Steaua Wed 11th Dec 2013 Kick Off: 7:45pm UK Venue: Stamford Bridge Comp: Champions League
Arsenal host Spurs/FA Cup draw
The FA Cup third-round draw has handed Arsenal a north London derby with neighbours Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium.
Hughes happy with response
Stoke boss Mark Hughes was delighted after goal hero Oussama Assaidi showed exactly the right response to being dropped.
Defence concerns Mourinho
Jose Mourinho admitted Chelsea's porous defence is "a big concern" after his side lost 3-2 at Stoke on Saturday.
Premier League round-up
David Moyes and Manchester United endured more home misery against Newcastle United, as their crown slipped a little further, while Chelsea and Manchester City squandered the opportunity to move within touching distance of the leaders as they dropped points on the road.
Perhaps my single greatest concern at this present moment is the lack of form the side is showing.
Other circumstances are all important, and they definitely play their part. Half-hearted performances, tactical naivety and dickhead referees have all served to blight the Blues this season, yet a poultry twelve points from the last thirty available is little better than relegation form. In fact Blackburn, Bolton and West Brom have won more games than the Blues over the course of the last ten matches. Only Wolves, Wigan, QPR and Aston Villa have accrued less points than Chelsea Football Club has recently, and to add insult to injury, three of the points picked up by Alex McCleish's side came against the Blues at Stamford Bridge on New Year's Eve.
Source: FA Premier League website
This horrific run in form - currently standing at a four-game winless streak in the Premier League - has seen the likes of Arsenal (14 points from the last 30), Newcastle (16 points from the last 30), and even 8th-placed Norwich (16 points from the last 30) all gain ground on Chelsea. In the case of the Gunners, their superior goal difference has taken them above the Blues and into the last of four Champions League spots.
This contrasts terribly with the form of the two Manchester clubs, who have taken 22 points from their last 10 games - and they have achieved this without playing particularly well, which is even more worrying. Tottenham's form is equally as impressive, with five wins and four draws from their last ten matches, whilst Sunderland have amassed the same amount of points as Harry Redknapp's men, coinciding with the arrival of Martin O'Neill on Weirside.
Scoring goals has not been a particular problem for Chelsea, as only the four sides currently sitting ahead of them have netted more times than Andre Villas-Boas' charges. Defensive lethargy may well be put to blame, especially when you consider the haphazard and laughable attempt at trying to defend a three-goal lead against the weakest Manchester United side in a decade left the Blues with egg on their faces and perilously close to succumbing to one of the most embarrassing capitulations of all-time (though taking a single point from that game still constitutes an epic failure on the players' part).
Actually, Chelsea's recent run has coincided with a reduction in the amount of goals scored per game, and an increase in defensive vulnerability. Sure enough, in 2012 the Blues have already doubled their tally of league clean sheets recorded from April to December 2011, but the loss of Didier Drogba to the African Cup of Nations and midfield duo Frank Lampard and Ramires to injury, as well as the shuddering lack of form and confidence about Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge at present has certainly affected the team.
Source: BBC Sport website
An even bigger loss has been John Terry's recent absence, as a niggling injury has prevented him from featuring in the last three matches - three matches that Chelsea have, frankly, been utterly appalling in defensively. Terry may not be the defensive lynch-pin he once was, but the ever-dependable ex-England skipper brings an air of authority, confidence and organisation to a backline featuring two helplessly out-of-form and fatigued full-backs. It comes without surprise that Chelsea have a better win percentage with Jose Bosingwa safely sat on the bench, but Ashley Cole has been equally as weak on the opposite flank, barely looking a shadow of the left-back he was even a year ago.
The same applies to Petr Cech, who has recently developed a case of paper-wrist-syndrome, having been beaten at Everton at the weekend by Denis Stracqualursi's tame effort. Then against Manchester United, he could only parry Hernandez' header (albeit from point-blank range) into the net. Against Arsenal and Aston Villa in 2011 he was equally as hopeless. Though he has saved the club on countless occasions (this season included), Cech may well be becoming a liability, though a leaky defence - such a description may well be complimentary - certainly has not helped aid the Czech, who remains, perhaps, the greatest goalkeeper in the history of the club.
The blame can only be throw at a small number of minorities. Firstly, Villas-Boas, for taking so much time over the summer to address the squad he had inherited from a manager that had lost his job because he had lost the dressing room; a dressing room consisting of a group of overpaid, underperforming, egotistical tossers whose only loyalty lies with their multi-million-pound sponsorships and exorbitant wages. The lack of quality in this team has been well-documented. It was papered-over by a Double-winning season, but a terrible run of fortune last season exposed those deficiencies for all to see, and the cracks are not only re-appearing now, but they are rapidly expanding. Andre had the chance to address this in the summer, and also in the Winter transfer window. Admittedly he did make signings, but a reserve team striker, a centre back, and an unproven winger who has been sent out on loan already was hardly what the supporters would have had in mind.
Another person to throw the blame at is Ron Gourlay. No, not Roman Abramovich. The Russian's obvious support for the club continues to be exercised by bank-rolling transfers costing millions, at last count an £18 million expenditure on the aforementioned Bamford, Cahill and de Bruyne. Other relatively recent acquisitions (Torres, Luiz, Lukaku, Mata and Ramires all included) shows his financial support. It is Ron Gourlay, the man petrified of spending even when absolutely necessary, and his fellow board members, who have denied Villas-Boas the funds to go out and buy world class players. Bids have been confirmed and interested admitted, but time and time again Chelsea have missed out on their targets, with Mata's arrival seemingly a fluke at best.
Alternatively you can look at the players. Their flaws are well-known, but rather than blaming Torres for his countless misses, the incredible inconsistency of the once-reliable quintet of Cech, Cole, Terry, Drogba and Lampard, the usual scapegoat contingent of Bosingwa, Kalou, Malouda and the now-departed Nicolas Anelka - or even tosspot referees like Howard Webb and Chris Foy (note the f, Tottenham fans) - we should look at the players we don't have. Like a playmaker, or wingers who can do that amazing thing of actually crossing a ball. A pair of new full-backs and a goalkeeper to keep Cech quite literally on his tip-toes wouldn't go amiss either. But this links back to the other guilty parties - gormless Gourlay and numbnuts Villas-Boas.
The bottom line is a point that aims to strike home a stunning reality. Chelsea currently occupy fifth place, and it might now even be considered optimistic to look forward to the Champions League next term - unless we somehow do a Liverpool and win it this time around. The Blues are in dire straits, certainly up Shit Creek, and without a paddle. The teams around us may be equally as inconsistent, but they do it well. And that is where our problems lies. Newcastle, Arsenal, Spurs, the two Manchester sides - they all play good football. Not necessarily good to watch, but certainly effective football that does the necessary. Even the likes of Sunderland and Norwich have recently possessed the sort of cutting-edge that earns European football.
At Chelsea, you can't really see that. But for a handful of players that are relied on time and time again to dig us out of the mire (namely the vision and trickery of Juan Mata, the drive of Ramires, the enthusiasm of David Luiz (so often an attacking conduit from the heart of defence) and the inconsistent indifference of Daniel Sturridge), there is no invention, there is no spark. There doesn't even seem to be the old Mourinho-instilled sense of determination that used to make up for a lack of attacking quality. The last true winger the club had was Arjen Robben, and the only real creative midfielders we've had in recent years, such as Tiago, have quickly moved on to ply their trade elsewhere. The desperate need for new blood has already been documented by myself and countless others, and we're going nowhere until we have creative talent aboard the Chelsea ship; a ship that is currently stranded upon an iceberg of the mundane and mediocre.
You can probably even see this continuing for another season or two, for this transition we all speak of has yet to begin, and will only commence once the dead wood has been removed and a new spine emerges. Emphasis will be put on summer signings and youth players like Lukaku, McEachran and Bertrand stepping to the fore.
It is a sobering thought, but Chelsea aren't going to improve any time soon. The only thing we can do at this stage is deal with it and hope for the best.
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