LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Juan Mata of Chelsea takes on Neil Taylor of Swansea City during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on September 24, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
My attention is 99% on the transfer window and 1% on actual football right now (farewell, eating and sleeping), but this game needs previewing and so by God I'll preview it. Chelsea head to Wales for the first time in Premier League play, and although they demolished Swansea City at Stamford Bridge - a match in which Fernando Torres scored before being sent off in the first half - Brendan Rodgers's men are a far more prickly proposition at the Liberty Stadium than they are on their travels.
Check out Swansea's home record: Five wins, five draws and a solitary loss. That's two fewer reverses than Chelsea have suffered at Stamford Bridge, and since the Blues are on something of a draw-happy streak away it wouldn't come as a huge surprise if they ended up being held to a point tomorrow. Andre Villas-Boas, of course, will be doing all he can to earn all three.
Unfortunately the manager doesn't exactly have the resources he'd like for this match. Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are off at the Africa Cup of Nations, where they've both been impressive with the Ivory Coast. Captain John Terry is recuperating from a knee injury he's been playing through for weeks. Michael Essien probably isn't all the way fit yet. John Obi Mikel hasn't played since the Tottenham Hotspur draw, and Frank Lampard remains unavailable with a calf issue. Ramires managed to damage his MCL during the 1-0 win against QPR. And to top this paragraph off, neither Fernando Torres nor Daniel Sturridge are in great form right now.
Most were following along as Swansea beat down Arsenal a few weeks ago. Arsenal tried to play Swansea at their own game, and a lack of defensive robustness from the Gunners led to a collapse from 1-0 up to a 3-2 loss. With the Swans focusing so much on a possession game, it could be wise to take the opposite route, as CareFreeChronicles has pointed out - a counterattacking Chelsea will be more defensively sound and just as likely to score as one that tries to dominate possession in the centre of the park.
That strategy, however, would rely upon Danny Sturridge being back to his normal self*. Against Newcastle, Sturridge was an unholy terror on the counterattack, ripping Ryan Taylor to shreds and generating about ten chances with his pace and trickery alone. With David Luiz's ability to pick out passes from deep, we should be looking to Sturridge as an out ball whenever we recover possession.
*Or, if the Sturridge of the last few weeks is his normal self, going back to his abnormal self would be good.
I'd write about Fernando Torres, but everything that can possible be said about his goal drought has now been said (including this sentence, probably), and I don't want to plagiarise, even accidentally. Torres is Torres is Torres.
The defence could be interesting. With John Terry out, Gary Cahill looks set to make his debut. Whether he starts or not depends on Jose Bosingwa and Branislav Ivanovic. If the former starts at right back, one would imagine Ivanovic will partner David Luiz at the back with Cahill on the bench, but if the Serbian is chosen for fullback duty, Cahill will line up alongside David Luiz. The cleverness of Swansea's attack will be a major test for both, but let's hope for the best and pray nothing goes wrong.
Since Ashley Cole will never get rested ever again, we can shake all of the above up and come out with a projected lineup. Here goes:
We'll see Michael Essien get some significant time too, and the only attacking switches available to Villas-Boas will be youngsters Romelu Lukaku and Lucas Piazon, who's just been called up to the first team. If all goes well, we could see Piazon make his debut, although that strikes me as unlikely.
With all of the absentees and the strength of our opponents at the Liberty Stadium, I'm not feeling that confident about this match. But we managed to flatten Newcastle United at whatever they're calling St. James' Park these days when they'd only lost one match all season, so there's plenty of room for hope. Three points ahead of our showdown with Manchester United at the Bridge would be super.
The match is on Tuesday, January 31st at 7:45 PM GMT (2:45 PM EST). Join us here for the match thread along with all of the transfer deadline updates anyone could ever want.