We're two games into the new Premier League season -- you know, the one that started on January 1, 2015, right after Chelsea finished the pre-season with a 5-3 loss to Spurs -- and Chelsea have already built a 5-point lead over closest rivals and tonight's opponents Manchester City. Another win would see the Blues go 8 points clear, and while City have closed similar gaps before in recent years and even recent months, one would hope that Chelsea would not relinquish such a commanding lead (again) over the remaining 15 games. Anything less than a win for us brings the rest of the season into sharp focus.
I suppose we should talk briefly about Frank Lampard as well. He is, after all, waving and clapping at us in stereo above.
Hi, Frank! Bye, Frank!
Ok, great. That's done. Moving on. It's time for business.
Date / Time: Saturday, January 31, 2015, 17:30 GMT; 12:30pm EST; 11pm IST
Venue: Stamford Bridge, SW6
Referee: Mark Clattenburg -- with Howard Webb retired, the mantle of England's best referee (for whatever that's worth) generally gets attached to Mr. Spiky Hair, whose only major fault, probably, is that he likes to be the center of attention. Now, a bit of egotism is almost a requirement to be an effective referee, but Clattenburg does tend to step over the line a bit too often. Still, on his day, he's as good as anyone could possibly hope for. With that in mind, plus the fact that we've only lost 3 of the 23 games he's refereed for us, let's hope for a repeat of the 2-1 from three years ago, when an early Mario Balotelli goal was canceled out by Raul Meireles and, after Clattenburg sneered a red card in Gaël Clichy's face, a late Frank Lampard penalty won it for us. Substitute Frank pops up at the end with the decider once again!
Forecast: Cold with a chance of rain or perhaps even sleet. Non-Messi weather, in other words.
On TV: Sky Sports 1 (UK); NBC, mun2 (USA); Star Sports 4 / HD 2 (India); elsewhere
Online: Sky Go (UK); NBC Sports Live Extra, Deportes Telemundo En Vivo Extra (USA); Star Sports (India)
Chelsea team news: Have you been living under a rock? Without any Wi-Fi? Sounds rough. Well, in case you have, or if someone's reading this many years from now and has forgotten about the events of the preceding few days, here's a quick summary.
Diego Costa is suspended because The FA, who like to complain about corrupt FIFA's lack of transparency, have decided unequivocally (and quite quickly) that the unprovable is proven. Meanwhile, Cesc Fàbregas is battling a hamstring injury, which makes him a major doubt for a starting role (or any role at all, in fact), and Filipe Luís is out with a calf injury. Mikel's recovery from a head injury that he suffered last weekend is progressing at an unknown pace. Branislav Ivanovic might have a piece missing from his right foot, but he should play. (I hope you didn't have to ask.) Lastly, by the time kick-off rolls around, both André Schürrle and Mohamed Salah may have gotten on their respectively flights out of London and toward adventures foreign and new.
With the defense and the attacking band picking themselves, the two key questions for Chelsea will be who starts up top and who partners Nemanja Matic in center midfield. Didier Drogba was anything but effective against lowly Bradford City, but Mourinho seems to prefer The Big Man over the bit more shifty and speedy Loïc Rémy. Assuming we win the possession battle, perhaps Drogba would be the better choice, but with Fàbregas unlikely to play (and Ramires set to deputize), we might have to go with a Plan B. One plan B, and one that I wouldn't be completely averse to, is to switch to a 4-3-3, which would best utilize the endless box-to-box energy of the now fully fit Ramires. Of course then the question becomes who plays the third man in the central triangle. Mikel? Oscar? One-legged Cesc? Decisions, decisions...
Manchester City team news: After all those years of Chelsea getting the short end of the Africa Cup of Nations scheduling stick, it's City who have to deal with the effects of the mid-season tournament this time. So instead of coming to Stamford Bridge, both Yaya Touré and new signing Wilfried Bony are set to play in Sunday's quarterfinal between Ivory Coast and Algeria, though the latter's absence is mitigated by a once again fit Sergio Agüero. Agüero's hasn't scored in his last four games; in the business that's known as a "he's due."
Further absentees for City should include Samir Nasri (not match-fit) and Eliaquim Mangala (some sort of shoulder injury). Mangala was never better than when he played against Chelsea last time, so hopefully we do indeed get to deal with Martin Demichelis instead.
Despite recent troubles and a history of poor results at Stamford Bridge (only 2 wins -- once in 1993 and again in 2010 -- from 16 Premier League visits), City do have the best away record in the Premier League. Chelsea of course are a perfect 10-from-10 at home. Something's got to give.
View from the enemy: Bitter & Blue
Previously: In honor of André Schürrle...