Chelsea vs. Manchester City at Stamford Bridge marks the Blues' third huge game in a row. They've come through the first two with flying colours, dispatching Newcastle United 3-0 away before absolutely stomping on Valencia's hopes and dreams at home in midweek, securing passage to the Champions League group stages in the process. Before this stretch, I said I'd be happy with four points in the league and advancing in Europe, and we're only a draw from that goal. But why not shoot for the stars?
On the face of things, we're overmatched. City are well clear at the top of the table and have been crushing anyone foolish enough to stand in their path. They've dropped just four points all season with away draws at Craven Cottage and Anfield, and they're looking like favourites to win their first Premier League title in May. However, there's some hope.
City aren't as good as they've looked. Their domestic form is fantastic, but they've been knocked out of the Champions League after being outplayed by both Bayern Munich and Napoli over the three matches between those side that matter. Granted, they hammered Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford and we lost there 3-1, but Roberto Mancini's team are more vulnerable than anyone's giving them credit (debit?) for.
If Chelsea play well, they have every chance of winning this match. Of course, Chelsea have spent most of the season not playing well, and have several losses to prove it, but if the Blues can look anything like they did over the past two matches, they'll probably be ok. Maybe. Ish.
Anyway, they'll have to do without the man who scored the winner the last time these two sides met up - David Luiz is suspended due to yellow card accumulation. With Alex in the doghouse, that means that Branislav Ivanovic will get the start at centre half, while the fit-again Jose Bosingwa takes over at right back. He'll be up against David Silva, and since I want to stay in a good mood I'm not going to think about what that will look like very much.
There are still two burning selection questions for Andre Villas-Boas to answer. Does Frank Lampard start, or does Raul Meireles continue his run in the side? Is Fernando Torres going to be able to displace Didier Drogba at the head of the attack?
The second answer seems easier, because Drogba was the key figure in the demolition job against Valencia in midweek. However, there are tactical concerns to address. Chelsea may very well be reliant on the counterattack for this one - as CareFree Chronicles has pointed out, they'll have to defend fairly deep - and that's a plan that would seemingly favour Fernando Torres's speed over the power of Drogba. However, form matters too. I'm not really sure who I'd go for.
As for Meireles vs. Lampard, I'd be inclined to go with the latter, just because I favour Lampard's long passing over Meireles. I'd prefer us to start in a 4-2-3-1, and having the vice-captain sit as a deep-lying playmaker alongside the more conservative Oriol Romeu would allow us to ping the ball to Daniel Sturridge on the right or the centre forward as required.
Here's the team, then:
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa; Oriol Romeu, Frank Lampard; Juan Mata, Ramires, Daniel Sturridge; Fernando Torres*.
*I flipped a coin.
I'm reasonably confident we can pull out at least a draw from this one, although I wouldn't dare to make that an Official Prediction. Let's hear your lineups and thoughts on the match below, and be sure to join us for the game thread at 8:00 PM GMT (3:00 PM EST) tomorrow as well.