Club Focus – Chelsea – Title within touching distance

Chelsea’s midweek triumph over Bolton may not have been their most fluent of displays in recent weeks but the end result takes them one step closer to the Premier League title. The Blues’ victory sent a tremor down the league table as Manchester United can now only rue their mistakes in recent weeks and the pressure piled on Arsenal who slumped to defeat in the North London derby.

Derby games are always difficult to predict with both teams almost replacing points for pride. The underdogs often prevail as they are spurred on by their endearing fans. This may be the case on Saturday as Manchester City host their local rivals Manchester United. Defeat for United here could create a seven-point gap and effectively end a title race that is almost within Chelsea’s grasp. Regardless of United’s downfalls Chelsea must concentrate as they face their own derby battle at White Hart Lane. An in-form Tottenham are Chelsea’s opponents this weekend in the latter kick-off of the two key derbies at the summit of English football.

Although attention will be on the impact of Chelsea and Manchester United’s fortunes, Manchester City and Tottenham have their own race for fourth place which has gained momentum since Spurs overturned Arsenal on Wednesday night. Just one point separates fifth placed Spurs from Manchester City and this incentive may be crucial if they wish to dent another title challengers hopes in the space of four days. Tottenham played an attacking game and although they saw less of the ball were a sturdy outfit pre-Van Persie.

The Blues have began to successfully adapt to the injuries that had rocked their form just over a month ago, now with familiarity amongst the team, the Blues fluency has correlated. Brazilian centre-back Alex – who has recently occupied Ricardo Carvalho’s unattended position – has performed exceptionally well. Although he replicates the brute force and aerial ability of John Terry, as opposed to counter-acting Terry’s weaknesses, they have provided a resolute backline in recent weeks. Although both lack considerable pace they have been consistent in their defensive play of recent weeks, although Bolton did conjure what can at best be considered half chances in the recent game. The further introduction of experienced head Paulo Ferreira has successfully nullified threat down the wings by reading the play. However he was tested by Aston Villa’s pace – an attribute set to be replicated in Tottenham’s quick play.

Yuri Zhirkov has also been a revelation since the formidable task of replacing arguably the world’s best left-back, however he has done an admirable job. Although defensively he may not be as positional aware as Ashley Cole there is no doubt his attacking play down the left-flank has been of equal measure to his England colleague. The Russian is beginning to be an integral part of a possible double-winning side. Alongside a recently impressive Florent Malouda the pair have begun to gather an understanding in much the same way Cole and Malouda had done before Cole’s unfortunate injury.

With so many impressive performers in recent weeks it’s hard for Chelsea fans not to feel confident of a domestic double. No-one has been more crucial to what could be the most successful season in Chelsea history than potent finisher, Didier Drogba. The Ivorian has been integral to the Blues’ season providing 25 goals – just one behind Wayne Rooney who has stolen the plaudits throughout the season. Many forgetting that Drogba was away for the Africa Cup of Nations for a month yet he has still hit an astonishing amount of goals equalled by his all round play this year. His cross to set up Nicolas Anelka for the winning goal against Bolton encapsulated his abilities not only to thunder home goal after goal but to pick a pass.

With a tough game on the agenda, Chelsea must avoid complacency with United able to cut the gap to a mere point had the Blues worst case scenario occur. An away game at Liverpool lays ahead and necessitating a victory there is an issue all Chelsea fans will hope to avoid.

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