The FourFourTwo Preview: Cardiff vs Chelsea
The all-in-one relegation and title decider that ended up being neither. Even Tottenham vs Aston Villa has been televised ahead of this.
The sun has set on Cardiff’s time in the Premier League, with ownership clouds on the horizon and a historic victory over Manchester City just a misty memory. And now that Chelsea’s title hopes have been washed away – and with actual, literal rain expected in South Wales on Sunday – what could have been a balmy walk into the sunset is now the dampest of damp squibs. [Stop, just... stop – Ed.]
- Newcastle 3-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- S'land 4-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 1-1 Stoke (Prem)
- So'ton 0-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Palace (Prem)
- Chelsea 0-0 Norwich (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-3 Atletico (CL)
- Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Atletico 0-0 Chelsea (CL)
- Chelsea 1-2 S'land (Prem)
For both clubs, this is an underwhelming end to a season full of expectations. Whatever he says in public about small horses and big conspiracies, Jose Mourinho will privately think that Chelsea should have been in with a shout of the title on the season’s last day, while Cardiff fans have been denied even a vain hope of a dramatic final result to secure safety.
So what can we expect from this game? An interesting atmosphere, for starters. Cardiff fans have been split ever since the controversial rebrand, and now the team has been relegated, they are split into the bitterly disappointed and the just plain disappointed. Even the local press have turned: after the red Bluebirds’ relegation was confirmed, the South Wales Echo’s front page read ‘Now turn our club blue again, Mr Tan’ – the same South Wales Echo that encouraged the colour change when it took place. Hindsight’s a beaut.
Chelsea fans will be disappointed, too. At the start of the season they may have been reasonably content with a third-place finish and a Champions League semi-final (we did say ‘MAY have been’) but with the season panning out the way it has, and Chelsea storming the mini-league of results between the top four, not winning the title feels like a huge missed opportunity. All in all, it’s going to be a case of Sunday, bloody Sunday. Ugh, we’ve depressed ourselves now.
It isn’t easy to predict either side’s XI, as both managers may choose to mix things up for the final day. But all four of Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hands will be forced due to players’ unavailability.
Cardiff left-back Andrew Taylor looks to have played his last Premier League game, barring a highly surprising summer move, and the same goes for popular captain Mark Hudson. Craig Noone is still out with an abdominal strain, but the illness that ravaged the team ahead of their must-win-inevitably-lost match against Newcastle should have passed to allow returns for Gary Medel, Mats Daehli and Kevin Theophile-Catherine.
Ramires is suspended for Chelsea. Mark Schwarzer (or theoretically Hilario) will continue in sticks while Petr Cech recovers from shoulder surgery. Oscar should recover from a hurt hip but will be keen not to re-injure himself ahead of the World Cup in his home country, which leads us to wonder whether we’ll see fellow Brazilians David Luiz and Willian choosing their tackles carefully as well...
Key battle: Declan John vs Andre Schurrle
Announced in Germany’s 30-man squad for Brazil and certain to be in the final 23, Declan John – sorry, Andre Schurrle will be keen to make a good impression in his final competitive match before the World Cup. He’s best on the left-hand side but has been featuring mostly on the right for Chelsea, cutting inside onto his better foot.
Attempting to stop him in Wales will be Ben Turner, a left-sided centre-back who is strong in the tackle but slow on the turn. He’ll need a lot of help from Declan John, the 18-year-old left-back thrown into the Premier League fray this season by Malky Mackay, and now Solskjaer, having previously made only two cup appearances. He has impressed since, winning his first Wales cap in the process, but as a converted winger, needs to work on his defensive input. This will be a stern test but an excellent opportunity.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff (PL, Oct 13)
- Chelsea 4-1 Cardiff (FAC, Feb 10)
- Cardiff 2-1 Chelsea (LC, Oct 86)
- Cardiff 3-3 Chelsea (Div 2, Mar 84)
- Chelsea 2-0 Cardiff (Div 2, Oct 83)
The road to the Championship is paved with good intentions. Solskjaer has said all the right things since joining Cardiff at the start of the year, while aiming to play a more attractive brand of football – except when Kenwyne Jones was on the pitch – and attempting to promote youth, but ultimately the performances were very sub-par. Wait, sub-par is good in golf, isn’t it? Over par, then. Into the woods. Crap, basically. There’s nothing Solskjaer would love more than to finish the season on a relative high in front of a home crowd, but if there’s one man who loves to spoil a party, it’s Mourinho.
Chelsea have nothing to play for, being locked in an automatic Champions League place – presuming they don’t lose and Arsenal don’t win by 20 goals – but they’re managed by a proud man, and could grab second.
The Portuguese manager also has a point to prove after just one win in five and it appearing that Eden Hazard, and to a lesser extent Schurrle, criticised his tactics, even if those quotes were blown out of context.
Facts and figures
- Cardiff have trailed at half-time in 5 of their last 6 matches.
- There have been at least 3 goals in 4 of Cardiff’s 5 home games against top-six sides this season.
- Chelsea have conceded just 1 first-half goal in their last 18 matches.
- 11 of Chelsea’s last 17 trips to bottom-six teams have had more goals in the second half than first.
5-2 Chelsea. Put your house on it. (For the love of God, don’t put your house on it.)