Chelsea FC: Predicting the Blues Starting XI vs. Genk
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Sports writers and analysts always talk about intangibles—that unexplainable and unquantifiable aspect of an athlete that has as much influence in their performance as their physical abilities, talent and skill. Chelsea will need that to be at an all-time high as they come off one of their worst losses in recent memory.
The 5-3 drubbing at home against Arsenal is still resonating amongst the Chelsea nation. Embarrassing to say the least, a team that has won championships on defense is at a crossroads where coach Andre Villas-Boas must decide how he will approach the game going forward. His “innovative” 4-3-3 attack has been exposed now by the better teams they have played against, and none of the kinks are being worked out.
Luckily, the best remedy for tough loss is an easy follow-up match. Chelsea dispatched with Genk with ease two weeks ago, winning 5-0 at home. Now traveling to Belgium, the goals may not come as easy, but should come none the less.
Both Didier Drogba and John Obi Mikel are not making the trip due to injury. Everyone else on the roster is available.
However, I am making my predictions for what I think is not just best for this game, but for the mentality of the team. Taking into account their upcoming schedule, I can see many of the starters getting rest as they will need to be at their absolute best against Blackburn this weekend to get their League hopes back on track.
GK: Petr Cech
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Cech had one of his worst games in recent memory Saturday against Arsenal. Though none were huge gaffes, he was beaten three of the five times on his near side, a textbook mistake of goaltending in any sport. These are not only stops you want him to make, but over the years fans have come to expect him to with regularity. The beat-down at the hands really showed a weakness that few had recognized before, primarily that Cech is relied on far too much to pull out some incredible saves.
In the first match against Genk the veteran keeper found he had little to do as his team dominated possession and never really had his goal under threat. With that said he did do well to stay alert and not let in a cheap one as they went on to win 5-0. A few saves in this match may actually do some good to restore confidence as they head into essential must win games in the league on weekends.
RB: Jose Bosingwa
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Started strong against Arsenal, but eventually became the one to blame for Santos’ decisive goal just after the break that gave Arsenal that push they needed to go on and win. His defensive skills have always been a liability, and fans are starting to look at Villas-Boas and wonder how much he is willing to sacrifice a solid back line for that extra surge in the attack.
Bosingwa did well against Genk last time, but that is not exactly saying much as he continues to struggle against better sides. He should get the start for that reason alone. As the team moves forward Villas-Boas will have to evaluate what to do with that right back position, but right now it is safe to assume that Bosingwa will get the start and do enough to help them to a win.
CB: David Luiz
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Everyone in the Chelsea nation—from the most frantic fan to Villas-Boas himself—were left scratching their heads as the most consistent position for them over the past few years was torn to pieces by the speed and pace of the Arsenal attack.
John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic have been not only two of the best players on the team, but some of the best defenders in the entire league. Last week was an abnormality unlike any other. It may do some good to give the two of them a rest and get over their worst performance in quite some time if not ever.
David Luiz started last time against Genk and did a decent job. The Brazilian is often most criticized for irrational challenges and getting out of position. Genk was not good enough last time to take advantage of these weaknesses, and you can expect they have not improved enough over the past two weeks to figure out a way to do so.
The thing that Luiz needs most to get on the path to improvement is just game experience. He needs to figure a way out of his own situations. Genk is the perfect side for him to develop this further as they should have enough offense to cover any mistakes he makes as he works on his game.
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Alex has not featured on the pitch for Chelsea since the last time they played Genk when he came on as a 78th minute sub and has not started since the Carling Cup match against Fulham back in late September.
With my belief that Ivanovic and Terry should take a break and rest both physically and mentally, it would be a good time for their other Brazilian to play a full 90 minutes.
Furthermore it is important that he get some playing time on a more regular basis. It is detrimental to his form if he were to continue to go without adequate playing time. He is a strong and smart defender that could actually perhaps to assist Luiz in his development than Terry could, if not for more than their shared nationality.
LB: Ryan Bertrand
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Ashley Cole was the best defender for Chelsea Saturday, but that is not saying much for a team that gave up five goals. With that said Cole has been far from the player we have come to expect over the past few seasons.
He is slower than ever and looks much more rash going into tackles. It may be this new system, which is forcing him up the field into territories that he rarely goes, or it could just be old age finally catching up to the 30-year-old. Whatever it is, it is something that management needs to concern itself with.
Ryan Bertrand is his expected successor when Cole retires. Right now there is a considerable drop between Cole and Bertrand, but that is easy to justify given the fact that Bertrand has played in only a handful of games compared to Cole, who has over 500 under his belt. The bright side of Bertrand is that he is consistently growing every game. He rarely makes the same mistakes twice, and game experience is what he needs to continue his development.
Genk should offer little resistance and be a perfect place for Bertrand to get some much-needed playing time.
CDM: Oriol Romeu
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Romeu has been a pleasant surprise this season. Everyone expected the world out of Mata and he has delivered, but many were not sure what to make of Romeu, the teenage Barca product. He was good in their youth system, but questions were rightfully asked about why Barca would part with him and how would he adjust to the English game.
So far he has answered those questions with some very good play. He has only featured five games and one of those was against Genk two weeks back. He was great in it while making the occasional mistake—forgivable given his age—and seems to be a better player every minute that he is on the pitch.
Of all the signings made this summer, he is really the one Chelsea fans should look forward to becoming an all-world player.
CM: Raul Meireles
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Coming on late at Stamford Bridge Saturday, there was not much the Portuguese midfielder could do to help the team. However, he did hurt them with some poor defending that led to the goal that put it out of reach.
After starting off his Chelsea career in good form, Meireles has receded back to a place that found him irrelevant on a growing Liverpool side. He has been slow and indecisive on the ball. There is no creativity in his game even though that was the reason he was brought to Chelsea in the first place.
The one spot where he has found a bit of magic in recent years—for both Chelsea and Liverpool—has been the Champions League. He started in the rout of Genk last time and will most likely do so this time around. He may not be the most talented player on the squad, but his age and veteran attitude will be enough to control the ball and the game against this outmatched opponent.
CM: Frank Lampard
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The only player who cannot take blame in the loss to Arsenal was perhaps the same player who has taken so much heat the whole season. Lampard’s goal, assist and what should have been one or two more was typical of what we expect of him. His passing was fluid and his control of the ball controlled the game for much of the first half.
With my predicting that many of the other veteran starters getting a much-needed break to rest and clear their heads, Lamps will be out there in fine form leading the charge to get Chelsea back on the right track. His influence in the midfield has become unquestionable and against this weaker opponent he should have a relatively lax game feeding the ball to the attack.
It would be foolish to sit Lamps, considering the importance of getting back in stride. There have been plenty of games where he has been on the end of a drumming and only bounced back the next game to prove that the loss was nothing more than a fluke.
LW: Juan Mata
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The only other player on Saturday in blue who has a claim to saying “not my fault,” Mata earned an assist and goal as well. However, it was probably his worst game in a Chelsea uniform. Not so much for lack of production, but an inability to get on the ball more often.
Anyone who had watched or scouted Chelsea has seen the new dynamic Mata has brought to the team. He has been explosive on that left side and really turned himself into the best pickup of the summer.
Teams would also recognize the best way to stop the Chelsea attack is to keep Mata from getting the ball. Arsenal did this and it paid off. Not to say that it was only his fault, but Mata must recognize his role on the team and make himself more available to his teammates. Not an easy task of course when being tightly marked the entire game, but is it not true that the same defense is played against Messi and Ronaldo? They seem to find ways to influence play.
If Mata wants to rise to that level of elite player, he must figure a way to be influential for the entire game. He should have no problem doing this against Genk and should be enough of an attacking force himself to help on a couple of goals.
RW: Nicolas Anelka
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One place Chelsea fans could take some solace in the loss to Arsenal is in the fact that their two best attackers historically against the Gunners were unavailable. Not to say that Drogba or Anelka would have started for sure, but I think it is safe to bet that both would have found their way into the game at some point as the Blues needed a goal.
Anelka has been an odd figure for Chelsea this season. Expected to be a casualty of a Villas-Boas purge that never happened, he has instead found regular playing time on the right wing. His experienced play has been comforting and controlled the flow of action when things start to get out of hand.
With that said, he has also been the figure of much scorn as his slow and melodic style has ruined the quick tempo fans are asking for. Fernando Torres may have been in fact calling out the Frenchman when he said that the older players are too slow for his game.
But you cannot argue with results. Chelsea is 9-3-3 in all competitions. In those six non-wins Anelka started in none of them. Whatever he is doing on the pitch is working. It is better to have him fit than not.
CF: Fernando Torres
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With Torres making so many improvements over the past few games, including a great showing against Genk last time, he was abysmal on Saturday. It is not often that a game that had eight goals in it can have a writeup that mentions a central forward only once and it was on an easy miss.
While for defenders the best remedy for a display like that is to clear your head, for forwards it is the exact opposite. That energy and frustration needs to be taken out on the next team's defense as he aggressively goes after every ball and run that he can.
Nothing short of a multiple goal game or at least one where he influences on a few throughout the game will be acceptable. Drogba is sidelined after having screws in his arm taken out from a previous injury. Torres has not done well when he has been the only option up front. Hopefully he can get over that hurdle on Tuesday and get back to the player we thought he was becoming.