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PREVIEW: Chelsea Vs. Norwich City

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Another week, another game. It's all a bit surreal right now with the transfer window open and Chelsea so active - until the games actually start everything feels like the pre-season still. Obviously, it's a different picture when the matches are actually going, when everything is as emotional as everything, but right now it's difficult to get geared up for Chelsea vs. Norwich City as a totally important game.

That's not to say it isn't a totally important game, because it totally is - on the other side of the international break lie trips to the Stadium of Light and then the Theatre of Dreams. Since Chelsea are about to venture into what appear to be the book titles of a crappy fantasy series, they should prceed with caution, lest they be slain by some sort of evil wizard/foul troll*. It's pretty important that Chelsea take three points when they can, especially early in the season, and chances don't come much easier than against newly promoted teams at Stamford Bridge.

*Not to name names, but I mean 'Wayne Rooney' here.

Some basic maths based on our pre-season rankings (and we're about ready to get into updated power rankings at this point) has Chelsea with an 84% chance of winning the match, with most of the rest of the outcomes as draws. They should get there mostly on the back of their attack, because Norwich's defence is more permeable than a gravel-sand mix. That's right. A soil mechanics joke. I went there. However, the Canaries' attack isn't so bad - we have them projected at about league average, despite the jump from the Championship, and it wouldn't be out of the question that the visitors manage to put one past Henrique Hilario on Saturday.

(I assume everyone reading knows that Petr Cech is still missing, by the way? If not... Surprise! Hilario! Don't worry, Cech is back after the international break, according to Andre Villas-Boas.)

Anyway, the Canaries have two draws in two games this time around in the Premier League, one at home to Stoke City and the other away to Wigan Athletic. They've also managed to get hammered by the MK Dons in the second round of the Carling Cup, losing 4-0, but since they basically fielded a reserve side there's nothing we can take away from that game.

In the two league matches, Norwich have (according to ESPN Soccernet/Opta, anyway) used a 4-4-2 diamond shape. The 4-4-2 diamond allows a team to play two strikers while retaining firm control of the central midfield, but it's incredibly reliant on its fullbacks to control the entire flank they're stationed on, and as a result the diamond is weak out wide, but fairly good at retaining possession. Strictly speaking, it hasn't done its job so far - allowing Stoke more than 50% possession in a match is an unheard-of achievement (de-chievement?), although they did manage to kind of nullify Wigan at the DW.

I wouldn't get too worked up about the two draws, either - Norwich have been outshot 38-23 in those two matches, so it would seem that they're getting fairly lucky in terms of their results. Hopefully, that luck will turn at the Bridge. Anyway, here's a stab at a possible starting XI for the Canaries (bearing in mind that centre half Leon Barnett is suspended):

Norwich City (4<4>2): John Ruddy; Mark Tierney, Zak Whitbread, Ritchie de Laet, Kyle Naughton; Bradley Johnson; Elliot Bennett, Andrew Crofts; Anthony Pilkington; Grant Holt, Steve Morison.

Chelsea will be without the services of David Luiz, Michael Essien and Cech, but everyone else is apparently available for selection. New signing Juan Mata is expected to start on the bench; other new signing Romelu Lukaku may well join him. Considering how the team has struggled at the beginning of games, even with Fernando Torres playing relatively well, it wouldn't be totally out of the question to hand Didier Drogba a start as well. Here's how I see the team lining up:

Chelsea (4-3-3): Henrique Hilario; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa; John Obi Mikel; Frank Lampard, Ramires; Florent Malouda, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka.

If we do get that starting eleven, or something similar, take a good look and enjoy it. With the Juan Mata Era starting shortly, it'll probably be one of the last times we see the trident that led the Blues to the title in 2009/10. I miss that team.

The match starts at 3:00 PM GMT on Saturday August 27th. We'll see you there (we hope!)... and I might as well call a 3-1 win right now.  Feeling good about this one.

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