As Phil Neville’s penalty hit the back of Petr Cech’s net Chelsea fans may well have looked on with alarm in more ways than one. Although their club had been dumped out of the FA Cup on penalties, the performance throughout this, and previous matches, will be causing many a sleepless night for those at Stamford Bridge.
At no point during the match with Everton, in which Chelsea were the home side, did Carlo Ancelotti’s side appear to be the slightest bit in control. Everton, to take nothing away from them, performed exceptionally well throughout with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman threatening down the flanks, and Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, and Mikel Arteta controlled the midfield superbly.
In comparison Chelsea looked lost, bereft of ideas and, even more worryingly, tired. Didier Drogba offered little up front while Salomon Kalou and Ramires had little effect, fluttering through the match almost unnoticeably. Only Frank Lampard looked to inject any pace into Chelsea’s play, while Florent Malouda had some joy down the left at times but nowhere near as much as would be expected of a player who has amassed 63 caps for France and played in a World Cup final.
Back in the league Chelsea have picked up just 20 points from the last 48 hat have been available. That run has included twice losing to Liverpool as well as losses to Sunderland, Birmingham, Arsenal, and Wolves, while they have also dropped points against Newcastle, Everton, Tottenham, Aston Villa, and Fulham.
Although there have been some stand out performances in some of those matches, including that of Ben Foster who single-handedly kept out Drogba and Nikolas Anelka for Birmingham to triumph 1-0, there have also been a good deal of performances far below par. In the 3-0 loss to Sunderland at Stamford Bridge and the 3-1 loss to Arsenal they at no point looked like threatening as they played slow, one dimensional, and telegraphed football.
To say that the style of the play at Stamford Bridge this season has been unexpected would be incorrect. Chelsea have for a number of years now played a slow, passing style, injecting pace at the correct times to put in the killer pace and dissect the opposition. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were criticised throughout his reign for playing boring and unambitious football, however it was both effective and led to trophies.
It is amazing to think that the Chelsea side of this season, in which they currently lie outside the Champions League places in fifth and 12 points behind leaders Manchester United, is the same side that won the Premier League last time out, scoring 103 goals in the process and losing six matches. With just 12 matches left in the league this season Chelsea have already lost seven matches and have scored just 46. Although this is by no means relegation form and many a side would trade places with them at this stage in the season, it is not what has become expected of the Blues, bankrolled by Roman Abramovich’s millions.
Maybe the fact that the current squad is much the same as that triumphed in last season’s league is just the issue. The squad is aging throughout, Drogba, Lampard, John Terry, and Ashley Cole are all the wrong side of 30, and although their skill and ability has never been in question; maybe they are no longer able to supply that injection of pace that is required at the decisive time under the current system.
Equally, no one is questioning the ability of Ancelotti to manage, he has won league titles and cups in England and Italy as well as winning the Champions League as manager of AC Milan, there is only so much that any great manager can squeeze out of an aging squad. It would be interesting to see how the club would fair at this time under “Special One.”
The singing of Fernando Torres has been much criticised since he moved from Liverpool. It did not help the cause that his former employers prospered against his now current employers almost immediately after his signings. However, perhaps a signing of Torres’ quality, along with the strong athletic David Luiz, is just what is required to inject a new lease of life into this squad, even if the timing of the move has not been perfect.
The defence of Chelsea’s league title may be all but over for this season, much like their FA Cup campaign this time out, but if Abramovich does not spend yet more of his millions in the summer to lower to average age of the squad then his club’s ambitions next season could be over even sooner than they were this time out.