Chelsea have been tipped for the Premier League crown for so long. In fact, they’ve been more than just tipped, with betting company Paddy Power actually paying out on bets placed on Chelsea to win the title, and doing so after only 11 games of the season.
This is, of course, just a publicity stunt from a notorious betting company, but it does show the confidence people have that the Blues will run out winners at the end of the season. Something they seem very close to doing so already.
Chelsea can now ‘concentrate on the league’ after bowing out of the Champions League at the hands of PSG, and the league is all they have left to play for.
But on Sunday, they looked lifeless, they didn’t look like league winners, and they definitely didn’t look like the Chelsea that gained that impressive points lead and convinced Paddy Power to pay out before Christmas.
Even the Chelsea of three weeks ago would have finished the chances they created against Southampton. They didn’t create many, and they didn’t look penetrative when in possession, but they did force Fraser Forster into some world class saves. I don’t think anyone would begrudge Southampton their draw, they were good value for it, and they had chances to win the game themselves. But all the talk is about Chelsea, who didn’t manage to grind out the win we are so used to seeing them snatch.
Yet there aren’t many ways that Chelsea can lose the title now. Seeing City or Arsenal go on a run reminiscent of Liverpool last season might scare Mourinho. If either team could put together a run that would see them win every game, there might be a title race yet. Arsenal still have Liverpool and Chelsea to play and wins in those two games would maybe set it up, but it would take a memorable comeback to do it.
City would be the more likely contenders, but they seem to have capitulated. We’ve heard about dressing-room bust-ups, and they just haven’t created the chances to win games recently, the drubbing of Newcastle aside. Losing to lowly Burnley seems to have been enough to get the rumour mill working at high-speed to figure out who City are going to seek out to replace Pellegrini whose job seems to be hanging by a thread.
The only team who can beat Chelsea seem to be Chelsea themselves.
At the weekend they looked listless in attack. They enjoyed some good passing moves, but they didn’t create enough in the final third to warrant a victory.
Defeat last week to PSG seems to have knocked some of the stuffing out of the Chelsea attack, and in particular Cesc Fabregas, who is now but a shadow of his pre-Christmas self.
We know the Spaniard can disappear in the second half of the season, we’ve seen as much at Arsenal. But we may have put this down simply to the now-traditional February/March capitulation in North London, but perhaps it is also a problem specific to Fabregas too.
The way in which Chelsea lost to PSG looks to be a bigger factor in this post-European exit hangover, than just defeat itself.
Fabregas et al, were given licence to control games and look to go for the jugular at the start of the season. Before Christmas, Fabregas ran the show, and Diego Costa stole it. It was this form that made Chelsea sure-fire favourites to win the league.
But against PSG, Mourinho decided that he didn’t trust his attackers enough to let them go in search of a goal to kill off the game. Instead, he brought on Kurt Zouma to try and stop PSG’s 10-men from getting a goal to take it to extra time. When extra time came, Drogba was thrown on up front, but by then PSG already had the confidence to go on to find the second away-goal to take them through.
Bringing on Drogba earlier would’ve occupied the PSG back-four with the physical presence of Drogba and Costa to contend with, making them think twice about coming forward. The two men up front would’ve given Chelsea an outlet for attack when they broke too. So bringing on an extra striker in that case wouldn’t have been an attacking move, necessarily – just one to make PSG think twice about pursuing a policy of all out attack. But it could’ve also allowed them to bring Fabregas, Hazard and Willian into the game. Mourinho didn’t seem to trust his attackers as much as he trusted defensive discipline.
This is one of the reasons Chelsea lost the tie, but it could have a knock-on effect to the confidence of the creative players in the Chelsea team.
If Chelsea are going to run away with the title, they’ll need to do more than just defend in games. And if they’re to attack, they need to have players like Fabregas and Hazard on form. If Mourinho doesn’t trust these players to go out and win games for the team, especially big games, Chelsea’s European hangover might last a little longer.
So expect more twists and turns to continue throughout the season’s run-in because on the evidence of this weekend, Chelsea haven’t got it in the bag just yet.