With Liverpool’s recent decline, the buzz at the start of the season was focused on who would occupy the Merseysider’s Champions League spot in May. Could Manchester City fulfill their promise or would Spurs nick it again? Well, it is beginning to look as if both could get there.
‘Five into four? That doesn’t go!’ I hear you cry – and you’re right. Chelsea and Tottenham are currently level on games and points so I wonder, is it time for Carlo Ancelotti and his men to start nervously looking over their shoulder?
Let me take you back to the Premier League table on the 3rd of October 2010, Chelsea had just beaten Arsenal 2-0 and were four points clear at the top of the league. They’d won six out of seven games, had an intimidating goal difference of +21 and had only conceded twice. The question on people’s lips was how many points the Blues would win the league by, not whether or not they could hang onto fourth.
The old and well used cliché; ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ seems to fit nicely.
For me, the turning point of Chelsea’s season came when they scraped past Wolves 2-0. The Molineux men earned a lot of plaudits, and rightly so, for the way that they restricted Chelsea’s style of play, but Chelsea’s win masked the fact that they actually didn’t play well at all that day. Whether that game alerted opponents to Chelsea’s vulnerabilities or Chelsea just started playing badly from then on I don’t know, but 22 days later things had gone really wrong. Sunderland’s 0-3 win at Stamford Bridge on the 14th November made the country sit up and take notice. Defeats at Anfield and Eastlands were acceptable, but this was not – Chelsea don’t lose heavily at home to teams like Sunderland.
Since that day Chelsea have won just three league games and now sit ten points behind Manchester United, something has gone terribly wrong.
When looking for reasons behind Chelsea’s slump, the mid-season decline of Didier Drogba has to be pretty high on the list. He currently has 10 goals and nine assists which are pretty good stats, but when you consider that six of those goals and five of those assists had come by the start of October you see the problem. Another large factor has been the persistent, on-going injury of Frank Lampard. Say what you like about the man, but when you take out a player who played a part in 39 of your teams’ goals the previous season, that team is going to struggle. Since his return to the side Lampard is yet to find his form, but when a player who rarely struggles with injury has to miss 14 league games it is reasonable to think that it may take him a little longer to get back to his best.
It has also become clear that Chelsea do not have the strength and depth needed in their squad to maintain a title push – not a criticism that I thought I would ever have of Chelsea in the post-Abramovich era. But rather than take a calm, measured approach to this problem Chelsea decided to panic buy. The Torres deal smelt rather strongly of desperation – I can’t think of any other reason why anyone would pay £50 million for a player who has been woefully out of form for club and country for the last year.
That was my opinion before his debut and it most definitely my opinion now.
This piece is far from a Chelsea epitaph, I still think that they will finish inside the top four, but their fans must surely be a little worried. Just as Chelsea were looking like they were turning a corner with impressive wins over Bolton and Sunderland they go and lose to Liverpool at home and, let’s be frank, played pretty badly in the process. That game was Chelsea’s seventh league defeat of the season – the same number of losses as Everton and Birmingham. Chelsea’s away game against Fulham has suddenly taken on a new sense of importance because after that it’s their long awaited first clash against Manchester United.
Chelsea can take some solace in Tottenham’s difficult run-in at the end of the season, but will know that they have a lot of work to do themselves before they can sleep easily. Chelsea currently are on a bit of an island, five points behind third placed Manchester City and six points in front of sixth placed Liverpool (who themselves could start a late season push for fourth) – not an absolute disaster, but far from the promise that they showed in August.
They say that form is temporary, but class is permanent. However, Chelsea’s bad form seems to have lasted an awfully long time and they’re going to need to find their class quickly to prevent their season becoming a complete write-off.