Blackburn v Chelsea, Premier League, March 21, 2010
â€œNow we have to be at our best against Blackburn at the weekend. Maybe there are two or three days to be disappointed â€“ thatâ€™s normal when you are out. You have to show a reaction and I think we will do it.â€ â€“ Florent Malouda.
Predictably (because no one truly knows), the press reaction has been somewhat split as to what Roman Abramovich will do following Chelseaâ€™s Champions League exit at the hands of Jose Mourinho and Inter Milan. A number of the old guard at Stamford Bridge could be heading for the exit whilst Carlo Ancelotti has to win the league to keep his job, so this is an enormous game for the Pensioners.
Leaving summer plans to the side, Chelseaâ€™s humbling defeat to their former manager is likely to have significantly dented confidence in the side and Mourinhoâ€™s presence must have knocked Ancelotti as well. But the west London club can ill afford a slip up at Blackburn so tight is it at the top of the Premier League.
Whilst Chelseaâ€™s game in hand over Arsenal and Manchester United comes in midweek at Portsmouth, the Gunners are the form team in the league and Sir Alex Fergusonâ€™s side host the Blues in a massive game in April. Of the three teams at the top the Blues have also been on the worst run, losing four of their last eight games on a run that has seen them beat Cardiff, Wolves, Stoke and West Ham and lose to Everton, Manchester City and Inter Milan twice.
None of the major Chelsea absentees are expected back for this match and there is no doubt that Petr Cech, Michael Essien and Ashley Cole were hugely missed against the Nerazzurri in midweek. Ross Turnbull will continue in goal and Didier Drogba will be looking to atone for his late sending off against Inter. Elsewhere, the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard will be looking to make up for anonymous performances against the Italians and as ever the spotlight will be on John Terry.
For Blackburn this marks just their second game in March having lost to Spurs at White Hart Lane last week. Sam Allardyceâ€™s side were defensively poor at Tottenham and their home form has been crucial to keeping them clear of the relegation dogfight.
Paul Robinson picked up a calf injury at his former club and will be replaced by Jason Brown who failed to cover himself in glory at Spurs. Franco Di Santo will be unavailable as part of his loan deal from the Blues but Blackburn undoubtedly have some players who could cause Chelsea problems, especially if the away side are not on their A game.
Nikola Kalinic has been a major positive in recent weeks and the Croatian striker was desperately unlucky to have a fine goal chalked off last week. David Dunn should start behind Kalinic and Morten Gamst Pedersen will be eager to impress with his contract up at the end of the season.
Blackburn have already beaten Chelsea, on penalties in the Carling Cup this season whilst the Blues mauled Sam Allardyceâ€™s side 5-0 at Stamford Bridge in October. These two teams are also currently playing out a two-legged FA Youth Cup semi-final and following their turbulent week, Chelsea would be chuffed to repeat their youngstersâ€™ 1-0 win at Ewood Park on Wednesday night.
Carlo Ancelotti and his side have an opportunity to make a real statement with wins at Blackburn and Portsmouth. But somehow the spectre of Jose Mourinho may be hard to shake and you can be certain Big Sam will make sure his players are well aware this is a golden opportunity to secure a major scalp.
101gg predicts: Blackburn 1 â€“ Chelsea 2 (6.27)