For the entirety of the season, Chelsea have seemed poised to put insurmountable distance between themselves and the nearest opposition. Yet this moment never arrived. Draws and losses, often at those crucial games, have seen them lose ground in the Premier League, till now the gap between first place glory and second ignominy is one point.
The question is, can Chelsea fulfill its promise of this season and reclaim the domestic throne, or will they once again see the trophy lifted elsewhere?
In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons that they’ll lose; in another, I’ll discuss why they’ll win.
1. Defensive Injuries
Ashley Cole had been the world’s superlative left back until a recent injury. An excellent defender and a constant option going into attack, Cole’s injury sees Chelsea lose a unique weapon. His pace allows him both to neutralize opposition counter attacks and beat their defenders at the other end of the pitch.
In fact, Chelsea did have a more than adequate (and for £18 million, he should be) replacement in Yuri Zhirkov. He too, is sidelined with injury, though not for as long as Cole. Florent Malouda, an attacking winger, is now the starting left back. Remarkably, he seemed totally capable against both Inter and Manchester City.
Even if he works in the makeshift back four, Malouda’s repositioning robs Chelsea of an attacking threat that, for parts of the season, had gelled very well with Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. None of his attacking replacements — Daniel Sturridge, Salomon Kalou, Joe Cole — have been able to reproduce the same cohesive, potent football that made Chelsea favorites among many spectators for much of the season.
Petr Cech’s injury is another large blow. As witnesses to Chelsea’s recent home loss to Man City can attest, Hilario is not the same as the Czech in goal. He’s not even the same as former backup Carlo Cudicini. The first two goals he allowed against the Citizens were questionable, and many will be wondering how many points will be dropped if he continues to concede softly in Cech’s absence.
Even when players do return from injury, there’s no guarantee they’ll find their form immediately. In fact, quite the opposite should be expected, although a match unfit Cole/Zhirkov and Cech are surely better for Chelsea than an out of position Malouda and Hilario.
2. Fixture List and Form
Put simply, Chelsea have hard games with which they must finish out the season. Though they have the quality to collect maximum points in March, a visit from Aston Villa could prove to be challenging, and after that, it gets only worse. The Blues must play away to Man United, Tottenham, and Liverpool in the final month and a half of the season.
Manchester United also have challenging fixtures during the final stretch, but at least they have the luxury of facing Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham at Old Trafford. They do have a tricky away match to their rivals Man City, but other than that, the challenging away fixtures have been navigated.
Arsenal have by far the easiest finale to the season. They have two legitimately difficult matches in a home Man City game and visit to White Hart Lane. Just three points off Chelsea, Gunners fans surely fancy hounding their rivals all the way to the end, especially with their respective fixtures in mind.
In any case, the fixture list favors Chelsea’s on form competitors.
Obviously, Chelsea’s form is also worrying, and not only in their dropped points. The amount of goals they’ve let in over the past handful of games suggests a former strength turned weakness. Admittedly, conceding 4 against Man City while fielding a wildly attacking force and playing two men down isn’t a fair estimation of Chelsea’s defense, but one must admit the overall slackness in defending (now down to third in goals conceded, behind Villa and United) is not a good sign.
3. John Terry
Finally, the collapse of John Terry must be mentioned. His form has been more than just suspect of late. He allowed himself to be absolutely hosed down by Milito for the opening goal in the UCL Inter game, and put in another decidedly mediocre performance at the Bridge against City. Normally poor form merits benching, but as the captain and emblem of Chelsea, no one is willing to do this. Everyone throws their faith behind him and hopes his form improves. Meanwhile, on the pitch, it depreciates. This does not bode well for Chelsea, especially as the team relies on Terry for more than just defensive heroics.
Is all lost for Chelsea? Obviously not. It’s a top club with enough class to win the league and then some. Coming soon, I’ll show how the Blues might do just that.