It's match the second of Chelsea's 2011/12 season, and we're not exactly off to a flying start with a draw against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium last Sunday. West Bromwich Albion at home might be a slightly easier opportunity for Andre Villas-Boas' men to earn maximum points. It'll also be the first football Stamford Bridge has seen since the end of last season, so hopefully the Blues won't disappoint.
They'll have to do without the services of several star players, however. The biggest name on the injury list is noted goalkeeping enthusiast Petr Cech, who's going to be gone for three to four weeks with knee ligament damage suffered in training, but Brazilian centre back David Luiz is also out with a mysterious knee problem, which is about as worrying as all mystery ailments are. Daniel Sturridge is also out with a rather less mysterious suspension. Maybe he'll be less naughty in future.
All of that means that just like last week, Villas-Boas doesn't really have too many decisions to make against Roy Hodgson's side. Hodgson helps that by being rather predictable - deep solid defending in two backs of four, just like in the 2-1 home loss to Manchester United. There West Brom played a straight 4-4-2, with Somen Tchoyi and new signing Shane Long leading the line with Chris Brunt and Shane Morrison playing rather centrally on the wings.Paul Scharner and Youssouf Mulumbu guarded a fairly standard defence comprising Nicky Shorey, Jonas Olsson, Gabriel Tamas and Steven Reid, in front of Ben Foster in goal. In other words, West Brom played exactly like you'd expect them to, even against United.
Despite Peter Odemwingie signing a new contract to keep him at the Hawthorns until 2014, he probably won't feature in the Baggies' starting lineup, thanks to injury (He might make the bench, however). As a result, I can't see Hodgson's lineup changing much for this match. Chelsea do provide a slightly different threat to United though - our width is at fullback while United's is concentrated higher up the pitch, so we may well see West Brom's wingers playing wider and fullbacks slightly more centrally than they did last week.
If that all sounds like Stoke 2.0, well, yes. It's kind of like Stoke 2.0, only without Rory Delap and Ryan Shawcross making life difficult with long throw-ins and being an annoying little prat respectively. Also, Robert Huth won't be there to completely neutralise Florent Malouda. It's the little things in life, eh?
Although Romelu Lukaku will probably be available for Saturday, he's certainly* not going to make the starting lineup. Realistically, there are only a few choices for Andre Villas-Boas to make. The first involves using Branislav Ivanovic. The Serbian can play at right back and centre back, but with Jose Bosingwa doing relatively well in the opener it may make more sense to replace Alex. However, the Brazilian didn't really do much wrong against Stoke, so it may well be that Ivanovic rides the bench for another game.
With John Obi Mikel wanting to play despite his father being kidnapped, the midfield is set. Hopefully Frank Lampard can play a little better in that triangle, because much more of last week and people will be calling for his head. Forward is a different story. Neither Florent Malouda nor Salomon Kalou had good games on Sunday, and there are fairly obvious replacements for each. Nicolas Anelka impressed as a substitute and he'll almost certainly start on the left or the right, and there's still the intriguing option of using Didier Drogba on the right side of a 4-3-3. Or maybe we get a 4-4-2 diamond, which would be interesting.
Oh, and we also have Petr Cech to replace. I don't think it matters which of Ross Turnbull and Henrique Hilario end up starting in his place, since each is distinctly mediocre. I'd guess Hilario has the edge, because he has in the past and hey, why change now?
That looks... ok, I guess. With Chelsea still supposedly pursuing Luka Modric and Juan Mata and with plenty of reinforcements to come back from injury, this probably won't look anything like the side we'll field in, say, October. But it's what we'll have to go with now, so hey, might as well enjoy it. I will say that I would not expect a repeat of last year's 6-0 home game against the Baggies, but the Blues have won every time these two sides have faced each other since 1993, and that probably won't change this time out.
Anyway, the match will be on Saturday at 5:30 PM GMT (12:30 PM EST; 9:30 AM PST). Join us for the game thread. It
will might be a blast..