Sure, in the lead-up to matches charged with a side-show backdrop, there’s always going to be the reflexive rhetoric about professionalism, such as what Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti recently spilled ahead of his side’s match against Manchester City on Saturday(7:45 a.m. EST). Perhaps the aftermath of John Terry’s purported shagging of the mother of Wayne Bridge’s child will stay clear of the pitch, even with Bridge’s recent refusal to join the England side in South Africa, with the words “untenable” and “potentially divisive” in his announcement being particularly telling.
But the interesting thing is that this heightened tension comes at a time when Chelsea can afford it the least. Sure, Bridge is unlikely to come into proximity with his former Chelsea teammate — Terry’s trademark headers usually are delivered from forays up front that take him to the top of the box. But there’s hardly room for mental error when a loss to City — looking to seal up a place in the top four along with a sweep of their London counterparts — could put their league aspirations in serious jeopardy, as they sit a point ahead of Manchester United with a trip to Old Trafford coming up on April 3rd.
Despite suitable replacements — Florent Malouda is expected to get the nod to fill in for the injured Ashley Cole(ankle) with Yury Zhirkov (calf) also sidelined, while Hilario steps in for Petr Czech(torn calf muscle) — it’s clear that any defensive lapses will have repercussions well beyond whatever damage Craig Bellamy and the returning Carlos Tevez can deliver for City. With Emmanuel Adebayor sidelined due to suspension, it could be the persistent industry of Tevez — keen on helping City bounce back from defeat in the FA Cup, just as Chelsea looks to rebound from their 2-1 first leg Champions League loss — that exploits any frailties, mental or otherwise, in the London side, which could effectively lead to Chelsea sitting runner-up once again at year’s end.
On the positive side, Ashley’s Cole’s charades won’t factor in any excuses should they lose.