Possibly an over-dramatic statement, but ultimately the stats show Chelsea on a run of four games without a victory and a top side leaking goals from set plays. Despite encompassing an entourage of talent throughout the squad, the Blues still appear disturbingly weak from one of the games basic elements. Set plays have resulted in a number of points falling astray of the Londoners grasp, most notably a defeat to Aston Villa and now Saturday’s high scoring draw.
Goals from Aston Villa centre backs Richard Dunne and James Collins respectively were enough to sink Chelsea to a 2-1 defeat both arriving from Ashley Young set pieces. The Blues proceeded to concede on three occasions against Everton, despite withholding the strongest defence in the Premier League. The Londoners have seen just one goal pass their solid backline in front of their home fans this season, on the ball in the opening stages, capitalising on the Blues cautious start. The Toffees have scored a mere eight times on their travels so a 3-3 draw was anything but expected. A relieved David Moyes highlighted the role of Louis Saha in the Merseysiders resilient performance in London, twice equalising after falling behind. The Scotsman employed two up front a tactic that paid dividends with the away side enjoying large spells.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti was largely unhappy with the result although very satisfied with the performance, and with reason to be. Chelsea were predators in front of goal, finishing exquisitely and attacking with intent throughout the game, dominating for the remaining quarter of an hour. Chelsea vice-captain Frank Lampard was quick to talk down both the slight blip in form and the impact of the African Cup of Nations. The England midfielder claimed it had been a difficult run in with every team fighting for everything and anything this season.
With the African quartet departing in mid January the Blues are likely to lose fundamental free kick specialists. With the Ivorian centre forward Drogba a pinnacle force defending, attacking and taking set plays himself, it is unlikely Anelka can produce the same. The loss of Jon Obi Mikel and Michael Essien also leave Chelsea without a strong presence in the area. Italian mastermind, Ancelotti has remained adamant that he will refrain from delving into January’s tasty transfer market , being content with his squad.
Many analysts are spotlighting Chelsea’s short term requirements for replacements with the African tournament, providing their most significant arguments. Contrary to this, the Blues boss must look deep to the future with an ageing squad and an indefinite transfer ban, he must make solid replacements for Michael Ballack, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho amongst others. The master tactician cannot lay sole responsibility on the youth system, this mistake has largely been made by their London rivals, Arsenal. Arsene Wenger has also relied on the youth products to fill the gaps of experience, the truth is the Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp mockeries have expectedly failed to deliver.
Lacking in the same class and wealth of experience, this is not to say it cannot be done as Sir Alex Ferguson proved to Alan Hansen when his collection of promise provided miracles. With this in mind, have the likes of Nemanja Matic, Gael Kakuta and Fabio Borini been bred through the same lines of production. There is no reason to say these hot prospects can’t recreate the youth team that saw David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes set the league on fire. The question is whether this is a gamble Chelsea and the fans would warrant.
The Blues face another struggling side this week, and it is imperative they bounce back to solidify their position. Manchester United’s defeat to Aston Villa was an unlikely relief but the Blues cannot rely on their rivals to drop points in comparison with their own poor form. A big result is needed this Wednesday as the Blues look to defer their opposition of any hope of walking away from the Bridge with points.