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  1. Work-rate. Incisiveness. Nous. I don't ask for much. This is how it's gonna be. Build from the ground up. And so the first cup final of the season, and it's up against a familiar foe. Despite the league disparity between the 2 sides, I'd imagine the bookies have Chelsea as slight favourites purely down to our crippling injury list. When our players and coaches talk about the togetherness of our squad, I don't think they mean the togetherness in the physio's room! Chelsea have struggled for consistency ever since the Russian gangster was booted out in the aftermath of his country's invasion of Ukraine, and that is despite the ridiculous money they've been allowed to spend on transfers and contracts under their new owners. They'd taken advantage of a loophole (since closed) that enabled them to amortise transfer fees over the length of longer-than-usual contracts, while still booking player sales as straight profit. Any fees they agree for new signings going forward would have to be spread over a maximum of 5 years, even if the contract offered to the player is longer than that. Such an approach needs all the players signed to hit the ground running, as there is a huge risk of players doing a Bogarde and sitting on a lucrative contract if things aren't going well. Going back to the pre-game build-up, Chelsea currently have more options than us available to change things up. Given the possibility of another stalemate followed by penalties, it's easy to see why that gives them an advantage over us. The two sides met in this fixture 2 years ago, and it was the strangest of 0-0s as both goals led a charmed life. Mendy and Queef were making saves that they shouldn't have been, and both sides were spurning chances aplenty. For us, Joel thought he'd broken the deadlock in normal time when a free-kick into the box was headed across goal by an unmarked Sadio at the back post. Big Bird rose inside the six yard box to plant a header into the net. Our celebrations were curtailed when referee Attwell was summoned to the VAR monitor. The most minor of infringements by Virg on Reece James, preventing the Chelsea man from getting back to challenge Sadio, was deemed sufficiently bad enough to rule the goal out. It's exactly the kind of infringement on our players that goes unpunished time and time again, and our players generally do not make a meal of any contact (unlike some who repeatedly cheat and get the rewards). Chelsea had the ball in the net twice in extra time, through Lukaku and Havertz, but both were flagged offside by the alert linesmen. Penalties it was, then, and Tuchel decided Kepa was a better bet than Mendy to come out on top in the shootout. Bear in mind that Mendy was in goal earlier that month when Sadio's Senegal beat Mo's Egypt in a shootout at the AFCON final. Also bear in mind that Kepa was in goal 3 years earlier against City in the final, and was going to be replaced by Caballero for the same reason. Kepa insisted on staying on, leading to some comical scenes as his coach Sarri had a meltdown on the sidelines. In the 2022 shootout, each side's 10 outfield players found the net. Some very comfortably, others with inches to spare, and one or two where the keepers might have felt they could have done better having got a hand to it. So it was now the turn of the keepers. Both converted. Queef confidently dispatched his by sending Kepa the wrong way. Kepa's went between the posts but over the crossbar. Which would be OK if he was Jonny Wilkinson, but he wasn't. We'd won the cup, and it was the first leg of an unprecedented quadruple attempt. As I mentioned before, Jurgen goes into this one short of options. Thiago, Baj and Big Bird were already long-term absentees. Diogo will be missing for the next couple of months. Curtis is out. Trent and Dom are supposedly close but neither has yet re-joined training yet so are unlikely to be available. Mo and Darwin are the big question marks having missed the Luton game. Jurgen has been pretty evasive other than saying it's an unwelcome problem. What with Trent and Dom having suffered relapses of the injuries that previously kept them out, is Mo's hamstring still an issue? What exactly is up with Darwin? These are problems I'd rather we did not have, but I believe Jurgen when he says that as long as we have an eleven to put out there, we will do our utmost to win. The stand-ins this season have done a remarkable job which is a big reason why we again find ourselves in the mix for another quadruple attempt. We still have the tools to hurt Chelsea. We definitely need to make sure motivation, concentration, attitude and application are absolutely bang-on from first minute to last. Motivation is never an issue leading up to cup finals. Thinking clearly and applying yourselves correctly to both maintain ascendancy and withstand pressure are what counts. Let's go for that trophy please, and put a 10 under it on the Champion's Wall. Get it done!
  2. Work-rate. Incisiveness. Nous. I don't ask for much. This is how it's gonna be. Build from the ground up. Note the kick-off time. This is the reverse fixture of the opening day of the season, and an opportunity to maintain the gap between ourselves and City. I say 'maintain' because they are at home to Burnley on the same night. Burnley are currently managed by a City old boy, and they are always as useless as Watford used to be against the cheats. Rather than sit in their own box for 90 minutes yet still get picked apart as they used to do under Dyche, they will be naïve and wide open, leaving gaps and getting picked apart. I don't see Kompany being unhappy about it either. We can only control what we do. Chelsea have again spent fortunes this season, including signing two players who were apparently on our radar. Yet all you hear is that they are a work in progress and still short of players in certain positions. How do you spend the sort of money they have since Boehly came in, and yet still be short in key areas? They've again lacked consistency this season. Games between the two sides have generally seen them cancel each other out. Last season's game at Anfield in January last year being a case in point. Havertz had an early goal ruled out by VAR for offside, and there was no other talking point, unless you count 21 year old Mudryk (on his debut) outpacing 87 year old James Milner and running the ball out of play. Chelsea were managed by Graham Potter back then, and his teams have had 0-0 written all over them. It was the case with Brighton too, where a generally tactically sharp coach struggled to find ways to get his players to find the back of the net. Cody had a couple of tame efforts, and Trent blazed an effort high into the Kop late on when a left-wing cut-back found its way to him in space on the right, just inside the area. Right option to take a shot on with the goalkeeper scrambling back, just the wrong execution. No idea who is fit and available for them, but we've managed to get players coming back from lay-offs this past week, which gives Jurgen good options for the starting XI as well as the bench. And the academy players like Bradley, Quansah, McConnell and Clark have shown up very well over the past month. The first two have transitioned to the first team almost seamlessly. This is not the Jurgen Klopp farewell tour though, this is serious business. We are top of the table for a reason, so go out there and show it. Maximum motivation, concentration, attitude and application from first minute to last. 3 points please. Get it done!
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