In a midweek Premier League clash, Chelsea take on Swansea City at Stamford Bridge with both sides really needing maximum points from the match.
Chelsea, especially, will want to get back on the winning track after drawing against Liverpool on Saturday at Anfield. With Manchester City looking unbeatable at the minute, a defeat on Wednesday night coupled with another win from City would put the Blues 14 points behind the league leaders and all but end any hope of a title challenge.
For Swansea, a draw wouldn’t be the worst result away from home, but victory would be far more important. A draw would keep the Welsh side in the bottom three, but with just six points separating Newcastle United in 12th place and Crystal Palace in 20th, a victory could see Swansea climb out of the relegation places and move as high as 16th depending on other results.
Swansea’s task won’t be easy, though, especially with over half of their goal total in the Premier League season missing on Wednesday night. Because of loan rules, Tammy Abraham is ineligible to play against his parent club and with it go his four goals in the Premier League this season, which leads the team.
Chelsea themselves are short a striker, as Michy Batshuayi is nursing a knee problem. David Luiz is also ruled out with a knee problem, though Victor Moses could be in contention for a start after recovering from a hamstring injury after being on the bench on Saturday against Liverpool.
Chelsea must keep their concentration levels up, even though Swansea’s attack is woeful.
In 13 Premier League matches this season, Swansea have managed just 7 goals and averaged 8.6 shots per match. That says all you need to know about Swansea’s attack this season.
While Swansea have conceded just 15 goals this season, that goal total is what has them sitting on just 9 points and is piling the pressure on Paul Clement.
It’s a real problem for Swansea, particularly because the statistics show that not only are they not scoring goals, but they’re not getting many shooting chances either.
The one bright spot in the attack has been the play of Abraham. He’s played as well as he can with limited service, but without him, it’s hard to see where the goals come from.
The obvious replacement is Wilfried Bony who returned to the Welsh side over the summer, but looks a shadow of the player he was before his move to Manchester City. Bony has made 7 appearances this season but has virtually no impact this season.
Despite their weaknesses in attack, Chelsea’s defence will have to stay focused because Swansea do a couple of things well. Leroy Fer is a good box-to-box midfielder who has caused teams trouble in the past with late runs off of midfield players, and in Nathan Dyer and Jordan Ayew, the Swans do possess a bit of pace in the wide areas.
But if Chelsea’s centre backs and midfield maintain their concentration and put in a professional performance, there’s really nothing that Swansea can do that should trouble the Blues.
Willian is one of Chelsea’s most important squad players.
Make no mistake. When everyone is fit, regardless of formation, Willian will often find himself on the bench. It’s not because of anything Willian has done or not done this season. It’s because he’s a victim of having two other options in his position.
The reason that Willian becomes so important to Chelsea as a squad player is because he’s the only player who can provide a reasonable approximation of Eden Hazard’s role, allowing the Belgian to have a rest every now and again.
For the last two seasons, it’s become a bit more apparent that Conte sees Willian and Hazard as similar types of players. You don’t often see Willian and Hazard start a match together in the 3-4-3, unless Pedro happens to not be fit.
It makes a lot of sense. Both players are dynamic when on the ball, but the difference between Willian and both Pedro and Hazard is that Willian tends to want the ball played into feet. Very rarely do you see Willian go to make runs in behind the defence.
It allows him to sort of replicate Hazard’s ability to turn and run at a defence, which is why Willian tends to have his best games without the Belgian in the team on the other flank. It makes him invaluable because it allows you to give Hazard a rest every once in a while, which is something that may happen on Wednesday night.
Hazard should get a break against Swansea.
It’s never good to underestimate your opponent, but on paper, Chelsea should be able to cope with Swansea without the services of Hazard, and now is a great time to give the Belgian a night off.
In recent weeks, opponents have taken to the tried-and-true tactic of rotating players to foul Hazard in order to stop him. This week, Hazard revealed that he’s had to take it easy in training in order to recover from the inordinate number of fouls that he receives in a match.
In the last two matches, both Manchester United and Liverpool resorted to making sure Hazard wasn’t the one to beat them by having players foul Hazard repeatedly.
Against Liverpool, Hazard was brilliant in the first half, but after three or four heavy fouls, he wasn’t the same player in the second half and carried a bit of a limp.
It’s not unreasonable to expect the referee to protect a player from being fouled multiple times by multiple opposing players, but since that hasn’t happened, Antonio Conte is going to have to rotate Hazard against certain opponents in order to keep him fit.
Swansea seems a perfect opportunity to do just that, and perhaps a couple others might join him as well.
Projected Lineup: (3-4-3)
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Zappacosta, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Pedro.