In a week where Chelsea were haunted by Jose Mourinho, the ghost of their former boss will once again loom over them after they lost more ground in the title race.
A 1-0 victory over Blackburn in February 2005 was largely acknowledged as the defining point of the Blues title charge that year. Chelsea approached their mission on that wet and windy night at Ewood Park with a resolve, a spirit and a focus which outlined Mourinho’s side as the premiere side in the Premier League. Today, at the same location, with the same prize at stake, Chelsea now appear anything but.
Their performance against a typically feisty Blackburn Rovers carried very few characteristics of a side that will – or even believe they will – win the league. It was another match in which more questions were raised when answers were needed. The facts can be construed in differing ways, but the worrying bare essentials which Carlo Ancelotti must address are – as his side cumbersomely stumble into the home straight – the Londoners’ recent form shows just four wins from eleven fixtures, two wins in the last six in the league, and only two wins in their last eight away league games – hardly the stuff of champions.
That sentiment could once again have been echoed here about an indifferent showing, which overall simply was not good enough. Despite dominating for large parts of the first half Chelsea did not possess enough quality or conviction to take the game from the reach of a Rover’s side missing a host of first team names. The condition has been diagnosed long ago, yet no cure has been found to input any zest or ingenuity into Chelsea’s play. As is nearly always the case, their passing was slow, lacking in urgency and far too often short spells of possession frittered away into nothing. With Frank Lampard on the periphery of things, creativity is in short supply and ignoring Didier Drogba’s goal, there were too few occasions in which the hosts stand-in goalkeeper Jason Brown was asked questions.
But there is another arm to their woes. A look at where Chelsea have dropped points this season shows a disturbing trend of succumbing once they have taken the lead. Four of their five league defeats have come from going a goal up – a sacrilege in the not too distant past. Here again, Ancelotti will be left to analyse where points went missing and will again be faced with the concession of a soft goal – too soft for champions. With twenty minutes to go, a routine throw-in was worked to Michel Salgado, John Obi Mikel obligingly stood off allowing the Spaniard to float over a tempting cross, which Paulo Ferreira stared admiringly at until El-Hadji Diouf got above him to nod home. A simple goal – made to look easy – for all the wrong reasons.
After that Chelsea could only muster a lukewarm retort and barring forcing a few corners and agricultural clearances, offered nothing to suggest they were hell-bent on leaving Lancashire with the maximum haul. The eclectic mix of a dip in form, a drain of confidence and amnesia of how to attain results couldn’t have come at a worse time. Time is not on their side to get it right.