April: A Preview

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Chelsea’s defeat at the hands of Southampton has left us staring down the barrel of a last minute collapse in our push for a Champions League spot, with Spurs climbing above us and Arsenal lying in wait not far behind.

Three into two doesn’t go and unless Manchester City suffer a sharp slump in form, April is shaping up as a three-way, all London tussle for third and fourth.

The fact that our fixture list for the month is packed with cup ties puts as at a distinct disadvantage, with games coming thick and fast.

We kick things off this afternoon with the visit of Manchester United in an FA Cup replay clash. The prospect of a Wembley semi-final against Manchester City awaits the victors, and both teams will be going all out to keep their chances of a double alive.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson put his teams lacklustre second half performance at Old Trafford in the first leg down to tiredness, and both teams will be battling fatigue at the Bridge after competing in league fixtures just 48 hours earlier.

The Europa League quarter final beckons next, with the visit of Rubin Kazan for the first leg on Thursday. The Russian side currently sit fourth in their domestic league, and have beaten the likes of Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Levante to get to this stage of the competition.

Our first league fixture of the month sees the visit of Sunderland to Stamford Bridge. After the recent dismissal of Martin O’Neill, the Black Cats moved swiftly to appoint Paolo Di Canio into the hot seat as they attempt to stave off relegation.

The club recorded four league defeats in February but with the potential of the fabled ‘new manager bounce’ coming into play, Chelsea will be wary of taking them too lightly.

A tough away trip to Russia awaits for the second leg of our Europa League tie, with the team set to visit Moscow’s gargantuan Luzhniki stadium. The ground doesn’t hold happy memories for Chelsea fans after our Champions League final defeat there in 2008, but a failed pitch inspection at Rubin’s regular home necessitated the late change in venue.

Former Chelsea manager Andre Villas Boas returns to the Bridge with Tottenham on the 14th of April, for a match that will no doubt be a season defining one. Much has transpired since Roberto Di Matteo led us to a 4-2 victory at White Hart Lane in the early months of our league campaign, and Spurs will be desperate to strike a blow to strengthen their chances of Champions League qualification.

Another London derby is on the cards next up, with a short journey to face Fulham at Craven Cottage. Since the turn of the new year Martin Jol’s side have only suffered defeat in the league at the hands of the two Manchester clubs, and will fancy their chances against a Chelsea side they contained easily at the Bridge in our last encounter.

A visit to Anfield is next up, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool side are chasing European qualification for next season but a late climb into a Champions League spot looks unlikely. The team will be desperate to finish ahead of local rivals Everton, though, so will not lack motivation as the season heads into it’s final weeks.

April wraps up with the visit of Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City. The Welsh side overcame Chelsea in a league cup double header back in January, en route to their first major domestic trophy in English football. The club are chasing a top ten finish this season, but have yet to record back to back league wins in 2013.

Key Players

Peter Cech: With our back four set to be rotated heavily this month, the constant presence of our Czech shot stopper in goal will be vital. Cech has come up with big saves lately, but our defensive struggles have seen us fail to clinch clean sheets on a regular basis. Petr’s ability and experience need to come to the fore if we’re to have any hope of achieving our targets.

Juan Mata: It is an oft repeated line, but it cannot be ignored. Without Juan Mata Chelsea struggle. More often than not, in fact, we simply don’t win. Juan’s second season at Stamford Bridge has been even more impressive than his first, and his influence will be crucial as we head into the run in.

Prediction

April is an extremely congested month on paper, and no opponent can be taken for granted. London derbies against Spurs and Fulham will test our mettle, whilst Liverpool and Swansea will also be significant hurdles to clear.

We’re currently perilously close to dropping out of the Champions League race if we take our eye off the prize, and the two cup competitions have to take a back seat for the sake of the long term health of the club.

Failure to qualify would be detrimental to our hunt for a new manager, not to mention the clubs finances.

About Dylan McKee

21, New Zealand, part-time hack.
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