After suffering an unfortunate loss at Manchester City, Chelsea are staring at another vital match on Saturday. 'Struggling' Tottenham Hotspur are still five points ahead of the Blues in fourth place and in much better position to qualify for the 2012/13 Champions League than us, which means we have some catching up to do. Fortunately, Chelsea are in good position to close the gap. Three points would see everyone* a lot happier about the rest of the year, and there's a decent chance that said points are there for the taking at Stamford Bridge.
*Except Tottenham fans, I suppose.
Game Date/Time: 12:45 PM GMT (8:45 AM EST), Saturday, March 24th.
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
TV: Sky Sports 2 (UK), ESPN 2 (USA).
Online: ESPN 3 (USA)
Chelsea will welcome back captain John Terry as well as midfielder Oriol Romeu for Saturday's match, but they'll probably be without the services of Branislav Ivanovic, whom Roberto di Matteo has listed as 'doubtful'. All in all, the injury news is good - while Ivanovic will be missed, having Terry back is huge news, and Romeu's return allows for some extra versatility with the midfielders, though I don't think he'll start.
Tottenham Hotspur, meanwhile, have been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. Aaron Lennon is definitely out, and Emmanuel Adebayor, who scored the opener against us at White Hart Lane, sounds highly doubtful as well. Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone are (very) long-term absentees.
Tottenham have had something of a change in fortune recently. Since a 5-0 demolition of Newcastle United at White Hart Lane, Spurs have picked up one point from four league games and have slipped to 4th place in the table behind Arsenal. Chelsea will be looking to compound their misery.
The most notable part of Spurs' precipitous drop in form has been the complete collapse of their midfield. Scott Parker's been terrible of late and Luka Modric has for some reason that I can't comprehend often been pushed wide left rather than kept centrally, diminishing his ability to influence the game. Equally strangely, the absence of Aaron Lennon has seen Gareth Bale played on the right, where he can cut inside and shoot but is otherwise fairly pointless.
Harry Redknapp switched things up for Stoke City, placing Modric back in the centre and Bale on the left, but despite that being less tactically ludicrous didn't really bring great results. Tottenham played a 4-4-1-1 with Rafael van der Vaart in the hole and Niko Krancjar on the right at White Hart Lane in midweek, and most signs indicate that's how they'll go here.
Assuming we get the recent incarnation of Tottenham, Chelsea's tactics should be fairly straightforward. I would play a 4-2-3-1 but rest Juan Mata, who will otherwise be obliterated by the physical and fouly presence of Parker in the centre of the pitch. Instead, like in the Stoke City match, Frank Lampard could be played in the hole behind Didier Drogba, with Mata waiting in reserve.
Despite the latter's horrendous mistake during Chelsea's 2-1 loss to Manchester City on Wednesday, I'd use John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien in a double pivot, with Essien roaming forward to support Lampard, who'd dedicate himself to annoying Modric while Spurs have possession, and Mikel tracking Rafael van der Vaart.
Since we'll be without Ivanovic, Bosingwa's basically our only option at right back. I don't like that matchup against Gareth Bale, but things would be easier with Ramires ahead of him, so that's probably what di Matteo will do. That may well mean no Daniel Sturridge - despite being left footed the manager hasn't given any indication that the striker is available to play on the left flank - I think Salomon Kalou is probably the best option there. And yes, Drogba over Fernando Torres to start. Hitting Spurs in the air's a good way to go, and set piece ability will be very useful.
That means I'd probably use Gary Cahill over David Luiz at the back. Cahill has scored twice from corners in the last two games, and Tottenham are having real trouble defending set pieces at the moment. We may was well exploit that.
Here's all of the above distilled into lineup form:
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Jose Bosingwa; John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien; Salomon Kalou, Frank Lampard, Ramires; Didier Drogba.
This is a must-win game for Chelsea, in my opinion. So let's go out and win it.