Chelsea v Charlton

Liverpool won’t get the chance to avenge last year’s defeat in the League Cup final as they were humbled by Crystal Palace last night. Since we put them in their place at Anfield a few weeks back, they have recorded two lucky 1-0 wins against Blackburn Rovers and Anderlecht (both goals were scored by a player Rafael Benitez doesn’t want in his squad, Djibril Cisse); lost 2-0 at Fulham at the weekend; and now been humiliated by a Championship side. That Benitez fellow is a tactical genius you know.

Charlton on the other hand are a good side with a good manager (Alan Curbishley is often spoke of as a future England manager). They currently lie second in the Premiership and, if they can avoid their customary ‘collapse’ in form during the latter half of the season, have as good a chance as any of staying there (Charlton in the Champions League anyone?). One thing that’s definite is that they are a big danger at this early stage of the League Cup.

We played them in the Premiership at the Valley in September and recorded a 2-0 win; two great goals from Hernan Crespo and Arjen Robben during the second half finally put paid to a spirited Addicks performance. Danny Murphy, a player Liverpool probably wish they could take back, played a good game that day. He has been in fine form all season and was unlucky not to get into the England squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers; he certainly deserved to be chosen ahead of a couple of midfielders who shall remain nameless.

Many pundits have put Murphy’s improved form this season down to the presence of on-loan Blue, Alexei Smertin. The Russian international, who has spent two of the last three seasons away from the Bridge, gives Murphy more freedom to get forward. Combine Smertin and Murphy with Jerome Thomas and an in-form Dennis Rommedahl and you have a potent midfield. The only problem for Curbishley is that Smertin is not allowed to play tonight under the terms of his loan deal. Unlucky.

Whatever can be said of Charlton’s current midfield, one thing is certain: it’s not a patch on ours. The trio of Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Claude Makelele combined with two of Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole or Shaun Wright-Phillips is close to being the world’s most formidable. However the trio will be broken up tonight as Makelele is rested; Geremi is expected to replace him, although Lassana Diarra could also be in contention.

Other team news is the return of Wayne Bridge to the squad. The England international left-back has been out injured since February, when a rash challenge by Alan ‘Elbows’ Shearer in an FA Cup tie at St. James’s fractured his ankle in several places. Jose Mourinho has since strengthened the left-back berth with the purchase of the impressive Asier Del Horno, meaning Bridge has got his work cut out to get back into the starting eleven. But with William Gallas expected to be rested, and Ricardo Carvalho out with a concussion sustained in training, tonight is a good opportunity. It’ll be great to see him back in the first team.

Paulo Ferreira is expected to be recalled to the right-back position, while Damien Duff is still out with a knee injury. Carlo Cudicini will replace Petr Cech in goal, in a continuation of last season’s League Cup policy.

Prediction: Both managers are expected to field strong sides; Mourinho is taking this competition as seriously as he did last season, while Curbishley probably sees it as a good opportunity to get some silverware. Whilst we won’t be at full strength, the depth of our squad ensures that the players being rested will not be overly missed.

Considering that we’ve gone behind in our last two domestic matches and the Addicks have an in-form striker in Darren Bent, there’s a good chance that we’ll concede a goal. But the Addicks have struggled in the League Cup in recent seasons, and had to come from behind to beat Hartlepool 3-1 in the previous round. Therefore it’s hard to envisage us not winning. A 2-1 Blues victory.

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Chelsea 1 – 1 Charlton [AET] (Charlton win 5 – 4 on penalties) · Update

An enjoyable game… until the penalty shootout!

The only thing I want to say about Robert Huth is that I just cannot see the errors he routinely commits disappearing from his game; he’ll always make them and some are bound to cost us dear. Mourinho pointed out after the match that human beings make mistakes — but to my mind, Huth makes more than most.

Anyway… good luck to Charlton. Their great season continues.

Match reports: BBC Sport; Sky Sports; ESPNSoccernet; Sporting Life; Official Chelsea FC Website; Official Charlton Athletic Website; The Times; The Independent; The Guardian; Daily Telegraph; The Sun.

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