McMahon: AVB needs settled team

ESPNSTAR pundit Steve McMahon believes it is vital for Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas to remain consistent with his team selection.

Football News: Chelsea

After an unconvincing start to the season, Chelsea have found some form in recent weeks winning five of their last seven games, with their only loss coming in the 2-0 Carling Cup defeat to Liverpool.

And perhaps key to this strong run is the fact that Villas-Boas has finally settled on his ideal starting eleven.

Barring the Carling Cup loss to Liverpool, where the Chelsea manager choose to hand some much-needed minutes to the likes of Ross Turnbull, Ryan Bertrand, Josh McEachran and Romelu Lukaku, Villas-Boas has pretty much fielded the same lineup over the past month. And the benefits have been clear for all to see.

At the back, Villas-Boas seems to have settled on John Terry, Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic, with the latter switching between right-back and centre-back depending on whether David Luiz or Jose Bosingwa gets the nod on the day.

Young Spaniard Oriol Romeu has featured in Chelsea's last seven matches and has impressed in every single outing, a sign he could soon make the defensive midfield position his own. With a wide range of passing and the discipline to shield his backline when necessary, the energetic 20-year-old has justified his manager's preference of him over the one-dimensional John Obi Mikel.

Ramires and Raul Meireles have also featured frequently in recent weeks, a move that has seen the once-indispensable Frank Lampard being relegated to the bench, along with Fernando Torres, who also has to bide his time now considering the impressive understanding Daniel Sturridge, Didier Drogba and Juan Mata have struck up forward.

With Villas-Boas now more or less settled on his starting eleven, the players will gradually understand the roles they have to play better, and with that, we will soon see the Portuguese manager's tactics come to fruition, as his charges become accustomed to what he demands of them.

Despite being at the opposite end of the table, Wigan are currently enjoying a good run of form too, having lost just one of their last six matches, a 4-0 loss at the hands of Arsenal. They have recorded impressive away victories over Sunderland and West Brom, and also held both Chelsea and Liverpool to consecutive draws.

However, that is almost certain to end on Boxing Day when they travel to Old Trafford to play a rejuvenated Manchester United. Not only is Sir Alex Ferguson an expert at managing his players when the fixtures pile up during this busy festive period, but United have a knack of emerging victorious in games they are expected to win.

Moreover, Wigan have had a shocking record against United in recent seasons, with the Red Devils winning all thirteen of their previous encounters, scoring 41 goals in the process and conceding just four!

And Wigan will have to be wary they don't let all their recent good form go to waste and finish 2011 bottom of the table, as that will deal a huge psychological blow for the remainder of the season.

As previous seasons have shown, the club rooted to the basement at the turn of the year almost always faces a monumental task in surviving the drop, and at the moment, Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton are prime candidates for relegation.

 The one thing going for the Latics is the fact they have managed to string a series of good results recently, something they can hope to repeat in the second half of the season. For now, the same cannot be said for Blackburn and Bolton.

Steve McMahon's Predictions

Chelsea vs Fulham

Fulham's spirits are obviously in tatters after being hammered 5-0 at home by Manchester United. On the other hand, there is no better chance for Chelsea to state their title intentions and close the gap at the top with a convincing win at Stamford Bridge. And I don't see them having any problems doing that.

Prediction: 3-0 (HT: 2-0)

Man United vs Wigan

Sir Alex Ferguson's side are in a good run of form, having just hammered Fulham 5-0. And with the game being held at Old Trafford, I don't see Wigan stopping United in their tracks.

Prediction: 4-0 (HT: 2-0)

Arsenal vs Wolves

Prediction: 4-0 (HT: 2-0)

Bolton vs Newcastle

Prediction: 2-0 (HT: 1-0)

Liverpool vs Blackburn

Prediction: 4-0 (HT: 2-0)

Sunderland vs Everton

Prediction: 1-1 (HT: 1-0)

West Brom vs Man City

Prediction: 0-2 (HT: 0-1)

Stoke vs Aston Villa

Prediction: 2-1 (HT: 1-0)

Swansea vs QPR

Prediction: 2-0 (HT: 1-0)

Norwich vs Tottenham

Prediction: 1-3 (HT: 0-1)

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