A special encounter between two of England’s biggest clubs awaits us this Saturday morning. A tie that never disappoints, and is indulged in a rich history, despite the infrequent bouts. This fixture at Elland Road marks just the third time in a decade that the two sides have met, with the previous two both going Chelsea’s way. Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta was part of the Chelsea side that dispatched of Leeds in the 2012 EFL Cup Quarter Finals, helping the Blues win 5-1 at Elland Road. Now, nine years on, he looks likely to captain the side in game week 28 of the Premier League season.
Chelsea certainly look to be the favourites heading into Saturday’s early kick off, with Thomas Tuchel’s men now unbeaten in 12 games, 11 under his reign. The German has got Chelsea looking unstoppable, and the Blues are now pressing even closer to Leicester and Manchester United in 2nd and 3rd. Top four is the ultimate goal for Chelsea this season, but to tip either of the aforementioned sides would be a tremendous achievement for the German manager, who took charge of Chelsea in January. Chelsea have also conceded just two goals under Thomas Tuchel, a stat which the Blues will want to keep alive following the game with Leeds. This shouldn’t be a problem if the London side can keep former Blue, Patrick Bamford at bay.
Leeds on the other hand are not in admirable form, losing four out of their last five games. The Whites sit in 11th place, three points off Arsenal in 10th. Marcelo Bielsa and his men have endured a rollercoaster of a season so far, hitting highs and lows throughout. In the reverse fixture in London, Patrick Bamford put the away side in front inside four minutes, but the pace was matched by Chelsea, who ran out eventual winners, thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud, Kurt Zouma and Christian Pulisic. Despite sitting mid-table, Leeds are currently on an unfathomable run of 18 Premier League games without a draw. Whether a point will suit Leeds or not is disputable, but Chelsea will hope to extend their unbeaten run with yet another victory.
Player updates and news:
Just two of the Blues are out of contention for the Leeds trip, those being Thiago Silva, who we saw back in the 18 man squad for the first time in over a month on Monday, and Tammy Abraham, who is still struggling with an ankle injury.
“Thiago had a little setback in training at the end of the training session the day before yesterday.” Thomas Tuchel clarified during the press conference (per The 5th Stand).
Thiago Silva’s absence has not affected Chelsea, however, as whoever Tuchel selects as a back three have been fantastic in recent weeks. The man who has replaced Silva in the middle of the three, Andreas Christensen, has completely turned his season around, and has been our star man on a number of occasions.
Abraham’s ankle problem stems from a game around six weeks ago, and his only saving grace may be the fact that since his injury, neither Olivier Giroud or Timo Werner have been able to set sail on the goal scoring tally, meaning Tammy’s place in the side may not be as doubtful as what once was possible.
Mendy, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Hudson Odoi, Kante, Jorginho, Alonso, Mount, Werner, Havertz.
In the past two previews, I left Havertz out of the XI. In Monday’s game against Everton, he started, and was the star of the show. The young German looked exactly like the player Chelsea signed, and playing at the top of the field looks to have benefitted the former Leverkusen star. Havertz won Chelsea a penalty, and also scored a stunning goal, taking the ball down on his chest and slotting it past Pickford, but the goal was unfortunately ruled out for a handball. The German also had the shot that was deflected in by Ben Godfrey to give Chelsea the lead.
I also had a little debate with myself about Werner or Pulisic, but decided on Werner solely on his pace, as I think the German could light up Elland Road. Pulisic is likely to make an appearance from the bench, however, as Tuchel has revealed the American is still a part of his plans.
Players to watch:
Kai Havertz: Kai set Stamford Bridge alight on Monday against Everton, and as I mentioned earlier, he had a goal stolen from him by a questionable handball decision. Havertz will still be hungry, however, and will be sure to challenge for a goal or two against the struggling Leeds side. Havertz looks a great deal more confident at the front of the lineup, as opposed to in the midfield, where ex Chelsea boss Frank Lampard often played him. Nonetheless, Kai will be sure to put on a show on Saturday.
Raphinha: The Brazilian has been a real star for Leeds this season, following his move from Rennes in the summer. Bielsa will hope Raphinha can show the quality he possesses, and the 25 year old will hope to capitalise on Azpilicueta’s ever-aging legs. If the Brazilian can get the game under his grasp, him and Bamford could create a real problem for Chelsea.
Written by @mashgreaves