Stories of the 250-1 outsider emerging victorious are often more associated with horse-racing, yet this was exactly the case at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as Sunderland cantered their way across the finishing line with an emphatic 3-0 victory over the reigning champions. It is hard to believe even the most audacious of Black Cat’s fans would have backed their side to triumph in the manner in which they did, and the truth of the matter is that it could have been more.
Steve Bruce masterminded a historical victory over the Blues, condemning Carlo Ancelotti’s side to their first Premier League home defeat since February, during which time Chelsea had scored 46 goals and conceded just twice. A remarkable feat from Bruce’s side however, as crazy as it sounds, it had been coming.
Having begun the season as clear favourites to retain their title Chelsea picked up where they left off with a series of 6-0 thumpings, once again showcasing their ability to dispose of weaker opposition with the utmost conviction. Five wins from their opening five Premier League games reinforced the aura of invincibility that surrounded Ancelotti’s side at the end of the last campaign however, a run of three defeats in the last eight games has had the reverse effect. Chelsea were there for the taking on Sunday and Bruce’s men duly obliged as the Blues were humiliated in front of their own fans.
No Chelsea fan will deny that Sunday’s effort was a complete disaster and although it is hardly time to hit the panic button, there is definitely some cause for concern for the Stamford Bridge faithful. The last few weeks have begun to highlight some chinks in the Chelsea armour and there is a sudden realisation throughout the division that Chelsea aren’t quite the unstoppable force that they supposedly were.
Well documented injuries offer some explanation for the recent dip in form but what set them apart from their challengers last year was the strength in depth that they possessed in every position. There was a feeling throughout many Chelsea fan’s that Ancelotti may have let one too many players go in the summer after the departures of Ballack, Deco, Cole, Belletti and Carvalho and it only takes a glance at Sunday’s bench to realise they could be right. This is not to say Chelsea’s youngsters do not possess talent. There is a great belief in the likes of Joshua McEachran, Gael Kakuta and Jeffrey Bruma however; far too much is expected of them if they are called upon to rescue a game from the jaws of defeat like they were on Sunday.
The consistency of Frank Lampard has been sorely missed, especially with an out-of-sorts (and under the weather) Didier Drogba firing blanks. For a side who have developed a reputation for having a free-scoring attitude, one goal in the last three games is concerning. Sunday’s midfield looked stagnant with Lampard and Essien missing, Yuri Zhirkov was thoroughly disappointing and the jury is still out on the Brazilian Ramires as he continues to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League. It is becoming increasingly important that he does so sooner rather than later.
Yesterday’s news that regular centre backs John Terry and Alex are facing extended periods on the sidelines will come as a massive blow to the Blues fans. Although Branislav Ivanovic is highly rated at the club, Paulo Ferreira did not install any measure of confidence after a dismal display at the weekend in which he was regularly found wanting. The Serbian often had to make up extra ground to cover for him and almost got himself sent off doing so. The attacking philosophy of full backs Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa also meant that the centre back pairing were often outnumbered and whilst Terry and Alex may have been able to cope with this, Ferreira and Ivanovic could not. It once again highlighted what has become a worrying trend for the club in recent weeks. Ian Holloway’s Blackpool had Chelsea on the ropes at times and the following weeks have seen the likes of Liverpool, Blackburn and Sunderland really having a go at the Champions and they have looked vulnerable.
Whilst it must be said that the injury crisis at Stamford Bridge has hugely affected the team, it is a stone cold fact that Chelsea lack the strength in depth that they boasted throughout the last campaign. Two defeats in the last week have highlighted weaknesses all over the pitch, most notably the backline and although it may not yet be time to hit the panic button, alarm bells will be ringing for Chelsea fans. A tough trip to Birmingham after the international break will hardly seem like the ideal fixture for Ancelotti to right the wrongs of the last week. Alex McLeish’s side have made St Andrews somewhat of a fortress, with it being one of the few places that Chelsea failed to score at last year and if they fail to do so again then the chances are it may result in another defeat.
Two points clear at the top the Chelsea may be, but you can guarantee the rest of the league will all be wanting to play them now. Ancelotti has a job on his hands over in the coming weeks as he attempts to juggle injuries and suspensions with an underperforming team, but if the Italian has proved anything at Chelsea so far it’s that he is the right man for the job.