With the much-needed home victory over Manchester City on Monday night and the assured performance in the Champions League last week, have Chelsea turned a corner and has Andre Villas-Boas finally got the side looking like genuine title contenders?
Along with the introduction of new players, a new style of play and a Portuguese manager still finding his feet in a vastly superior Premier League, do recent performances suggest there could be optimism and that the recent losses to top four contenders are a thing of the past?
Yes, Chelsea are still a side with their problems: the departures of a number of former key figures in the squad is needed to necessitate the smooth transition in style of play, the bedding in of young players who are experiencing the rigors of a top-flight league for the first time, yet possess the talent to succeed, and, of course, the small matter of Fernando Torres.
But while these difficulties may have been at the fore of Andre Villas-Boas’ side in the past, Chelsea have managed to put in two very convincing performances and have done so with the means they have available to them. The previously overlooked Didier Drogba, who is clearly not going to play the number of games of previous years, looks more than capable of continuing to offer the same kind of threat and power. His desire to help his team on Monday night was telling as he battled to retain possession in the dying minutes and caused a number of problems for the Manchester City defence.
Similarly, Frank Lampard’s match-winning penalty seemed almost scripted. A player who has offered so much to the club has had to take on a peripheral role as Villas-Boas now looks to players he believes are more capable of implementing his style of football. But the 33-year old England international is exactly the type of player that helps a club win matches such as this, and, in the long run, he will be seen to be a vital asset to a club with any future title ambitions.
But what we’re seeing on the pitch is of greater interest; do Chelsea look like they are adapting to Andre Villas-Boas’ demands for possession football? The high defensive line we’ve been accustomed to seeing looks to be gone as the Chelsea defenders looked to drop much deeper and remain compact against the Manchester City attack. David Luiz’s reckless play in defence seems to have been addressed by the manager and the side are looking to eradicate gifted goals to the opposition.
At the same time, Oriol Romeu has shown just why he was coveted by a number of top European clubs over the summer. The former Barcelona midfielder has adapted well to the Premier League and has excelled at the pivot-role in the Chelsea midfield. His ability to win the ball back, play his way out from the back and initiate counter-attacking moves are qualities that are reminiscent of his former team-mates at the Nou Camp.
But perhaps one of the biggest catalysts for Chelsea’s re-emergence as top four and title contenders are the performances of Daniel Sturridge. While asking to be accommodated in a more central role, Sturridge has performed exceptionally well from the wide right, finding room to cut inside, due to the work Didier Drobga puts in centrally, and contributing greatly to Chelsea’s threat in-front of goal. Juan Mata has done well to link up with Sturridge on a number of occasions – the England international’s pace and ability to go past the full-backs have been used to great effect in the final third.
However despite this, the job is not done for this Chelsea side. There will need to be a balance in juggling fringe players and maintaining a good run of form. The Champions League knock-out stages are luckily still far in the distance and there is the comfort of the January transfer window to continue the rebuilding process. But what is certain is that, despite only two home victories, this is a side who appear to have turned a corner and have put in the necessary performances to see off two very good sides whilst under pressure.