Ahead of the Everton v Chelsea FA Cup 4th Round clash on Saturday Royal Blue Mersey crossed the North/South divide and had a chat with Graham MacAree, editor of SBNation's excellent Chelsea blog "We Aint Got No History". We have also answered some questions for his site as well so feel free to check them out by clicking here (not forgetting all the other excellent EPL blogs @ SBNation!)
Cross the jump to read what he had to say:
1) 4-0 against Bolton on Monday was a fantastic result - does this mean the real Chelsea are back?
GM: Well, it certainly doesn't hurt. Bolton are a pretty good side, although they're going through a miserable run, and after ten minutes of being dominated Chelsea just decided to play them off the park. The real key, I think, is Didier Drogba. He had a good game for the first time in several months, and that allowed everyone else to do their jobs much more effectively. With John Obi Mikel back I was never too worried about the defence.
2) You made a flying start to the season, with many seeing the league as a foregone conclusion - what went wrong?
GM: Chelsea were pretty obviously overperforming to start the season - nobody in the league is ever good enough to regularly record 6-0 victories. Luck caught up to them at some point, and then it plunged us down into hideously unlucky territory. Take, for instance, the 1-0 away loss to Birmingham. At St. Andrews, Chelsea out-shot Birmingham something like 22-1, and yet dropped all three points. If that result had gone the other way, Chelsea are much closer to Manchester City and Arsenal, and Manchester United would be looking a little nervier. And that's not even mentioning our luck with injuries - the only fit 'creative' midfielder in the side is 17 years old, and that's after starting the season with Frank Lampard, Yossi Benayoun, and Yuri Zhirkov.
PS: Drogba getting malaria pretty much sums this whole thing up.
3) Perhaps in continuation of that question are you still happy with Ancelotti as your manager?
GM: I'm fine with Carlo staying on as manager. He's done the best he could, given the rather bizarre series of events that took Chelsea from overwhelming title favourites to outsiders, and I generally like his tactics and personality. After all, he won the Double last season - how ridiculous would it be to want him gone after two months of poor play (that have coincided with injuries to several star players as well). About the only problem I have with Ancelotti is that he puts a little too much faith in veterans at the expense of young players - Josh McEachran and Daniel Sturridge deserve more time than they're getting. Hardly a massive complaint, though.
4) If you could ship three players out of the club and bring three players in, who would the be and why?
GM:Gosh, this is interesting. Let's start a defender: Jose Bosingwa is extraneous at right back, especially as he doesn't appear to have fully recovered from that knee injury that kept him out for a year. He's lost his mojo going forward from right back and was never particularly solid defensively, which makes him a rather mediocre player overall. Replacing him on my list is Ajax's Gregory van der Weil, a 22 year-old right back who should be able to better provide width on the attack without being such a defensive liability.
Next up is Nicolas Anelka - not because he's particularly bad, but because there are so many exciting right-sided attacking options available. Luis Suarez, also at Ajax, is my man here, narrowly beating out competition from Udinese's Alexis Sanchez, Napoli's Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Santos's Neymar, primarily because he's a support striker who racks up a tonne of goals to boot.
Is it crazy that I don't really want anyone else to go? The next options are probably Drogba or Lampard, but I don't really want to see either of them shipped out. However, if I had a chance to somehow magically lay hands on Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, I certainly wouldn't say no. Having both Schweini and Essien in one midfield would be disgustingly good. And no, I haven't mentioned Messi, Xavi, etc. That would be boring.
5) Chelsea are bidding to win the FA Cup for the third year in succession, what is it about the competition that brings the best out of the club?
GM:Chelsea have had some pretty good luck in the FA Cup draw, or so it seems to me (that ran out, of course, by drawing you guys at Goodison for this round). Couple a favourable draw with the fact that they're really a very good team and it's not hard to see how with a little luck Chelsea might have won two on the trot. I doubt they'll manage to make it three, but there's no harm in trying.
6) Who are the key players we should watch out for on Saturday and how do you think Chelsea will line-up?
GM:Three key players: Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, John Obi Mikel. Those three are Chelsea's gamebreaker players - each can do the work of two lesser talents. Cole can both defend very well and serve as an auxiliary winger, Drogba when he's on occupied both centrebacks at once and more often than not beats them into submission, and John Obi Mikel allows Chelsea to field just one holding midfield, so dominant is he as the shield immediately in front of the defence. He's also almost always acting as a spare man in midfield, and subsequently sees a lot of the ball, which goes along nicely with his superb (and improving) distribution.
My guess as to lineups (may be some severe wishful thinking involved):
Chelsea (4-3-3): Petr Cech; Ashley Cole, John Terry, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic; John Obi Mikel, Josh McEachran, Frank Lampard; Salomon Kalou, Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge.
Call that our first and a half team if you like, although I'm convinced that McEachran is by far Chelsea's best passer and a genuinely excellent little player. And yes, I fully expect Luiz to be wrapped up by the weekend.
7) What are your thoughts on Everton this season and who do you think the Chelsea players needs to look out for on Saturday?
GM: I've caught a few Everton games this year, including your 1-1 draw with us at the Bridge and while the team's had some moments I haven't been exactly blown away. Leighton Baines is a very good attacking left-back and Tim Cahill's always a threat, but the strikers have been a little bit of a joke and you're now without Steven Pienaar. I've got a lot of respect for the centre of the midfield, though - I love Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell - and Chelsea can't take them too lightly, especially considering the problems you've given the Blues over the last couple of years. I think you're basically a decent side that's under-performing and a touch inconsistent.
8)And finally.....prediction for Saturday? (be nice!)
GM:Hmmm. I think I predicted an Everton win when I saw the draw, so let's stick with that (despite Chelsea's continued resurgence). 2-1 Everton, with a strong lineup against a mixed Chelsea bag. Not that I'd like that to happen, of course, but being drawn away to a talented Premier League side with something to prove? That's a recipe for a Cupset.