Home comforts await at the start of a big month. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton are ready for the visit of Yorkshire opposition…
Football is about physics as well as artistry, statistics, and entertainment. Maurizio Sarri will be hoping Newton’s third law stands firm this weekend: if ever an equal and opposite reaction is required, it is after the action on Wednesday evening at Bournemouth.
The Italian has seen his side respond to adversity a number of times already this season, but this has not been sustained long enough to provide security in the Champions League places.
Disappointingly, Chelsea have dropped outside the top four for the first time this campaign, albeit merely on goals scored. The situation has prompted some of us to look again at which clubs are left in the Europa League, as winning that competition, which resumes this month, offers another ticket into UEFA’s elite next season.
Yet Arsenal’s visit to champions Manchester City this Sunday may allow the Blues to leapfrog our north London neighbours again, albeit that Sarri’s men face the same trip a week later, while the Gunners travel to this Saturday’s guests at the Bridge, Huddersfield Town.
In the Premier League era, Chelsea have won 37 of the 52 matches against a team sitting bottom of the table that day.
— Key stat
The Blues have one of the best records in matches against teams lying 20th in the Premier League before kick-off, as Town do, with only Manchester United enjoying a higher percentage of victories.
The Blues most recently faced such a side when Fulham paid a neighbourly visit on 2 December. The game followed a disappointing league performance at Tottenham but Pedro settled nerves inside five minutes and Ruben Loftus-Cheek packed our rivals back across the borough nursing a 2-0 loss.
This weekend’s fixtures are the reverse of those that opened the season in August, a round of few surprises (unlike midweek). Bournemouth inflicted our worst Premier League defeat since the 1-5 debacle at Liverpool early in the 1996/97 season. (The fact that season ended quite well is of little comfort right now.)
On the face of it, a goal jamboree looks unlikely: Sarri’s men have not scored a league goal in two matches, while Town have fired blanks in four of their last five. Other factors are at work, however.
The Bridge harbours happy memories for Huddersfield. Chelsea’s ground was the venue for their only FA Cup triumph in 1922 (their second final appearance at the ground in three seasons), and last season it was the setting for their remarkable escape from relegation, with passionate scenes on and off the pitch at the end.
Probably the last thing new Terriers coach Jan Siewert wanted to face on their return, the first away match of his tenure, was a hurt Chelsea, determined to make amends in front of their own fans following a terrible second-half showing in midweek.
Huddersfield have found euphoria in short supply since last season’s heroics, and the man who did much to create that wellbeing, David Wagner, departed last month.
Siewert, formerly of Borussia Dortmund 2, the Germans’ development squad, has the reputation of being an attacking coach, and has asked his players to show more aggression following the midweek home defeat to 10-man Everton.
As with fellow 2017 arrivals Newcastle, there are those who have examined Town and diagnosed ‘second season’ syndrome, and Siewert warned he is ‘not a magician.’ Yet a promoted side surviving the first campaign only to succumb the year after is not as common as football cliché would suggest: the last club to suffer that fate were Hull City in 2015.
Premier League top-scorers
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) 16
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) 15
Harry Kane (Tottenham) 14
Sergio Aguero (Man City) 11
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) 10
Sadio Mane (Liverpool) 10
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) 10
Glenn Murray (Brighton) 10
Richarlison (Everton) 10
Raheem Sterling (Man City) 10
Callum Wilson (Bournemouth) 10
Premier League clean sheets
One aid to staying in the top flight can be judicious trading in January. The Terriers are the league’s lowest goalscorers with 13, seven fewer than Fulham, and when the transfer window closed on Thursday, Huddersfield’s recruitment included two attacking players.
Karlan Grant is a 21-year-old striker who has scored 14 goals in 29 appearances for League One Charlton this season, and winger Jason Puncheon, borrowed from Crystal Palace, has scored twice in 12 matches against Chelsea.
Chelsea’s dealings included taking Gonzalo Higuain on loan and arranging for star USA international Christian Pulisic to arrive in the summer. Going the other way were Cesc Fabregas, Alvaro Morata, and Victor Moses. We thank them for their great contributions, and welcome the new men.
After this weekend Sarri’s men will have only the second match-free midweek since late August as they prepare for the trip to Manchester City next Sunday.
Holders Chelsea will aim to return to winning ways, and emulate the men’s team, by progressing from round four of the FA Cup away to Everton on Sunday.
The Under-18s' game at Arsenal scheduled for Saturday has been postponed due to the snow.
With low temperatures and adverse weather conditions predicted, anyone attending Saturday’s match is advised to check forecasts as well as travel updates in case of service disruptions.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND…
A big reaction.
Premier League fixtures
Tottenham v Newcastle 12.30pm Sky Sports
Brighton v Watford 3pm
Burnley v Southampton 3pm
Chelsea v Huddersfield 3pm
Crystal Palace v Fulham 3pm
Everton v Wolves 3pm
Cardiff v Burnley 5.30pm BT Sport
Leicester v Manchester United 2.05pm Sky Sports
Manchester City v Arsenal 4.30pm Sky Sports
West Ham v Liverpool 8pm Sky Sports
Everton v Manchester City 7.45pm