For this weeks Fan Focus, Roker Report had the pleasure of speaking with Chelsea fan Graham MacAree. Graham not only writes the exceptional Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History, but also oversees the entire football section on SB Nation, where you will soon find Roker Report! Here's Graham's thoughts ahead of Tuesdays big game...
So, let’s get this out the way off the bat... 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. How crushed were you?
Graham: I’ve been more crushed, but not very often. To give you a hint, the game hadn’t finished yet and I was a decent way through a bottle of whiskey. At 9:00AM my time. I haven’t been so embarrassed for a Chelsea performance in years. That game is something you’ll be able to taunt Blues fans with for the rest of your life.
Are you confident that you will right the wrongs of that day this week?
Graham: No. Sunderland are a good team and know how to shut Chelsea down. I think Chelsea are playing some good football right now, but it’s not like all y’all are chopped liver. I’d favour Chelsea slightly but that’s in no way indicative that I’m confident in a result. It’s not our destiny to win every single game, and this will be one of the harder ones to manage.
The January transfer window is now closed, have you been pleased with Chelsea’s dealings/attempted dealings in this transfer window?
Graham: Wow, what a day. With David Luiz and Fernando Torres, Chelsea have made huge improvements to their squad (in return for a frankly ludicrous amount of money). Torres is one of the best strikers in the world, albeit with injury concerns, and I think that anyone would be pleased to have him in the team. What's there to say? Everyone knows who he is and what he can do, and if he's healthy for us he and Drogba are going to up and destroy people.
Luiz is someone who many are less familiar with, but he's a couple of clues: He's a centre back, 23 years old, and has already broken into the Brazilian national team. The boy's pretty good. Picture a young Ricardo Carvalho with better hair.
Chelsea were going to have a major problem transitioning from an aging core to a promising youth movement, and these two signings bring in two elite players between the ages of 23 and 26. The transition suddenly seems far less of a problem now. Today's been crazy, and I do question how it's ok for Abramovich to just throw money around like this, but as a Chelsea fan, how could I be happier?
People say Chelsea are in crisis a bit because they’re off the pace in the title chase. Is this true, or is it over-reaction as is usual with the press?
Graham: Over-reaction, I think. Chelsea are probably the best team in the league on paper, but football is an unpredictable game and a slew of injuries and bad luck (the 1-0 away loss to Birmingham strikes me as particularly bizarre) have taken us out of the title race. It’s a crisis of results, maybe, but the team is still probably fine, and the fans should do their best to remember that this is more of less the same side that won the double last year. Nobody should be flipping out over being fourth.
Ancelotti has been under a lot of pressure, and things haven’t been too rosy since Ray Wilkins left. Is Carlo the man to take Chelsea forward, or is a change coming?
Graham: I think Carlo is fine. He’s a good motivator and a very fine face to put on Chelsea – I’ve had many people tell me they respect the club far more for him being in charge, and these are folks that absolutely detested the team under Jose Mourinho. Ancelotti’s tactics have by and large worked, and he won the league and cup double in his first season as manager, an achievement that i think is being taken too much for granted. Yeah, there’s been a blip in form, but Frank Lampard’s been injured, Michael Essien’s carrying a foot injury (did you wonder why he looked so bad lately?), Florent Malouda’s also injured (ditto), and Didier Drogba’s been playing while recovering from malaria. What was Ancelotti going to do about that?
The only criticism I’d make is that he’s perhaps not the man to put his trust in youth players, and we need to do a better job integrating them into the first side. Hardly a fireable offence.
Chelsea also seem hell-bent on blooding some youth. We’ve seen glimpses of the likes of McEachran, Van Aanholt and Bruma. Who’s the pick of the bunch, and who else has a good chance of making at the top level?
Graham: Josh McEachran is one of Chelsea’s best players at 17 years old. In his first Champions League start he recorded more complete passes than the entire opposition midfield combined. The boy is a very, very, very good prospect, beautiful passing range and eye (very much like Paul Scholes), and a deft touch on the ball. He’s a bit too easy to tackle, however, and he’ll need to work on the defensive side of the game if Chelsea are going to deploy him as a deep-lying playmaker, but McEachran is a genuinely amazing player.
Patrick van Aanholt is another who’s been impressive, although he’s now out on loan at Leicester City. He’s a very good attacking left back – think Ashley Cole with a better shot – but his tackling and defending in general is nowhere near Premier League quality yet. Give him a couple of years though and I can definitely see him as a viable replacement for Cole, despite the drop in defensive quality.
Should mention Gael Kakuta and Daniel Sturridge too. Both of them are raw but promising!
Looking at the game on Tuesday, who do you think will give Chelsea the most problems from our lot?
Graham: Hard to say – with all of your new signings it’s difficult to get a sense of who’ll be playing for Sunderland! I don’t think there’ll be too many problems in midfield (Ramires is now good somehow, for those of you who only saw him play at the Bridge), so the obvious answer is Asamoah Gyan. If he can get behind John Terry, which isn’t hard, he’s going to be very very annoying on the counterattack.
You played all the old-heads in the FA Cup at the weekend. Will they all be playing on Tuesday, and what would be your team selection?
Graham: I imagine Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard will both be rested for Salomon Kalou and Jon Obi Mikel, because a) Malouda’s playing badly and b) Lampard is still hurt. Expect a super solid midfield of Mikel-Essien-Ramires and a pacy attack. Chelsea’s lineup is rather up in the air right now thanks to various loans and transfers, but here’s how I’d do it.
Chelsea (4-1-2-3): Cech; Cole, Terry, Ivanovic, Ferreira; Mikel; McEachran, Ramires; Malouda, Drogba, Kalou.
I think Essien needs a rest!
And lastly, what’s your prediction for the game?
Graham: Think the most likely score is something like 2-1 Chelsea but would certainly not be surprised with that scoreline reversed.
Thanks Graham, and I’ll catch up with you after the game for your reactions!
You can also catch Graham on Twitter - @MacAree