Although Chelsea FC registered an impressive 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in their opening Champions League fixture on Wednesday night, spirits were dampened somewhat when Brazilian winger Willian hobbled off the pitch, joining Pedro on the Blues’ injury list
The thumping 4-0 win over Israeli minnows Maccabi Tel-Aviv provided Chelsea FC some welcome respite in troubling times for the London club. There was less talk of looming Armageddon, and fewer fatalistic opinions voiced on social media about how billionaire owner Roman Abramovich might bring Jos Mourinho’s second spell in charge of the Blues to a premature end.
The emphatic win in midweek has heightened the sense of anticipation for Saturday’s derby against Arsenal FC, when ArsA?ne Wenger will look to get his first league win over Mourinho, having already beaten the Portuguese in the F.A. Community Shield before the start of the Premier League season.
Unfortunately for the Portuguese, injuries to two important players in Willian and Pedro — who largely occupy the same position in the starting XI — has left him with some thinking to do in terms of how he sets out his team against the Gunners.
Brazilian Oscar is almost a certainty to start after impressing on his return from injury against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, but there is room for another player to get an opportunity in what is a vitally important game for Chelsea FC.
Here are three players who could start on Saturday afternoon against Arsenal FC at Stamford Bridge:
The Brazil international has barely featured for Chelsea FC this season — mainly due to injury — but returned to action on Wednesday, coming on as a second-half substitute against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Given his versatility and experience playing on the right of midfield, he is the best candidate in theory to fill in for the injured Willian and Pedro.
Ramires has always been an exceedingly frustrating footballer to watch, with an almost unparalleled ability to go from jaw-dropping brilliance to inexplicable ineptitude in a matter of minutes. It is this inconsistency that has made it difficult for him to retain a regular spot in the Chelsea FC starting XI since the arrival of Nemanja Mati and Cesc F bregas.
Against a team of the passing ability and invention of Arsenal FC, it is unlikely that Mourinho will play an attacking 4-2-3-1. Although Ramires might be penciled in for that right-wing role in attacking midfield, he is likely be more withdrawn than the likes of Hazard and Oscar, allowing Branislav Ivanovi to bomb forward and provide width to the Chelsea FC attack.
The other advantage of starting him is, of course, that he can help his full-back deal with the considerable threat of a pacey Arsenal FC attack, particularly that of Alexis SA?nchez, who is likely to start on the left for the Gunners.
The Brazil international might occupy more central areas of the pitch in defensive transitions, as he did against Manchester City, but will have to do a better job in a positional sense than he did at the Etihad. The Mati -F bregas tandem in the middle of the park has often been exposed due to a lack of pace, and although Ramires adds that to the midfield, it is of no consequence if his starting position makes it impossible for him to recover and get goalside of an opposition attacker.
With Willian being ruled out definitively and new Chelsea FC signing Pedro highly doubtful for a game of this magnitude, where the margin for error is particularly small, Mourinho might just decide to play it safe. If he does, Ramires will find himself in the starting line-up more likely than not.
2. LoA?c R my
The French international is another that has not seen a lot of game time this season. R my is yet to get a minute in the English Premier League, but played his first minutes of competitive football of the new season in the Blues’ 4-0 win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Champions League.
The Chelsea FC striker has featured on the right of the attacking midfield three for Mourinho’s men before, and he is another option the Portuguese could consider for the big game on Saturday. Particularly towards the end of last season — including the post-season games — R my showed his importance to the squad and the damage he can do from the right, scoring a peach of a goal against Sydney FC in a post-season friendly in Australia.
Brazilian international Oscar is not yet 100% match fit, and in what is likely to be a high-intensity game, Mourinho might just go with the R my option on Saturday. Although he is not as likely to start as Ramires, the addition of a natural goalscorer cutting in from the right might prove to be beneficial to the team.
If he does start, it is likely that Oscar will be on the bench, as playing a midfield pivot of Nemanja Mati and Cesc F bregas against Arsenal FC would be suicidal. While that is exactly what Mourinho did in the corresponding fixture last season, he had a team in superb form and more crucially, a fully fit Oscar, who put in a huge performance on the day.
R my has also shown he has the work-rate to track back and help out with the defence, something that was evident in his performances playing from the right in post-season games earlier this year. With Ivanovi ‘s tenuous form, however, Mourinho might decide a more defensive presence on the right wing is needed.
3. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Quite understandably, there is a lot of hype and excitement surrounding the Chelsea FC academy yooungster, and his performances this season have gone some way towards justifying it. The 19-year-old was brilliant when thrown on by Mourinho in the second-half against Crystal Palace to salvage the game, and was arguably even more impressive on his first start of the season against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the Champions League.
The teenager dominated the middle of the park with F bregas, putting his impressive physique and sound technical ability to good use as his side ran out 4-0 winners. Although Arsenal FC are a different kettle of fish altogether, his impressive performances this season — combined with the Blues’ injury worries in midfield — will put him in contention for a spot in the starting XI on Saturday.
If he does play, the England U-21 international will not start on the right wing, but is likely to be part of a midfield three containing Mati and F bregas in a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-3-3. Brazilian Oscar has played on the right both for his national team and for Chelsea FC, and could occupy that position once again on Saturday, with Hazard operating from the left, and the midfield trio of Loftus-Cheek, Mati and F bregas behind them.
Strangely, even though Loftus-Cheek’s natural attributes are more suited to a 4-3-3 position, Mourinho is yet to truly test that particular option for his Chelsea FC midfield. The English youngster has normally been part of a double-pivot, requiring him to play a more disciplined role.
Given his key strength is his ability to drive forward with the ball, playing as part of a midfield three could give him the freedom to truly showcase his talent. Against a team like Arsenal FC, however, that is perhaps not advisable.
Even if he does begin the game, it is likely to be alongside Mati , giving F bregas the freedom to move into the attacking third and play closer to the likes of Hazard, Oscar and Diego Costa.
Mourinho will know that the London derby is a huge opportunity for him and his team to get things back on track this season, and the Portuguese’s team selection will be revealing in terms of his approach. The former Real Madrid manager has often been accused of being too conservative, but Mourinho has rarely backed down when needing victory.
Chelsea FC do need the three points, and Jos Mourinho will want nothing less against old foe ArsA?ne Wenger when the two meet at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.