Club Focus – Chelsea – An off day but how many more are to follow?

Chelsea, for the first time this season, struggled to penetrate their opponents even after entering familiar territory of falling a goal behind. The west Londoners have rescued all three points after conceding first against Hull, Stoke and Sunderland this season but their efforts were of no avail against the Latics. Chelsea’s 100% record came to a halt by a team understandably happy to have changed their own fortunes after ending their 34-game barren spell against the top four sides.

Titus Bramble scored his third goal against the Blues after evading a typically competent defensive player from set-piece plays in Didier Drogba. The Ivorian did make amends with an instinctive finish at the right end after a driven ball into the box from the largely ineffective Florent Malouda. The French winger was then withdrawn from play albeit without the managers intent. Controversy arrived, as it so often does when a member of the ‘big four’ is stopped in their tracks, in the 53rd minute as Hugo Rodallega strolled freely into the box and passed Petr Cech, who raised a left leg to bring the Colombian down. Phil Dowd had no option but to award a spot kick and send the Chelsea keeper down the tunnel – Hilario replaced Malouda and his first action was to pick the ball out of the net. Chelsea pushed on although without notable chances, and it was always Wigan who appeared the more likely to score again which was confirmed in the 90th minute where, for once, it was not the Londoners finding a last-gasp saviour but Paul Sharner sinking all hopes with a finish from close range.

Questions will now be asked in a manner of over-reaction: how will Chelsea bounce back after not finding success in the latter stages? The result will spur little panic into a confident side after assured performances in previous games. However, the Blues will have learnt their inconsistent starts to Premier League fixtures will require change. Too often teams have broken down the Ancelotti side whose defence was concrete under the managerial reigns of Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink. Chelsea cannot simply rely on their last-minute goals to win them the league title this season, there needs to be more certainty in their performances – more goals are required from the midfield area. Frank Lampard is a proven twenty goals a season player and wider players, namely Malouda and Michael Ballack (who was privileged with a day off to celebrate his birthday) will also look to chip in. Rivals Liverpool in comparison have a plan B should Fernando Torres uncharacteristically not find the net – Dirk Kuyt, Yossi Benayoun, Steven Gerrard and even Glen Johnson have accumulated eleven goals between them. However when Drogba hasn’t scored or in Saturday’s case hasn’t scored enough, Chelsea have managed a total of just two goals from other areas.

The Blues will need to pick themselves up quickly with the tie against their Merseyside challengers on the horizon. But how much of an impact will the result have given to lesser teams who have largely, with the exception of Burnley’s win over Manchester United, been inept in their attempts to find inroads? Wigan may have provided encouragement to fellow strugglers although it is unlikely teams will follow suit in anything less than a defensive approach. Nonetheless Chelsea need to improve defensively. Although the formation is successful with attacking wing-backs, the real concern is the spaces left in-behind. Is the bombing pair of Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa causing vulnerability to a quick counter-attack? It appears that this is probable. There is no doubting their capabilities in aiding an attack, but their tendencies to push forward are offering opposing sides opportunities of which they are likely to take at least one. In Wigan’s case they took three but the truth be told a last ditch challenge from Terry and a point-blank range save prevented both Jason Scotland and Emmerson Boyce from adding to their lead.

Chelsea travel to Apoel Nicosia this week and it will be interesting to see how the side react to a travel abroad before returning to face the reds this Sunday. A start for Joe Cole is probable although Ashley is likely to be rested after hobbling off in Saturday’s defeat. So a slight headache for Ancelotti as the side prepare for tough period of fixtures in the coming weeks but nothing particularly problematic, ‘Carletto’s’ managerial expertise and years of experience will have faced tougher situations, of that you can be sure.

Chelsea Club Focus

Terry commits future to positive Blues set-up – July 29
Reading ask all the questions of Chelsea – August 5
Chelsea start as they mean to go on – August 12
Patience is a virtue – August 18
Christmas comes early for the Blues – August 21
Chelsea maintain 100% record – August 25
Blues to cruise over Burnley pot-hole – August 28
Cole-scoring prowess – September 1
Blues stunned by transfer ban – September 4
Ban dilemma for Blues – September 8
Blues look to bounce back from ban – September 11 Perfect start continues, just – September 15
Blues aim to follow in United’s footsteps – September 18
Ancelotti magic continues – September 22
Anelka to thrive with the return of Cole – September 25
An off day but how many more are to follow? – September 29

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