Can Chelsea Retain Their Champions League Spot?

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.

21 thoughts on “Can Chelsea Retain Their Champions League Spot?”

  1. Ok, i know Chelsea need fourth, and im sure they will retain the champions league spot. BUT, i am MORE worried with Champions league coming up, that’s what i want Chelsea to win…

  2. my brain says chelsea stay in 4th. my heart says liverpool beat the everloving shit out of them and get back into champions league position.

  3. It will be very difficult for Chelsea to make the top four, though they should really be aiming for top three to avoid the qualifying round.


  4. While I enjoy the fact that Liverpool is suddenly getting mentioned in the top four conversation again, I would like to see a longer run of form before becoming too excited at the idea.

  5. I’d say Spurs would have it if they weren’t struffling with injuries on a massive scale for the second time this year. Bale, Modric, Huddlestone, and possibley VDV make up the best mid field in the EPL, and those are the guys not playing! I still think Bale, Modric, King, Kaboul come back in the next month and will push on for 4th.

  6. The question on people’s lips was how many points the Blues would win the league by

    Ha, you should point the Gaffer towards this quote – I seem to remember him posting an article suggesting that it was almost inevtibable that Chelsea and Man Utd would trounce all opposition during the season, leaving only goal difference to seperate them.

    1. It certainly seemed that way at the beginning of the season. Manchester United are still running away with it, only having lost once in the league. But who could have predicted Chelsea’s collapse? Still a long way to go until the season ends.

      The Gaffer

  7. Well, I predicted their collapse, a little bit, but who am I?

    Back in October, I posted a few times, pointing out Chelsea’s lack of depth, especially at midfield. This is still their problem.

    Even with acquiring Torres and Luiz, what does their depth chart look like?

    Up top – Drogba, Torres, Anelka, Kalou, Malouda — OVERALL GREAT, even if Drogba and Torres are still nowhere near their best form.

    Midfield – Lampard, Essien, Mikel, Ramires – SO THIN!

    Back – Terry, Ivanovic, Luiz, Cole, Bosingwa, Ferreria — OVERALL GREAT

    The problem is that they have no depth in midfield. And their forwards don’t help much. Against Liverpool, Anelka was dropping deep and did not look comfortable at all. Neither Torres nor Drogba wanted to move to the outside or back much. Malouda only looks good when the ball is moving forward. And Kalou rarely drops back.

    Lampard and Essien are both “playing old” right now. They’re not moving into open space off the ball enough. Is this because they have nagging injuries, or because they’re older, or because we’re in the middle of a long, cold season playing two matches every week? Who knows?? But despite their far superior skill, they are getting dominated in central midfield by younger players with a strong work rate.

    Ramires and Mikel could be bit players on a championship team, but nothing more.

    Chelsea’s defense-goalkeeping might still be the best in the world right now, despite all the confusion against Liverpool. And their forwards are just fine. But they will be dominated in the midfield by teams like Newcastle and Blackpool, which is just sad. And it will only get worse as the season wears on, with little chance to rest Lampard and Essien.

    Look at MUFC – Nani, Park, Scholes, Giggs, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson [plus Valencia should be back soon, and Gibson sometimes plays for some reason]. That depth has to be one reason Giggs and Scholes can still play well. They rest all the time.

    Arsenal, Man City and Tottenham all also have a ton of depth at midfield. (Tottenham might have more injured top-class midfielders than Chelsea has healthy midfielders!)

    What am I missing? How could anyone have expected Chelsea to make it through the season, in such a competitive league, with such a thin midfield?

  8. Okay, let’s start by placing some limit on the discussion from the get-go. I am only going to bother comparing Tottenham and Chelsea, since these two clubs are vying for the 4th Champions League spot currently. Of course, that can change with a bad run from Manchester City or Arsenal, but a post comparing the Champions League potential of all four is too long for a comment and is a post in itself.

    Generally, the commentators here and in the media have done a decent job of comparing team strengths and weaknesses (depth in midfield, strength of schedule, home and away games against tough opposition, tactical issues, and injuries), and I won’t add to that. However, two things that have not been widely discussed in the comparison between Tottenham’s push for 4th and Chelsea’s fight to maintain that spot is the experience of the squad and the packed schedule involving the Champions League.

    There are a lot of fixtures to come in the next two months by virtue of playing in the CL and the Premier League (and the FA Cup). It is a tremendous physical challenge to play that many fixtures (twice a week), but it is also a big mental challenge. You have to be prepared and ready mentally to place huge games on little rest time. In that regard, Chelsea have a significant edge. They have players in the squad that have walked this balance for season after season, sometimes winning the FA Cup (last year) in the process, and often progressing quite far. They usually, in the last few years, advance far into the CL elimination rounds. They have the experience to know what to expect and to be able to be ready to face a European opponent and then turn around and be mentally ready for a league game.

    Tottenham do not have this experience, and I suspect that it will be a real challenge for many of their players to adapt to their first time balancing the requirements of so many games on so many fronts. It will be a massive rush to play AC Milan and do well, but then a big hill to come back and play a PL fixture immediately after.

    Arsenal in the past have been criticized for their late season failures because of a lack of experience in the squad. I suspect that Tottenham will probably falter in the Premier League in the run in, as the balance between the fixtures becomes hard to maintain.

    Anyway, my thoughts on a point that has not been widely discussed.



  9. For Liverpool to make a Champions League spot would be a huge coup. A victory for Dalgish and a big sign of things to come, and hilarious as Torres left for the opportunity to play for Trophies. As many before me have stated, there’s lots of football left to play. What can affect the top four? How far down the Europa League rabbit hole do Liverpool go? How much does that affect them health wise? Will all of Tottenham’s CL and other matches give them fits when it comes to keeping players healthy? Can Chelsea get back to full speed ahead this season? It would seem they were on the way back were it not for the Liverpool loss. Drogba said today that all the poor play has put the players in a bad mood. Are Chelsea on the way down the table? I suspect United are not too far away from pulling a Liverpool, in the words of the Special One, “they’re turning nil- all draws into 1-nil defeats.” My final speculation results in: Arsenal, United, City, Liverpool comprising the top Four (in no particular order) and Chelsea missing out on the CL spot barely, with Spurs succumbing to their inexperience and finding themselves in the Europa League.

  10. How I love everyone piling on Chelsea. They take 9 points from 9, make two massive additions to their squad, lose a game they deserved points from to a Liverpool side that played 5 defenders, and the haters line up and question whether or not they will stay in the top 4.

    I suppose the best way to answer this question is to ask a Chelsea supporter: I have absolutely no doubt that Chelsea will finish in the top 4.

    Liverpool in the top four/United not winning the league are laughable predictions.

  11. “They….lose a game they deserved points from to a Liverpool side that played 5 defenders” – matt

    Is it against the rules to play 5 defenders? it’s exactly the same formation they played 4 days earlier against Stoke, so if Chelsea weren’t prepared for that, they fully deserved to lose. They had one shot on goal the entire game and were very lucky it wasn’t 2-0 with Maxi missing a sitter. I don’t hate Chelsea, but there is absolutely no way their lackluster performance and Ancelloti’s tactics deserved anything from that game.

    If they continue to try and wedge Torres into a formation with 3 strikers and no width, it is totally possible that they keep dropping points and finish outside the top 4.

  12. Liverpool out thought and out fought Chelsea and deserved the win. If you want to be critical it was really a 3-6-1, it wasn’t about 5 defenders, it was about making Chelsea’s attackers impotent (check), taking away the attacking threat of Chelsea’s full backs (check), having enough men in the middle to win the midfield battle (check), having a lone striker willing to chase every ball and give 110% (check) and have midfielders join the attack when it counted (check).
    If Chelsea really want to look for what went wrong, it was in letting Steve Clarke go and not snapping him back up when he became available. Kenny is the big picture guy, it was Clarke who fit those cogs together and beat his old team.

  13. On and you would have to be insanely optimistic to see Liverpool get a top 4 spot this season, but in one month Kenny has turned 12 points off the pace to 6 points, so it is not impossible.

  14. “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.”

    Any other City fans when reading this, smiled to themselves?

  15. Chelsea didn’t create many chances and that’s why they lost. Liverpool had a golden opportunity in the first half when they should have scored but for Maxi Rodriguez who missed badly. Liverpool had a couple of chances in the second half, one of which they scored from and the other Cech saved off Fabio Aurelio. Chelsea have only themselves to blame for not creating more chances.

  16. I think it all comes down to Malouda. Why didn’t he start against LFC?

    Recall that last season Flourent really emerged &
    1) 18 pts from the other Big 4 teams
    2) also, Burnley beat MUFC
    3) and Chelsea wins the EPL by 1 pt.

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