ESPN Soccernet Preview: Burnley v Chelsea
January has almost ended and Chelsea have not yet bought a striker, which means one thing...Carlo Ancelotti will not be running naked in the snow. The bizarre promise by the Blues boss was made at the start of the month as a statement of confidence in his attacking options, ahead of the departures of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou to the African Nations Cup.
Four games and 17 goals later, Ancelotti appears to have been wholly justified in his faith in the players at his disposal; Chelsea have negotiated two rounds of the FA Cup and sit top of the Premier League with a game in hand. Far from running in the snow, the Italian boss must be getting a warm fuzzy feeling inside as he looks back on a successful month.
Meanwhile, Brian Laws was the surprise choice to take over from the inspirational Owen Coyle at Turf Moor and he has struggled to make a mark in his first three games. The former Sheffield Wednesday boss suffered a 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in what was a baptism of fire against Manchester United, before overseeing an FA Cup exit at the hands of Championship side Reading and a defeat to predecessor Coyle's new charges. The defeats to United and Bolton have left the Clarets in the relegation zone for the first time this season, something few thought would happen during the honeymoon period at the start of the season that brought victories over Manchester United and Everton and turned Turf Moor into a "fortress".
Burnley player in focus: David Nugent: Nugent joined Burnley on loan from Portsmouth at the start of the season and has scored three goals in 17 Premier League appearances for the promoted club. He has struggled to rediscover the goalscoring form that attracted the attention of a host of Premier League suitors during his time at Preston, but still possesses an excellent poaching instinct. He can also boast the impressive 100% international scoring record of one cap, one goal for England.
Chelsea player in focus: Frank Lampard: Consistency personified, Chelsea's midfield stalwart has already played 30 games this season and remains an integral part of the Blues' engine room. He has been criticised in some quarters for not being as prolific a goalscorer as he was in Chelsea's title-winning campaigns but, after bagging a brace against Birmingham in midweek, he took his tally for the season to ten, just two behind his total number of strikes last season and six behind his personal best of 16 in 2005-06. Lampard still has exceptional anticipation and most of Chelsea's attacking play will go through the England midfielder.
Key battle: Michael Duff v Didier Drogba: After moving to Turf Moor from Cheltenham Town in 2004, Duff was an ever-present in the Burnley defence up until this season. Primarily a right-back, the Northern Ireland international has found himself back in first-team contention - playing at centre-back - after struggling to earn a starting berth for the first few months of the campaign. If Drogba, as expected, returns from African Nations Cup duty to resume his partnership with Nicolas Anelka, Duff will undoubtedly face the biggest challenge of his career marking the powerful striker, who will be determined to add to his 14 league goals and make amends for Ivory Coast's underachievement in Angola.
Tactics: With Brian Laws' favoured central-midfield partnership of Graham Alexander and McCann suffering injuries against Bolton, Andre Bikey will return to the Burnley starting line-up to add some much needed grit against the Blues. Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou are back from Angola to boost Carlo Ancelotti's attacking options, and Deco could make way as the Chelsea boss switches back to 4-4-2 to accommodate the returning Drogba.
Quotes: Burnley boss Brian Laws tries his best to be optimistic ahead of Chelsea's visit to Turf Moor: "I always knew it was going to be a tough job - it was never going to be easy. It's going to be a difficult task but we have got to enjoy it. No matter whether you win, lose or draw, you move onto the next game and there is always another opportunity - and there's no better than Chelsea on Saturday."
Carlo Ancelotti admits his delight at having Didier Drogba available again after African Nations Cup duty: "I think we need to have Drogba because he's a fantastic player and, with him, we can play the same football. Our philosophy and aims won't change - to play good football and win. We won't change. We'll maintain the same system. It's good we are back at the top. Maybe we can improve our position on Saturday. We did very well in January and I want to thank my players who did a fantastic job without the African players."
In the news: Burnley secured the services of two new players this week, with former long-time Manchester City goalkeeper Nicky Weaver arriving at Turf Moor on loan, while defender Leon Cort was signed for £1.5 million from Stoke. Defeat to Bolton was overshadowed by the chilly reception reserved for Owen "Judas" Coyle, who was the recipient of several unwelcome chants and a particularly crude phallic-shaped object with his face pinned to the front. On the plus side, the services of David Nugent were secured until the end of the season.
At Chelsea, Juliano Belletti was unmasked as another member of football's growing Twitterati, when his Tweet that Chelsea had refused to let him talk to Flamengo about a move back to Brazil made the headlines across the English press.
Burnley team news: Steven Caldwell is still sidelined with a groin strain, while midfield duo Graham Alexander (calf) and Chris McCann (knee) both picked up injuries against Bolton. David Nugent and Steven Fletcher should continue up front, though on-loan striker Frédéric Nimani could be in line to make his first start since moving from Monaco. Andre Bikey returns from African Nations Cup duty with Cameroon and will slot straight into central midfield, and he will be partnered by either Martin Paterson or Chris McDonald in the centre.
Chelsea team news: Jose Bosingwa is closing in on a return having been out since October with a knee problem, though this game will probably come too soon for him. Juliano Belletti remains sidelined with a calf strain, while midfield lynchpin Michael Essien will be out for up to six weeks after injuring his knee ligaments while on African Nations Cup duty.
Probable Burnley line-up (4-4-2): Jensen, Mears, Duff, Carlisle, Kalvanes, Eagles, Bikey, McDonald, Elliot, Nugent, Fletcher
Probable Chelsea line-up (4-4-2): Cech, Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A. Cole, J. Cole, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda, Anelka, Drogba
Soccernet prediction: It has been an age since Burnley last managed a goal, while Chelsea have been firing on all cylinders. Ancelotti's side have far too much quality and should easily overcome the Clarets to consolidate their position at the top of the Premier League.