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Squeaky-Bum Time at the Bridge

Bolton (H), Spurs (A), Stoke (H), Liverpool (A) and Wigan (H).

I’ve never been a huge fan of pre-match analysis. Of course there is the occasional titbit of ‘is that right?’ style information for your mates to chew on. For example, the number of goals Chelsea have scored in the matches Didier Drogba hasn’t started (25 goals in 6 games before the 2-1 win over United).

However, for the most part a pre-match analysis seems to be more of a win-win for the pundits. If they predict something correctly, then they are seen as a wily old contender with superb knowledge of the game they played for so long. If they make a complete hash of it, all they have to do is shake their head wryly and say “It’s a funny old game”.

With that in mind, rather than comparing statistics from previous seasons or the number of times a TV close up of Salomon Kalou has shown him displaying a look that most of us associate with getting woken up at 4am by an air-horn, I have decided to study the Chelsea team itself.

None of the remaining three teams in the title race (sorry Rafa) have had a great deal of luck with injuries this campaign. Indeed, where the trophy ends up may have as much to do with who isn’t playing (Fabregas for Arsenal, Rooney for United) as who is.
However, on the Kings Road it is my view that there are two players who will make or break the remaining five fixtures for Chelsea.
Not Frank. Not JT. Not Didier. Not Petr. Although obviously those four will contribute positively towards the team, they are consistent, safe bets to deliver a performance.
To paraphrase the great Rolf Harris, can you tell who it is yet?

It is my view that the two players to make or break Chelsea’s run in are…Yuri Zhirkov and Florent Malouda.
I have been saying for some time to those that will listen (my Mum mainly), that we shouldn’t have sold Arjen Robben. I know he was more injury prone than a snowman in a microwave, and often scared the match day mascot with his incredibly receding hairline but he was a born winger with an abundance of talent.

For a long time it looked like Malouda was an ill-advised purchase (I will leave my analysis of Mr. Mourinho’s transfer policy to another article), however under Hiddink and latterly Ancelotti he has flourished into the player Football Manager told me he was.
His assist against United was a classic wingers combination of pace, persistence, close-knit control and strength – none of which he exhibited under Scolari.

Florent Malouda scors for chelsea despite villa defender James Milners best efforts to ke

As for Zhirkov, I was lucky enough to attend the Villa game recently and – regardless of the arguable deficiencies Martin O’Neill’s otherwise skilful and determined side showed that day – Zhirkov was on excellent form. Any left back who claims winning two penalties and an assist deserves praise in my book.
I acknowledge that he was culpable for the Carew goal, however it must be noted that he is not, by trade, a defensive left back. The majority of his football at CSKA and for the Russian national side has been as a wing back or in left-midfield, both positions which require less defensive nous.

It is often how teams respond to injuries that shapes both their character and their fortunes in competitions. At time of writing I have just finished watching Arsenal endure ‘the Messi show’, although pause to think what might have happened if Robin Van Persie was the target man rather than Nicklas Bendtner.
If either of the two players I have mentioned get injured (and I am knocking on wood as I type) the likely replacements for the immediate future are 19 year old Patrick Van Aanholt at left back and Salomon Kalou on the wing.

If you do have to indulge in a pre match pursuit of trivia in the next month or so, then I’d argue that fact is probably more pertinent than many others that David Pleat or Garth Crooks may throw at you.
Chelsea to do the double. If I’m right, then I’m a predictions phenomenon. If it all goes pear shaped, well, it is a funny old game.

Blue is the colour.

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