Momentum swung north this weekend after the worst case scenario for Chelsea fans was confirmed. A 93rd minute winner from Paul Scholes clearly had its impact on the Chelsea performance that followed when the Blues went to White Hart Lane.
An injury-time winner in the Manchester derby was exactly the kind of moment that may be pinpointed as the crucial shift in emphasis come the end of the season. Chelsea, clearly rocked after Scholes’ header, failed to regain the initiative. Had the Blues concentrated on their own performance they may well have silenced the celebrations in Manchester. Questions have to be asked of the club’s policy to allow the players to be aware of the score just moments before their own integral game. Jose Mourinho often phased out the outside world, ensuring his players played their game. It has to be considered that if this strict regime was put in place at the weekend Chelsea may well have taken a share of the spoils.
However, these ifs and buts are merely abstract thoughts with the facts being the Blues’ lead was cut to just one point at the summit of English football. The truth is, Chelsea’s largely experienced defence were put to the sword of Tottenham Hotspur’s pace and movement. Gareth Bale made an obvious impact as Paulo Ferreira failed to contain the winger’s versatility. Bale was able to take Ferreira on the flanks and come inside to great avail, with the Portuguese right-back highlighting the need for a reshuffle in the Blues’ ranks. Out with the old and in with the new will be the message after Alex and Ferreira were run ragged throughout both halves on Saturday. Jermain Defoe’s acceleration and movement up front caused both John Terry and Alex positional uncertainty – both were caught out by Defoe’s off-the-ball running. Alex and Terry were frequently wrong side of the Spurs attacking contingency which led to a number of fouls and eventually Terry’s duly-awarded dismissal.
Psychologically, Chelsea’s frame of mind was unsound as many seemed unwilling to replicate the form which had seen them win their previous four outings. Mental injuries were also evident, as John Obi Mikel and Didier Drogba’s niggles can best be described as suspect. Mikel signalled to come off five minutes before his removal, however during these five minutes he ran relentlessly and was seeing delivering long balls forward. The Nigerian showed no sign of fatigue nor a reported injury plaguing his game. Drogba also seemed to tweak a muscle on his return from the tunnel for the second half. This was quickly overcome when he could not be withdrawn due to Ancelotti using all three substitutions before the second half commenced. These injuries were surely signs of players who were not in the right mind set for a fight for a Premier League title.
Three games remain for Chelsea to ensure Premier League victory with the title still very much in their hands – they need not fear the ensuing flak after United’s recent victory. The Londoners do nonetheless travel to Anfield in the coming weeks – a game that will surely absorb much focus. This must not defer from the Blues next game however, as Stoke City have often thrown a spanner in the works at Chelsea. The same fixture last season required two late goals for the Blues to overturn a 1-0 deficit to the Potters. A tough outfit, Stoke will surely wish to mix it up at Stamford Bridge and this may be successful with the Blues missing their captain and centre-back Terry through suspension. The aerial presence of Alex will likely be met with the introduction of fellow powerhouses in the midfield, with Michael Ballack expected to replace Deco. The Portuguese magician failed to impress for the umpteenth time this weekend as once again his pace and strength were easily exposed by his opposition counter parts.
A difficult game against Stoke is on the horizon for Chelsea – who must win to avoid throwing the title away at such a late stage in the season. The fact remains that it is still very much their title to throw away and three wins ensures Premier League victory. Carlo Ancelotti must rid of the complacency that plagued their defeat at Tottenham. Fresh thoughts and faces will be introduced as the Blues look to entertain on their home turf.
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