Chelsea Club Focus - Champions League qualification a bridge too far?
Unbeaten in nine games, reaching the FA Cup final and taking a 1-0 lead against Barcelona into the second leg of the Champions League semi-final, it all sounds rosy. Except that with four league games remaining the coveted Champions League qualification places look like a distant dream for Chelsea right now.
The West Londoners went to North London for the lunchtime kick-off to face Arsenal, knowing nothing but a win would put them into real contention to qualify for Europe’s top competition. After Chelsea limped to a 0-0 draw however, fans and players alike were forced to look at other results and hope. Later on Saturday, Newcastle was in no mood to slip up and brushed Stoke City aside with ease to move up to fourth in the Premier League.
Chelsea are now stuck in sixth, four points off of the Geordies which currently occupy the final Champions League spot with only four games to play. The turnaround since Roberto Di Matteo took over has been nothing short of remarkable, but it seems draws could turn out to be Chelsea’s undoing come the end of the season.
Although the Blues have only been beaten once in their last seven games, three of those games have ended in draws, meaning six potential points were dropped. Those points at the business end of the season are crucial.
Di Matteo steadfastly refuses to believe the race for fourth is over. Speaking after the draw at the Emirates, he had this to say: "There are four games left and three home games - we've got a tough schedule but we can do it [finish in the top four]."
It seems fans do not share the same level of optimism as the Chelsea interim manager. On one of the club’s unofficial fan forums, The Shed End, comments like this after the Arsenal game were commonplace: “I think if we were sitting comfortably in a Champions League spot with this game sandwiched between the Barcelona semi-final most fans would be happy with this result. I think it's frustration due to the fact that we may miss out on the Champions League next season.”
Many would suggest that the Blues have to win all four of their remaining games to have any chance of finishing in the top four, especially as one of those games is against Newcastle at Stamford Bridge.
Looking back at the last four games at the end of last season however, does not bode well for Chelsea and their Champions League qualification prospects. The West Londoners took only four points from their last four games and were defeated twice. If such form were replicated in this campaign, qualification for the 2012/13 Champions League would remain a distant dream.
Of course this could all be academic. If Chelsea march on to the final of Europe’s elite competition and lift the famous trophy for the first time, Champions League qualification would be assured for next season and the club’s final league position would be conveniently forgotten.
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