The Whites kick off a bumper Super Sunday of derby action when they face Chelsea away at Stamford Bridge in an all West London clash.
The midday match sees the return of Claudio Ranieri to his former club, of whom he managed between 2000 and 2004. The squad are in high spirits, buoyed by their second win of the season last time out against Southampton. Despite still being bottom of the Premier League, they now know just a singular win will jump them out of the drop zone.
The 3-2 victory over the Saints was a see-saw match that could have gone either way, with a lacklustre start allowing the South Coast club to take the lead. However, the match was turned on it’s head by half-time with a Mitrovic header after a fantastic team move, and a tidy finish by Schurrle after a exquisite bit of play down the left hand side by Sessegnon.
The away side grabbed an equaliser they would argue they deserved soon after the break through a second for Armstrong, but just minutes later the Serbian striker was at it again volleying in from inside the box to give the club a lead they would hang onto.
It was far from a vintage performance from the Lilywhites, with the defence often looking shaky, with only some impressive saves from Sergio Rico handing the club victory. It was apparent there is plenty of work for Ranieri to do, but the team have obvious quality, especially in the final third. The boss hailed Mitrovic “one of the best strikers in Europe” in his post match conference, and it is clear he, Sessegnon and Seri are who this team may well be built around.
The Italian manager admits it will be ‘special’ to return to Stamford Bridge, as a former club he was at. Admitting it will be a much tougher test than last weekend, he pointed out Cairney as a key player for the game. He has been put into a new position just behind the striker by Ranieri, who has urged him to “have a try and shoot more” rather than continually passing. He expressed his desire for him to “play as he did in the Championship” where he scored plenty of goals.
For this to work, Seri and Chambers must work effectively as more defensive minded shield behind, with their aim to disrupt the tempo of likely midfield three Barkley, Jorginho and Kante. If the Whites can reach 60 minutes on level terms, there will be every chance something can be taken from this game. The Tinkerman may have a happy return.
Predicted Line Up: Rico, Fosu-Mensah, Odoi, Mawson, Le Marchand, Chambers, Seri, Cairney, Sessegnon, Mitrovic, Schurrle
Predicted Score: 3-1