Cardiff City vs. Chelsea
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium
Kick off: 2:05PM
Top-four chasing Chelsea mark their return to Premier League action with a trip to relegation-threatened Cardiff City this afternoon.
The Blues fell to defeat at Everton prior to the international break and cannot afford to drop points in South Wales this afternoon if they are to keep pace with the three sides directly above them.
Just when Chelsea looked to have turned a corner under Maurizio Sarri, they went and suffered a 2-0 defeat to Everton and all of a sudden the same old questions regarding the Italian manager’s future have resurfaced.
The Blues’ temporary turnaround in form started with their improved display in the EFL Cup final clash with Man City, which they lost on penalties after a pretty even 120 minutes at Wembley Stadium against arguably the best side in the world.
Chelsea won four and drew one of their next five matches in all competitions, but the loss at Goodison Park has set them back a long way. Following a dominant first half when they should have been two or three goals ahead, Sarri’s men crumbled after the restart and came unstuck to goals from Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Supporters remain frustrated and, with a two-window transfer ban looming, plus doubts over the futures of Eden Hazard and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Chelsea are very much the media’s crisis club of choice.
The only way Sarri can rectify that is by stringing together some victories, and he has a good chance of achieving that as the Blues face Cardiff, Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham in their next three league matches, as well as taking on Slavia Prague for a place in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Chelsea’s away form has been poor in 2019, though, losing four of their five Premier League games on the road since the turn of the year, conceding 15 goals in defeats to Arsenal, Bournemouth, Man City and Everton.
Their only win in that run came at Fulham, the only side to have lost more away games this calendar year (six). This afternoon’s trip to the Cardiff City Stadium is not exactly a banker, then, and unless Sarri can resolve his side’s away-day woes he may well be out of a job two months from now.
On the other hand, Cardiff’s 2-0 win over a flat West Ham United three weeks ago provided them with a massive boost, coming on the back of three successive top-flight defeats.
After building momentum with their first back-to-back wins of the season by overcoming south-coast pair Bournemouth and Southampton, City fell to heavy home losses against Everton and Watford, before going down 2-0 at Wolverhampton Wanderers with most subdued display of the season.
Neil Warnock would have been delighted to come up against a West Ham side drifting towards the summer, then, as an early goal from Junior Hoilett was added to by player of the season Victor Camarasa to give the Bluebirds three valuable points.
Six of Cardiff’s eight wins this season have come on home soil, but they tend to struggle against the division’s elite clubs, already losing to Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur there this season, conceding a combined 16 goals across those four matches.
In fact, the Welsh side have lost their last 16 Premier League games overall against the big-six sides, last avoiding defeat in November 2013 with a 2-2 draw against Man United.
The win against West Ham would have given city a lift, although it did not change their league standing as Southampton pulled off a shock win over Tottenham Hotspur to remain two points ahead of their opponents.
Cardiff City possible XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Morrison, Bennett, Murphy, Ralls, Arter, Hoilett, Camarasa, Niasse.
Chelsea possible XI: Kepa, Azpilicueta, Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso, Kante, Jorginho, Barkley, Pedro, Higuain, Hazard.