For those of us old enough to remember the 1960s, there was a popular song at the end of the decade famously recorded by Fairport Convention, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Diamond entitled Chelsea Morning. The song began with the line “I woke up it was a Chelsea morning.” Well today is not exactly a Chelsea morning, but kick off time is 12.30, so our Saturday morning is spent travelling to the London Stadium for an early start time. How I look forward to 23 December when we kick off the game against Newcastle at the traditional time of 3pm on a Saturday, which will be only the second time this season when a home game will commence at this “normal” time.
Today’s game will be the fifth under our new manager and we have yet to see a victory. The opener at Watford was a poor performance, the following home fixture against Leicester showed much improvement from both the players and the fans, then the game at Goodison Park was appalling. None of us expected much at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday, but we led unexpectedly at half-time thanks to Ogbonna’s well placed header, and were within a few minutes of getting a point against the runaway Premier League leaders who have been brushing aside all and sundry this season. But the solitary point from the last four games leaves us firmly entrenched in the relegation zone with two difficult games against top six sides to follow, and unless we can start winning some games we could easily find ourselves beginning to become detached from safety.
But after Chelsea (today) and Arsenal (in midweek) we embark on a run of league fixtures which, on paper at least, most are games that will be easier for us to start a winning run and begin to climb the table. If we don’t then our season could be well defined by February as one that sees us in a desperate scramble to try to retain our place in the top flight.
The 10 league games following Arsenal are:
16 Dec – (A) v Stoke
23 Dec – (H) v Newcastle
26 Dec – (A) v Bournemouth
2 Jan – (H) v West Brom
4 Jan (A) v Tottenham
13 Jan (A) v Huddersfield
20 Jan (H) v Bournemouth
30 Jan (H) v Palace
3 Feb – (A) v Brighton
10 Feb (H) v Watford
Currently we have just ten points from fifteen games. By the end of the Watford game on 10 February we will have played 27 games, which is almost the three-quarters point in the season. That will then leave us just 11 games to retain our Premier League status, of which six (of the last nine) will be at home to Burnley, Manchester United, Southampton, Stoke, Manchester City and Everton.
So in the next 12 games (including Chelsea and Arsenal this week) we will need to collect at least 17 points to achieve the point a game average at that time which is likely to be the minimum that we will need to be outside the relegation places. And that may not even be enough! I see the five home league games between 23 December and 10 February as ones that can be described as “must win”, and at the same time we must start to pick up some points on our travels. Points obtained against Chelsea and Arsenal this week would be a bonus, and two wins would be simply fantastic, but being realistic that is a lot to hope for, but it won’t stop me hoping!
The players who lined up at the Etihad acquitted themselves well and all will be looking to retain their places against Chelsea. Surely Adrian will start in goal, but whether all of the others will keep their places is hard to predict, and will be subject to any injuries picked up, as well as any players that may be fit to return to the squad. But our new manager is keeping his cards close to his chest, so let us hope that he plays his cards right. Apparently Chelsea will be without Luiz and Drinkwater. That is a shame as I wouldn’t have minded them both playing when compared to some other players at their disposal.
Once again the bookmakers have virtually written off our chances but if you believe that there is a chance that we will cause an upset you can get around 6/1 on a home victory, or 10/1 on West Ham to win and both teams to score. If you fancy a fun bet that is a little different then Paddy Power are offering 33/1 on the following four things all to happen: West Ham to score the first goal and win the first corner, and Chelsea to receive the first card and win the first throw-in.
It will be cold watching for us tomorrow, with the wind chill factor making it seem like minus temperatures. It would be great to spring a surprise, but realistically anything that we can get out of the game will be a bonus.