Often Partisan

Parking the Bus

Tomorrow sees the Blues travel to west London to play the re-arranged fixture against the Pensioners of Chelsea. For Chelsea, they must win this game to have any chance of retaining the league title; it’s not as vital for Birmingham but an upset would see them shoot up the table into the top half – such is the compactness of what has been a very tight division this year.

Normally, when I write these previews I would look at chalkboards, and try to analyse potential weaknesses in the opposition for Blues to exploit. This is Chelsea however, and it’s all about what they’re going to do to us. With this in mind, I think it’s more important to see where Blues need to shore up.

The above chalkboard is the pass-map before Aliaksandr Hleb came on in the 63rd minute, As you can see, whilst Blues could retain possession in their own half and down the wings, they really struggled to hold onto it in the middle. Chelsea have a midfield Blues can only dream of, and as such I think we need to consider going 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 with Hleb in an advanced role. We can’t expect to dominate Chelsea in the middle, but if we can frustrate them by holding onto the ball at times, it will help.

In essence, it comes down to whether Blues want to “park the bus” in an attempt to shut out Chelsea and maybe nick a draw, or if Alex McLeish decides that it’s worth going for the win. Injuries may play a large factor in this decision; Zigic is still suffering with his hip and Martins is out with knee trouble; Jerome came off against Sunderland wincing with either a tight hamstring or maybe just cramp, leaving Phillips and Matt Derbyshire as Blues’ only two senior strikers available. If we were to go with just one up top, I think we may struggle with Phillips or Derbyshire in the lone striker role; hopefully Jerome will have recovered enough to give McLeish some choices in that department.

As much as I want to see Blues “go for it”, it’s absolutely vital that we come out of this game without having shipped too many goals, or with a pile of injuries. It’s true that 4-5-1 will not guarantee us to not concede – you only have to look at the Manchester United away game to see that a defensive set-up can still take a tanking. Tomorrow has to be about Blues holding onto the ball and getting it up the pitch so that they’re not constantly defending; it has to be about the midfield pushing up with the ball so we’re not stuck with Barry Ferguson tripping over Roger Johnson’s toes from being so far back. Chelsea do concede goals; they have a £50million striker who’s looked in terrible nick and the pressure is on them to beat us. They have everything to lose, and we have everything to gain – and I think with Foster and Johnson playing the way that they have, we can keep it to a 0-0 draw.

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