By Rob Latham
A clash between Chelsea and Bolton Wanderers was commonplace in the Premier League for over a decade, but in the seasons since Wanderers relegation, things have changed dramatically. The Blues have become European champions and favourites for this season’s title, while The Trotters have drifted into obscurity to linger in the lower reaches of the Championship table. Tonight’s trip to Stamford Bridge in the Capital One Cup third round is therefore now a huge deal for Bolton.
Wanderers head into this massive task on Wednesday night having continued their run of losing every away league match this season. No-one is realistically expecting anything other than a comfortable Chelsea win, but the least we should expect of Wanderers is a spirited performance and to make Chelsea work for it. And if they get lucky they could grab a goal and a famous victory.
The hosts Chelsea have been largely impressive this season, putting six goals past Everton and scoring four second-half goals against Swansea City. This doesn’t bode well for a Bolton defence that has looked shaky against Championship attacks, even though Chelsea will field a second string that is unlikely to feature the ‘galacticos’ of Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas.
Realistically that second eleven will all be established internationals and potentially World Cup winners, and could include the likes of Andre Schurrle, Oscar, Petr Cech, Felipe Luis, Loic Remy and Didier Drogba. It could well also involve former Bolton fans’ favourite Gary Cahill, which will be a nice touch for both our supporters and Cahill himself. This suggests Bolton are firmly up against it, especially when you consider Chelsea have scored 26 goals in their last eight matches against Wanderers.
This season one of the key concerns for Wanderers has been where the goals are coming from. If you take away Joe Mason’s four league goals – of which three were in the same match – the rest of the team has only contributed three goals in eight matches. Fellow striker Craig Davies is yet to score from open play this season, and Jermaine Beckford has only scored two goals against League Two strugglers Crewe. The other two goals were both scored by centre-halves, David Wheater and Matt Mills – with the midfield yet to contribute a single goal.
A trip to Chelsea away isn’t high on the importance stakes in the wider scheme of things, but it will be a great evening out for the Wanderers faithful and stranger things than Bolton springing a surprise have happened. Just this week I watched back highlights of Wanderers going to the Allianz Arena and springing a huge surprise as they drew 2-2 against the mighty Bayern Munich.
In terms of tonight’s line-up it remains to be seen whether Dougie Freedman will ring the changes, if he’s even got the squad to do so. I would expect him to stick with the usual suspects, but if it backfires and we end up getting hammered by Chelsea then you have to worry about the effect that could have on squad morale. Rumours today suggest youngster Zach Clough, who scored twice in pre-season but has yet to feature in the first-team this season, could get his chance, while new forward Max Clayton and goalkeeper Paddy Kenny could also feature. Young winger Rob Hall scored two goals and made another for the Development Squad on Monday night, so it could well be time for Freedman to give him a chance to shine for the first team.
Freedman’s pre-match press conference didn’t give a lot away, as he said: “We will rotate our squad. It’s a chance for some of our more senior players to get some valuable game time.” Make of that what you will, but senior players have been getting game time all season, which suggests he won’t be rotating his squad at all.
I for one am hugely excited at visiting Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. Not only is it just down the road from my office, but it’s also another ground to tick off my list. I’m fully expecting Bolton to get torn apart by a rampant Chelsea attack, but a tiny little bit of me senses that perhaps the Whites could pull off a shock.