So – after a four game period without a win – who are we to believe? Carlo Ancelotti, who has been screaming ‘don’t panic’ at every opportunity since the Carling Cup elimination, or the media (and some other Chelsea bloggers), who are claiming Chelsea are in the midst of some form of meltdown? The truth is, Ancelotti is right to ease fears at Stamford Bridge, although a worrying trend does provide cause for concern.
Looking at each of the last four games in turn dispassionately it is hard to find huge cause for concern with an individual Chelsea performance.
Ancelotti fielded a below-strength team against Blackburn in the Carling Cup and the result could have very easily gone the other way. Yes, the makeshift defence did haemorrhage three goals in the game, but the team scored three at the other end and played the last 20 minutes, plus extra time, down to ten men. With a dubious recent record on penalties, Chelsea fans’ expectations wouldn’t have been sky high come spot-kicks and, once Ballack had missed (who knew that was even possible?), it clearly wasn’t to be.
The unexpected draw against Apoel can more or less be written off, too: you can’t read much into a game in which the result doesn’t matter. Regardless, in the end it was only Mikel’s error that gifted the opposition with an equaliser: up until that point Chelsea had been coasting towards a comfortable win having not broken sweat over 85 minutes.
Sunday’s game draw with Everton was similarly frustrating. Chelsea were clearly the superior side, having some 65% of possession and over double the number of shots on goal. Drogba and Anelka were on fire, but some shoddy defending of set pieces and, it must be said, terrible luck meant their work wouldn’t reap full reward. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.
Of the last four games, the match at Eastlands is the only anomaly - on the day Chelsea deserved to lose against City. Even then however the result could have been different: Drogba and Ivanovic both spurned great chances to score and Lampard missed from the spot.
Looking at the games individually then, other circumstances have contributed to imperfect results. And, from an attacking perspective, performances have remained consistent. A respectable nine goals were scored across those four games – almost exactly the same scoring rate as in Chelsea’s previous 21 matches this season.
In light of all that, Chelsea’s defensive ‘weakness’ from set pieces is comfortably the most worrying thing about the recent performances. But what is concerning isn’t that the weakness exists, or even that there seemed to be uncharacteristic panic in the penalty box against Everton on Saturday. This weakness first reared its head months ago (and arguably has its roots in Scolari-era Chelsea). Surely there can be no excuses for a defence packed-full of top class players and coached by an experienced manager not correcting the problem?
The real concern is therefore that this is an old problem and one that hasn’t been successfully addressed. Cech and the defence need to sweat blood and tears with Ancelotti now to get back on target. It’s worth saying as an aside that it is nonsense to believe, as some Chelsea fans have written elsewhere (including the otherwise excellent Chelsea blog at The Offside), that Terry, Carvalho or particularly Cech have become bad players overnight. Prior to the Blackburn game the Chelsea defence had conceded on average just a goal every two games – a very good record indeed.
Set pieces are often critical to the outcome of a match and need to be taken seriously. They cost Chelsea points on Saturday and, perhaps crucially, momentum in the title race. But whilst it’s no crisis now and the team is sure to come out of this poor spell sooner rather than later, allowing this weakness to perpetuate across the season will seriously damage Chelsea’s chances of silverware come May.
What do you think? Am I underestimating the problem? Post a comment…