Nothing like a little bit of Bolton Wanderers to cure what ails. Chelsea are in the midst of an incredibly frustrating spell - in the last three games they've lost at Goodison Park and the Stadio San Paolo, with a home draw against Birmingham City in between. In not one of those games have they looked like a top Premier League side. Fortunately, Bolton have barely looked like any sort of Premier League side all season, so hey! Hope!
Game Date/Time: Saturday, February 25th, 3:00 PM GMT (10:00 AM EST).
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
TV: FOX Soccer Channel (USA ).
Chelsea, according to the latest rumours, will be missing Jose Bosingwa, Fernando Torres and John Terry. They will not be missing Juan Mata, despite our favourite hobbit breaking a finger against Napoli. The absence of Torres, who's been ill (like me, ugh) and Bosingwa (who hurt his hamstring in the early stages of the Napoli game) may not be such a bad thing, because they've both been pretty horrendous this year, and Didier Drogba and Branislav Ivanovic are much better options anyway. Terry, obviously, is a different story, but Gary Cahill is a reasonable option to partner David Luiz in the centre of the defence.
I should probably mention something about Gary Cahill playing against his former team now. Gary Cahill will play against his former team! How exciting for him and not exciting for us.
Bolton will be missing ace* striker Kevin Davies, which means they're probably more likely to score goals than usual. There's a fairly interesting new face in the Trotters' ranks in the form of on-loan Arsenal man Ryo Miyaichi, who I'm looking forward to seeing live. Despite his reputation as an exciting young player, I'm not exactly quaking in my boots over Miyaichi, nor am I particularly worried about Tim Ream's possible place in Owen Coyle's back line.
*Irony. Don't mind me.
Chelsea are a better side than Bolton, which means that we should be looking to force them into a tactical adjustment rather than make one to deal with them. Andre Villas-Boas needs a win, and should probably play his strongest team as a result. For me, that's a 4-2-3-1, but whenever I suggest he goes with a double pivot we see a 4-3-3 and vice versa.
Regardless of what Villas-Boas actually does, I'd want Mata in the hole flanked by Salomon Kalou on the left and Daniel Sturridge to the right. The defence is basically selected for us, which means that the only question is the personnel in the double pivot.
I think we can all agree that Raul Meireles is banished to the eighth circle of Hell for his fraudulent impersonation of a midfielder, but that leaves us with plenty of choices. Ramires, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Frank Lampard are probably the most popular options, and I'm thinking that a Essien-Lampard pivot will give us players who know what to do with the ball, which is better than what we had on Tuesday (sorry, Ramires).
That gives us a lineup of:
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic; Frank Lampard, Michael Essien; Salomon Kalou, Juan Mata, Daniel Sturridge; Didier Drogba.
Of course the tactics and everything won't matter one bit if the team doesn't show up to play. The boys in blue need to do their bit too. Whether or not they will is an open question. If we don't get a win here, it's time to head for the lifeboats...