Chelsea look to extend recent run of good form

Posted by Mark Worrall

Jose Mourinho salutes fans Stamford Bridge ChelseaPA PhotosJose Mourinho's Chelsea will need to be on their guard against Cardiff.

Chelsea make a welcome return to Premier League action this weekend with a home game against top-flight newcomers Cardiff City. Despite the Blues' stuttering start to the season, manager Jose Mourinho will be confident that the run of good form that preceded the recent international break can be maintained.

In his first stint as Chelsea manager, Mourinho helped build a defensive fortress at Stamford Bridge that saw the club go on a remarkable 86-game unbeaten run in the Premier League, and the Bridge remains a tough place for league opposition to get a result. The Blues have won 10 and drawn two of their last 12 home games and boast three straight victories this term. Malky Mackay's Cardiff side, currently occupying 14th place, have won once on the road in the Premier League this season -- a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Fulham -- and Chelsea's back line, despite having conceded only one league goal at home this term, will have noted that the Bluebirds' winner at Craven Cottage was scored in the 92nd minute.

Notwithstanding the fact that Chelsea face a tough Champions League tie away to Schalke on Tuesday night, Mourinho is unlikely to field anything other than his perceived strongest starting XI against Cardiff. In goal, Petr Cech will make his 300th appearance for the club, and the back four in front of him will have that usual Mourinho solidity about them despite concerns over the fitness of left-back Ashley Cole.

Cole, forced off with a rib injury late on in the 3-1 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road, sat out England’s final two World Cup qualifiers and remains a slight doubt, with Ryan Bertrand a more-than-capable deputy on stand-by if Cole can't play. Branislav Ivanovic and captain John Terry have started all seven of Chelsea's Premier League games this term and look set to continue that run, with David Luiz the likely partner for Terry at centre-back. Having played in the Blues' opening run of fixtures, and despite now being an automatic choice for England, Gary Cahill seems to have fallen behind Luiz as Mourinho's preferred central defensive partner for Terry, and Cahill may be a frustrated spectator once more against Cardiff.

Further forward, while Frank Lampard and Ramires look set to be tasked with greasing the cogs in the Blues' engine room, it is Chelsea's creative midfield that will once again be under the microscope of both the media and supporters. The Special One's regular selection dilemma has been made even more difficult this time by the current form of the men at his disposal. Top goal scorer Oscar, who also found the net for Brazil in their recent friendly wins over Korea and Zambia, looks to be the only nailed-on pick in his favoured No. 10 role. Staking a claim on the right, Juan Mata, back in favour after swiftly learning how to play the Jose way, was on target for Spain in their midweek win over Belarus. Eden Hazard and Willian are both pressing for a starting berth, having scored a goal apiece as late substitutes in the win at Norwich. Of those two, Hazard seems the more likely to be involved; Willian will likely find himself warming the bench once more, with Kevin De Bruyne (who scored in Belgium's recent 1-1 draw with Wales) sitting alongside him.

Hazard's competition for a start on the left should have come from Andre Schurrle, and it would have been hard to argue a case against the German international when taking into consideration his scintillating hat trick for Die Mannschaft in Tuesday night's 5-3 victory over Sweden in Solna. But with Mourinho announcing at Friday's prematch press conference that Schurrle has a "slight niggle" and won't feature, the Belgian has the chance to shine. Up front, last and (unfortunately so far for Chelsea this season) least, Demba Ba will be given the opportunity to do what he almost did against Norwich City and become the first Blues striker to score a league goal this season.

While Cardiff City will be no pushovers, they have lost three of their last four fixtures, and the recent decision of billionaire Malaysian owner Vincent Tan to fire a key member of manager Mackay's backroom team, Bluebirds recruitment chief Iain Moody, has darkened the mood at the Welsh club, with rumours surfacing that Tan had also asked Mackay to resign. While Mackay has strenuously denied this speculation, it could be suggested the situation might have been unsettling for his players, and Mourinho's Chelsea will be ready and more than willing to exploit any signs of weakness.

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