Avram Grant returns to Chelsea with relegation-threatened Portsmouth

Chelsea v Portsmouth, Premier League, December 16, 2009

Chelsea 1/7; Draw 13/2; Portsmouth 16/1

Chelsea welcome back an old face to Stamford Bridge as they look to put a run of poor results in December behind them. Avram Grant arrives at Stamford Bridge, in just his fourth game in charge of Pompey, looking to secure some Premier League points in their battle against the dreaded drop.

Since beating Arsenal at the end of November at the Emirates in convincing fashion, Carlo Ancelotti’s side have faltered in four matches this month. First they were knocked out of the Carling Cup at Blackburn, then defeated at Eastlands before two disappointing draws with APOEL Nicosia and Everton.

Whilst the Champions League draw was the least damaging of the defeats, Chelsea lost Michael Essien to a hamstring injury in this match and he will miss the visit of his old manager. Saturday’s free scoring match with Everton was greeted with boos from the home fans and Petr Cech has publicly questioned sections of the Stamford Bridge crowd.

Incredibly, Cech’s own goal on Saturday for Everton’s opener was the first conceded by the Blues at home since the opening day of the campaign. Carlo Ancelotti must be pulling his hair out at the moment as the once solid and dependable Chelsea backline has gone missing and looks especially vulnerable to set pieces and high balls in the box.

After picking up just one point in the last two Premier League matches, Arsenal are now very much in the title race, six points behind the Blues with a game in hand. Chelsea will be relying on their strike force to continue banging in the goals to sustain their lead at the top of the table.

Didier Drogba (11/4 to score first, 8/13 to score anytime), the early frontrunner to be player of the season, has now scored six goals in his last five games and for much of the campaign has looked unplayable. Nicolas Anelka (11/2 to score a brace) has also been in fine fettle and could well stretch a Portsmouth defence without Younes Kaboul who was sent off due to one of the worst rules in football.

The French defender claimed a dramatic equaliser at the Stadium of Light on Saturday but was sent off after removing his shirt and Kaboul admitted afterwards “I was stupid.” Pompey will miss Kaboul who would have disrupted the Chelsea back line and is always a threat at set pieces.

Portsmouth’s Israeli manager hopes to have Kevin-Prince Boateng (7/1 to score) and Steve Finnan back for the visit to Stamford Bridge and Papa Bouba Diop may be in line for a start after recovering from a long term injury.

Grant’s decision to employ a 4-3-1-2 formation was credited with the turnaround at Sunderland in the second half but it would be bold to go with two up top at Chelsea so we can expect either Nwankwo Kanu or Frederic Piquionne ( 6/1 to score) to lead the line with Aruna Dindane (14/1 to score first) in a more withdrawn role.

Herman Hreidarsson (12/1 to score) and Tal Ben Haim (another Israeli returning to his former club) could pose a threat to Petr Cech and his Chelsea team mates from free-kicks and corners taken by Jamie O’Hara who has a threatening left foot.

Avram Grant is often cited as a “lucky manager,” he responded to this accusation recently by saying: “If John Terry had scored that penalty, maybe I would agree that I am a lucky manager!” The miss by the England centre back and the scenes following the Champions League final in 2008 of Grant consoling Terry (7/1 to score) are likely to dominate the pre-match build-up.

The truth is though that Grant has already been a lucky charm for Pompey, who have taken four points under his stewardship after playing much better football in the latter games of Paul Hart’s reign. Chelsea may be struggling but Grant will need a shed load of fortune to come away from Stamford Bridge with anything.

101gg predicts: Chelsea 3 – Portsmouth 0 (9/2)

Chelsea 1/7; Draw 13/2; Portsmouth 16/1

Full match odds here.