October ended with Chelsea looking imperious and pulling away from the chasing pack at the top of the Premiership. The side seemed to playing with such verve and spirit that I simply couldn’t see where any worthy challenge could come from. Manchester United were struggling to hit any real form, but continued to pick up points other sides would lose. Arsenal being Arsenal, looked amazing one week and then lost a game from nowhere. Manchester City continued to play as if expression was something to be feared.
Liverpool and Aston Villa were struggling to cope with the hangovers from summers of upheaval and Tottenham are still getting used to being involved at this end of the table. Then from nowhere, Chelsea hit the skids and suddenly, we have a title race again. November has been a hellish month for the Blues, with the Wilkins situation, Lampard’s continued absence, Terry and Alex both struggling, Essien suspended and Drogba’s illness sapping him of his strength and power. Then from nowhere Frank Arnesen announces his departure and you begin to think just what is going on at Stamford Bridge.
Crucially though Chelsea seemed to have no luck both on and off the pitch in the last four weeks. The game against Birmingham was one of the most one sides defeats I’ve seen in years. Chelsea absolutely battered Birmingham but couldn’t make the crucial breakthrough to score. When you play that well and the ball simply will not go in, then you really think things are conspiring against you. It’s unfortunate when 5 of your top stars all get sidelined for various reasons and most sides would struggle to cope with that level of disruption to their first team squad.
The Wilkins situation has, regardless of what the clubs hierarchy have said, had an effect on the dressing room and been a contributing factor. Tactical mistakes too have played their part, as the defeat to Sunderland had a lot to do with playing 3 right backs in a back four left them unbalanced and positionally unsure when defending. By not playing a recognised centre back, the impetus was offered to Steve Bruce’s side and they took full advantage playing with pomp and prowess.
The additional pain of being dislodged from the top of the table on Saturday was not only had Manchester United pulled two points clear, but by thrashing Blackburn Rovers so convincingly, goal difference had been drawn level. All of the advantages that Chelsea had, coming up to a tough December had been eaten away by a series of unfortunate injuries, suspensions and tactics.
Now Chelsea face 5 tough matches in the league, 4 against the current top 6. Visits to Tottenham and Arsenal, coupled with home games against Everton, Bolton and of course, Manchester United. At least it seems Terry and Lampard will return in the next week or so, but Alex faces a lay off for an operation and the front line is still struggling for goals. The old adage in English football is the title is usually decided at Easter, but Christmas could come early for Chelsea’s rivals if their dreadful month continues in to December. The club need to make sure that regardless of the off field problems, things need to get back to normal on the pitch.