ESPN Soccernet - Correspondents - Chelsea
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Posted by Phil Lythell on 03/13/2012

Chelsea are used to entering the final quarter of the season with pressure and expectation laden upon their shoulders but this time it is of a different kind. The previous eight seasons have all seen the Blues fighting for the Premier League title and eyeing a maiden European Cup yet this time it is a top four finish and progress to the last eight of the Champions League – a mandatory requirement - that is preoccupying all those connected to the club.

Another difference to days gone by is that now there is very little margin for error. Arsenal’s run of last-gasp victories has seen them win their last four league matches after coming from behind – three of them courtesy of injury time winners – and has seen them look increasingly like favourites to secure one of the two remaining Champions League spots ahead of Tottenham and Chelsea . It is particularly galling seeing as these wins have come in fixtures in which they were fully expected to drop points. Taken in conjunction with their impressive battering of AC Milan, it could be that now Spurs are the target for Roberto Di Matteo to chase.

The Italian’s reign has begun steadily, if unspectacularly, with the 1-0 win over Stoke proving to be hard work despite Ricardo Fuller’s first half sending off for the Potters. That isn’t to say that Chelsea did not deserve it. There was only one team playing football even when both sides had ten men on the field and it was particularly encouraging to see Di Matteo’s positive attitude to having the numerical advantage by introducing Juan Mata to add more craft to proceedings; a decision that resulted in the game’s only goal thanks to a beautiful reverse pass from the Spaniard to Didier Drogba.

The inability to kill off inferior opponents was still evident but the woodwork was struck twice to suggest that a more ruthless streak is being instilled in the squad. However, one factor that has me feeling conflicted is that it was the defenders on show that looked the most likely to score. Branislav Ivanovic rapped the bar with a fiercely shot while Gary Cahill stung the fingertips of Asmir Begovic before clipping the woodwork with a header. In the second half, desperate to break the deadlock, even John Terry let fly from distance only to see his shot curl just wide of the opposition’s upright.

While it is clearly an asset to have a goal threat from less obvious areas, the inability of Salomon Kalou to contribute anything was frustrating once again; all the more so as the match provided the Ivorian with a rare start and a chance to shine under a new regime. With Daniel Sturridge having seemingly misplaced his shooting boots of late and Fernando Torres’ confidence in tatters, finding the back of the net could be the major problem that Di Matteo has to address. Thank God for Drogba.

Chelsea have ten matches left and, if we are realistic, the target should be to end the season on 72 points. That would allow us one defeat (Manchester City away), two draws (Arsenal away and Liverpool away) and wins in our remaining fixtures including Tottenham at home a week on Saturday. While some fans might see that as negative and demand wins at The Etihad Stadium, The Emirates and Anfield, personally I have ceased looking at life purely through blue-tinted spectacles and, while I still believe that a top four finish is achievable, I similarly cannot see Chelsea not slipping up in our remaining fixtures such has been the hap-hazard nature of this campaign. 23 points from a possible 30 - given the fact that we also have to travel to in-form Fulham, host high-flying Newcastle and face three teams (Wigan, QPR and Blackburn) who are all fighting for Premier League survival – is going to be a stiff challenge.

In fact, Arsenal’s unexpected resurgence and Tottenham’s relatively straightforward run-in could mean that the Blues have to win this season’s Champions League in order to qualify for next year, starting with a morale-boosting victory over Napoli on Wednesday.

No pressure, then, Roberto.


Posted by Sam, Jakarta on 03/13/2012

The problem now facing Chelsea is that opponents seem to have no fear anymore. Maybe because most fearsome players, especially Drogba, Lampard and Terry, are getting older thus slower.

Posted by aLVin9800 on 03/14/2012

Former Chelsea blog correspondent, David Kyle correctly put it, Chelsea continues to play to the strengths of Drogba and Torres' stay is pointless as non of his team mates can execute those telling passes that exploit his style and pace. Perhaps the only exception is Mata who assisted all Drogba's goals this season.

Forget about Sturridge, he is selfish, undisciplined and wasted numerous chances trying to shoot from outside the box, instead of passing the ball to a better placed colleague to score. Kalou could be excused because of lack of playing time and the blame went squarely to AVB. Conversely, Chelsea had lost the quality of Anelka that created so many scoring opportunities for Drogba in the past. Now, the only effective midfield they have is Mata!

The season is hanging in the balance, Torres don't get to start and Drogba is playing 'ball' trying to get a new contract. Torres knows that his end is near and there is no Gerrard to help him to restore his fragile confidence.

Posted by king on 03/14/2012

hope the new manager brings up new young players and make them big stars, instead of relying on lampard, terry, drogba and all the old fellows! come on blues! u can rock it still!!

Posted by rose on 03/14/2012

hello phil!wat chelsea used 2 have was a never say die spirit that got them many matches won even when they aren't playing(passing the ball)as they are now...when i watch chelsea now,i see a team with out flair,swagger,"spirit"& refusal 2 try something new...thats wat gets the coaches is trying 2 do new things by playing a 3-4-3..why can't the players at chelsea do that?safe in the comfort zone.(2) i see a team who play rather individually than collectively hence the goal drought of torres,players shooting 4rm all angle despite a teammate been better placed than them?hmm{3)i watch mancity matches,i see how many chances players like aguero & balotelli miss per game,if compared 2 torres who gets say 1 or 2 chance over a 90minute period of game.(4) the chelsea mid-field is nothing 2 write home creativity, no imagination,no surprises,just shooting,shooting & shooting..for me? lampard should know his kind of play pple don't fancy much like in time past.flair? yes.

Posted by FlyingBlues on 03/14/2012

A few things that we need to understand is to get a steady manager who can manage the so called project. we have to be expect a couple of trophyless seasons. Exploit the qualities of de Bruyne, Lukaku, Romeu, Piazon, McEchran, Bertrand and Bruma along with Mata, Luiz, Cahill and Ramires but one of many important thing these players will need time to jell and get a good understanding of each other. I remember you once had mentioned that it is not right to blame the hand that feeds but some times we (fans) have to take a stand. His signing of Sheva and Torres, bust up with Jose firing of Carlo and Avram after seasons which were not a total failure and an entire waste of 25M over the AVB saga. I am pretty adamant for he has to take a share at least for the frustration of the Fans if not for the continuous failures of the club..

Posted by D. Devil's Advocate, Esq. on 03/14/2012

The real problem is not scoring goals, it's keeping them out. Without Terry (and often even with him), the once watertight Blues' defense looks terribly Titanic-like. Even Cech has had some howlers.

Cahill, for all his prowess going forward, is a sketchy defender, and we all know David Luiz has taken over Rafa Marquez role as "High Profile Defender Guaranteed to Set Up At Least One Golden Opportunity for the Opponent Every Single Game".

For a team whose recent success was founded on destroying any opponents hopes in front of goal, this a most worrisome development.

Posted by bishop on 03/15/2012

i think one of the challenges AVB faced was the players that of same age with him don't respect him. And also for the fact that he tried to implement his own philosophy to them,they find it difficult in accepting it. i believe with time a new generation of players that can complement any coach they brought in will soon emerge. let be patient with our beloved Chelsea team

Posted by Ben on 03/15/2012

With all the rumors swirling around about the next coach, I think the most interesting thing I've heard is that Pep & Barca are at each other about Pique! Pep wants Pique cut from the squad and Barca doesn't seem inclined to cut their future captain! Great news for the blues if it is true and Pep chooses to leave! It's a long shot but I would love to have Pep at the reigns.

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Phil Lythell Phil Lythell is a Chelsea season ticket holder and lifelong Blues supporter stretching back to the sepia-tinted days of Kerry Dixon and Pat Nevin. Author of Chelsea-centric blog, Phil has spent his entire life living within a 20 minute walk of Stamford Bridge which has cost him a fortune but has also kept him from those interminable queues outside Fulham Broadway Station giving him more time in the pub to discuss the latest glorious/calamitous/insipid match.

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