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Chelsea vs. Blackpool: Match Preview

I've kind of given up on predicting what Chelsea are going to do next. When I thought they were going to go to the 4-4-2 diamond and stay there, they rolled with a 4-3-3 against Fulham. Then it was a flat 4-4-2 against Copenhagen, and despite me being convinced it was there only to be used against an inferior team, Carlo Ancelotti fielded it against Manchester United, and beat them. Now we travel to Bloomfield Road where we encounter Ian Holloway's Blackpool and I have literally no idea how Chelsea might line up.

We do have more of a clue about what Blackpool will do - they'll play stylish attacking football, probably in a 4-3-3, and they'll both concede and score goals. Unfortunately for the Tangerines, they'll be without the talismanic figure of Charlie Adam, perhaps the soul of the team and the cornerstone of his side's sweeping, incisive attacks. However, Blackpool aren't all about Adam, and it's a huge disrepect to David Vaughan that he doesn't get the same level of attention as his more flamboyant teammate. With three capable bodies in the midfield for the home side, Chelsea may wish to counter with a three-man centre of their own, because if they reply with Michael Essien and Frank Lampard alone there's a very real chance that they'll be overrun.

However, Chelsea may not wish to break up the 4-4-2 that dispatched both Copenhagen and Manchester United. To me, this would be a mistake - Lampard in particular looked dire (worse than Michael Carrick!) despite scoring the penalty against United, and it would come as no surprise at all if he totally fell apart when outnumbered in the middle. One on one, Chelsea should have a stronger midfield centre, but in order to do that they'll be forced to use just one of their two prized strikers. With rumours of Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres both getting starts floating around, that probably won't happen, but Carlo Ancelotti should probably give some deep thought to dropping Lampard in favour of the more defensively solid John Obi Mikel.

The defence will take a familiar look, although unfortunately it doesn't appear that David Luiz will be fit for the match. With compatriot Alex also absent, that leaves just John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic fit to play centre back, and Ashley Cole and Jose Bosignwa out wide. Fairly standard stuff there. Opposing the back four, according to the Guardian, will be an attacking trident of Luke Varney, James Beattie (D.J. Campbell is suspended), and Gary Taylor-Fletcher. Frankly, that's not really terror inducing, but they're all competent enough players that could easily punish Chelsea if they make mistakes at the back.

On the attack I'd be shocked if Yuri Zhirkov failed to take Florent Malouda's place on the left wing after a strong cameo by the fit-again Russian towards the end of the United match, when he earned the decisive penalty and hit the post after Chelsea went ahead. Nothing Malouda's done in the past few months has warranted his spot in the starting eleven, and it's high time he was benched for a few matches. On the opposite flank Ramires fully deserves his place on the team and is expected to retain it. Opposing Zhirkov and Ramires will be Alex Baptiste and Neal Earley respectively. If Ashley Cole can free himself up to run forward on the left Baptiste could be in for a lot of trouble, while Ramires' runs forward are problematic for anyone to keep up with, as Nemanja Vidic will attest.

Finally, Drogba and Torres are expected to share attacking duties. Honestly, I think they should have a pretty easy time with Blackpool's centre halves. With no offence intended to either Craig Cathcart or Ian Evatt, they'd have enough time dealing with either of the strikers two on one, let alone having both of them on the pitch at the same time. However, if Chelsea do indeed run 4-4-2 against Blackpool's 4-3-3, we'll probably see some major difficulties in actually getting the ball forward - either the wings will become vitally important or one of the two will have to drop very deep, rather nullifying the goalscoring threat.

Blackpool like to press superior teams extremely hard at the beginning of the match, and that combined with their presumed numerical advantage in the middle of the pitch could lead to some early pressure from the home side. However, they tend to weaken as the game goes on, and they always concede, so even if Chelsea come out of the gate looking poor, there's still plenty of hope for the three points.

With Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal all dropping points this weekend (and Manchester City looking thoroughly unconvincing in a 1-0 home victory over Wigan), Chelsea could cement their top-four status with a win here. While the title race looks as though it will be contested between United and Arsenal alone, three points at Bloomfield Road would take the Blues well clear of Tottenham in fifth, and with City and Spurs still to visit Stamford Bridge this season things would look very bright indeed if Chelsea rode their win over the leaders on Tuesday to a long streak.

Pick: 3-1 Chelsea

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