Club Focus – Chelsea – Premier League title to be decided at the Bridge

Chelsea are now in touching distance of the Premier League title that has evaded them since 2006 when Jose Mourinho last guided the side to league glory. Carlo Ancelotti may not have won all the plaudits over this campaign but should the Italian tactician achieve a domestic double he may be crowned Manager of The Year.

Chelsea and Manchester United have both dropped points throughout the season yet in the Blues’ last two games Ancelotti has been tactically faultless. Against Stoke City Chelsea were gung-ho in their approach, playing fast-paced, fluent football in the attacking third. The Londoners overpowered their opposition and scored freely with Frank Lampard a central figure in Chelsea’s dominance. Against Liverpool, despite a nervy start, Chelsea were tactically secure as they reduced Liverpool to minimum possession and their only threat was generated from long range shooting. Chelsea were gifted a goal from an unlikely source as Steven Gerrard misguided a ball back to Pepe Reina, allowing a sharp Didier Drogba to profit as he rounded the goalkeeper to start Chelsea’s ascendency. The England midfielder provoked memories of his infamous back pass in Euro 2004 when Thierry Henry swooped in to win a penalty, which Zinedine Zidane converted. England went on to lose the game 2-1.

Drogba’s goal seemed to settle Chelsea and they began to pull a tired and depleted Liverpool side apart as Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda preyed on Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel. Javier Mascherano was poor in possession and his positional awareness in his unfamiliar role at right-back was quickly set upon by Cole who adopted an attacking approach. The left-back has been in sensational form for Chelsea this campaign – his relationship with Malouda down the left flank prospered at the turn of the year to devastating effect. The Blues had a strong surge of form in the New Year and Cole was integral to it, until injury kept him out of the side for two months. The England international made his return last weekend as the Blues strolled to a 7-0 victory at home to Stoke. The 29-year-old may be reaching his final few years but his quality has never been questioned in a Chelsea shirt and his three goals and three assists provide evidence of his attacking mentality this season which is complimented defensively by no less than 14 clean sheets.

The defender had previously dismissed speculation when linked with a move abroad, however now that he and Cheryl Cole are due for separation, Cole may see this as the final chance to play the game in on the continent. Previous spells for English players in La Liga have been unsuccessful with Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate both failing to apply their attributes to the quick paced game, however Cole, in Mourinho’s opinion, is the best left-back in the world and capable of adapting to any league around. Should the former Arsenal man move abroad Chelsea would find it difficult to replace such a talented player with few other options available of similar quality. Patrice Evra is arguably the only like-for-like switch, however he is unlikely to leave United for rivals Chelsea, so can Patrick van Aanholt or Sam Hutchinson fill the player’s boots? This seems a long shot despite recent good displays when granted the opportunity and whether they would be able to sustain performances across four competitions would certainly beg questions. Ancelotti therefore has a difficult task to hold on to his key assets if Mourinho does secure a job at Real with unlimited funds and after seeing Mourinho take a number of players from Porto when he joined the Blues, the impact of a move to Real could be critical on Chelsea.

Chelsea’s celebrations were halted when Nani struck to seal three points away at Sunderland later in the day. The title then goes to the final day where the Blues host Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge. Wigan drew 2-2 with Hull City on Bank Holiday Monday yet their performances against the top four have been impressive this season and will certainly be looking to spoil the party on Sunday. Chelsea have strong home form although they know they cannot rely on this to see them through but three points is all it takes to seal an elusive Premier League title.


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