas-Boas's tenure opened* with so much promise and excitement and happiness.
Dare I say, "Fortress Stamford Bridge is being rebuilt," or did I just jinx this whole newfangled throwback operation?
* This counts the 0-0 vs. Fulham in the League Cup as a win, since Chelsea advanced on penalty kicks. If we're restricting it to "true"/regulation victories, you have to go back to Carlo Ancelotti's Double-winning season, when Fortress Stamford Bridge was still truly Fortress Stamford Bridge.
Date/Time: Thursday, May 2, 20:05 BST; 3:05 P.M. EDT; 12:35 A.M. IST (next day)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
TV Information: ITV 1 (UK); Fox Soccer (USA); Ten Action/HD (India)
With a one-goal advantage that's just a bit more than one thanks to the two away goals, there is absolutely no excuse for Chelsea to throw this away, even if they played a lineup of ten Marko Marins and a cactus in goal. They've had nine months to tease us with crap like that; it's time to end the season on a good note - and that includes this trophy AND a top four finish.
Chelsea: Credit where it's due, The Interim One has recently made a habit of picking semi-decent lineups - he's coping with just two available competitions much better than when we also had the FA Cup on our plate - and hopefully that trend continues.
Gary Cahill's successful return from injury on Sunday has bolstered the defense's numbers; so while it was David Luiz who snatched Leg 1 victory from the jaws of just about the worst penalty call you'll ever see, this would be a perfect opportunity to give him a rest after starting nine straight.
Ashley Cole's suspension does mean that Ryan Bertrand will get another Europa League start, his fifth appearance of the competition and eight overall in Europe, which is one more than Cole (both were also present for the Super Cup fiasco, if you want to count that).
With Frank Lampard now just one goal away from tying Bobby Tambling's record, and John Obi Mikel getting most of the "less important" assignments, we'll probably see a return to our Champions League winning double pivot. Up ahead of them, the attacking band is always a crapshoot, but of course ol' Fernando Torres (that's Torres with T; Zorres has faded into legend) and his four Europa League goals will be there to light the way. Or not. But he'll be there.
Oriol Romeu is of course injured, Demba Ba is ineligible, and Marko Marin is just a figment of our imagination and he will turn out to be some long-term practical joke engineered by David Luiz at the end of the season.
Four players carry the risk of suspension for the final in Amsterdam: David Luiz, Ramires, Mikel, and Bertrand. As if we needed another reason not to play the two Brazilians!
FC Basel: Unimpressive in the first leg, but certainly still capable of a surprise result. Refresh your tactical knowledge by re-reading Tim's Opposition Scouting Report on the Swiss champions.
The only expected change from the visitors will be an enforced one: central defender Aleksandar Dragovic (but of course he's Austrian because that makes sense with a name like that!) is suspended. Fellow defender Fabian Schar and the giant from North of the Wall Marko Streller are doubtful with lingering injuries, possibly an arrow to the knee and a sneak direwolf attack, respectively.
Basel lost rather unceremoniously on the weekend, the 0-3 victory by Luzern consigning Murat Yakin's team to not only its first home loss in the league all year, but back-to-back home losses in all competitions. Before Chelsea's visit, Basel had not lost at home at all in 2013.
Their away record in the Europa League is unimpressive: winless. May that long continue, or at least continue for 90 more minutes.
Next stop: Amsterdam!