It’s not a game we wanted to be playing less than 72 hours before we head off to Yorkshire to play Los Blancos in another relegation six-pointer, but who cares what we think.
It’s clearly more important to carefully manage Chelsea’s load than ours, so we find ourselves returning to the scene of Saturday’s disaster on a Thursday night with a 7:30 kick-off – one that I know, anecdotally, is too early for some.
I’d normally have it down as one of those the kids say they’re “buzzing” for – as it should be when you’re offered the chance to leave one of the big six with a bloody nose – but it’s really not. To be fair, I speak only for myself but I suspect I’m not alone in approaching tonight with half-heartedness normally reserved for a trip to the dentist.
It has to be done but you know it’s likely to be painful.
But do it we will, based on the premise that upsets and surprises do sometimes happen when you least expect them; those weird days when logic and form go out of the window.
At the moment though, those days are hellishly few and far between.
We tend to go into games expecting the worst but then, somehow, those who were once our heroes find new ways to make the experience even grimmer and more demoralising than we’d at first feared. The one thing we’re good at.
So forgive me for the downbeat tone of this preview – but the bruising we all took on Saturday and the one I’ve taken since for daring to question the robustness of the self-funding model, have temporarily dimmed the light of this City fan. (I did say temporarily.)
Let’s just hope those in yellow and green can at least offer up something that these days counts as a performance against a top-six side – something more akin to Liverpool (a) rather than Man City (h) or Chelsea (a).
In terms of team news, Dean Smith confirmed at this morning’s Colney presser that only Adam Idah and Andrew Omobamidele are unavailable tonight, along with Billy Gilmour who’s obviously unable to play against his parent club.
Otherwise, it’s all systems go with Lukas Rupp back in the fold after missing the Brentford game with muscle tightness – a definite plus given his performance in the FA Cup game at Anfield. While I have no wish to join the Gilmour pile-on, our record without the Chelsea youngster in the team is better than with him in it.
Smith also did his best to rally the faithful, stating that with 33 points still to play for he still firmly believes that we can survive but that in order to do so he needs the fans to stay with the team.
Dean – give us something to get behind and we’ll not let you down.
He also hinted at a change in formation tomorrow night, citing the need to ‘surprise’ Chelsea in order to make it difficult for them. I really hope he has something up his sleeve but with a squad so low in confidence and lacking in a great deal, the mind boggles as to what this cunning plan may entail.
One interesting little aside from this morning. When asked about Saturday’s midfield – that part of the team that most agreed was especially dysfunctional on Saturday – he offered the following:
“If you look at the midfield area, box-to-box, I thought we were the better team.”
Let’s hope this was merely the tactful answer and that behind closed doors, the message was rather blunter.
For Chelsea, putting aside the fact their club is up for sale and they may end up with a less generous billionaire than Roman Abramovich, it’s good news all the way.
The Spanish pairing of Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta are both close to fitness after missing the last few games, while Hakim Zeyech and Andreas Christiensen are also back in contention for tomorrow night after being unused substitutes in Saturday’s 4-0 win at Burnley.
The only big-name definitely missing out tomorrow night is Ben Chilwell who, while back in training, is not ready for a start.
Given the huge squad at Thomas Tuchel’s disposal and the fact he rotates it regularly in order to keep players fresh for upcoming games, I’ll refrain from trying to second-guess his line-up for tomorrow night but he did play his favored 3-4-2-1 at Turf Moor with Kei Havertz, rather than Romelu Lukaku, as the lone striker.
Either way, it will be a Chelsea XI loaded with quality and which won’t stand up well (for us) in any player-for-player comparison. So I won’t do one.
Let’s just hope we emerge injury-free and with what little belief we have left still intact ahead of the trip to Elland Road.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?