Club Focus – Chelsea – Fortune favours the French as Blues head to Tottenham in turmoil

Chelsea’s mid-season slump continued on Wednesday night as they lost their 100 per cent record in the Champions League with a 1-0 defeat to Olympique Marseille at the Stade Velodrome. Going into the match the Blues were looking to become only the fifth team and the first English club to win all six Group stage games in the Champions League, but the visitors endured a mixture of poor officiating, bad luck and another below par performance as they fell to their fourth defeat in eight games. Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti resisted the opportunity to rest many of his star names ahead of a busy Christmas programme, citing the need to get a morale-boosting result as his reason for a strong starting selection. Only Ashley Cole, Nicolas Anelka and John Obi Mikel remained in London for the dead-rubber tie against the reigning French champions, as both sides had secured progression to the last 16 of the Champions League prior to kick-off.

The denial of two apparent penalties in the first half hurt Chelsea, one of which Russian referee Vladislav Bezborov had originally (and correctly) signalled to the spot after Souleymane Diawara’s foul on Florent Malouda, only to change his mind on the advice of a lesser well-positioned linesman. The Senegalese defender then enjoyed further fortune after appearing to clip Salomon Kalou as the Chelsea forward raced towards goal, yet this time the offence was unseen by the officials. Both decisions may have deserved to be penalties and were likely bookable offences too, yet the French hosts took advantage of their luck to restrain their toothless opponents in the second half as the Blues struggled to assert themselves in front of goal. With ten minutes to go and having withdrawn Didier Drogba and John Terry from the fray, Chelsea were made to pay as Marseille’s Brazilian Brandao made the most of a deflected effort by unchallenged Taye Taiwo, the ball falling perfectly to the strikers’ feet who gave Petr Cech no chance in the Chelsea goal.

This weekend, third-placed Chelsea head to Tottenham Hotspur in desperate need of a result to keep pace with Arsenal and Manchester United who moved ahead of them in the Premier League last weekend, as a loss to the North Londoners would see their Sunday opponents close to within a point of them. White Hart Lane used to be Chelsea’s happiest of hunting grounds, affectionately nicknamed ‘Three Point Lane’ by their fans during a run from 1987-2006 without defeat, with nine wins coming in 14 Premier League fixtures.

However, since Tottenham’s 2-1 win over the Blues in November 2006, the tide has changed with the home side enjoying victory in three of the last four meetings in North London. With right-back Jose Bosingwa hobbling off the Marseille pitch with a hamstring injury late in the game and Ancelotti confirming his absence from Sunday’s match as a result, Tottenham’s Welsh wonder Gareth Bale will look to terrorise aging Blues full-back Paulo Ferreira as he did last season and has done to countless Premier League defenders this season. The 21-year-old winger hit the Spurs winner in their 2-1 triumph over Chelsea last season and has earned a great reputation at home and abroad with his performances in the Premier League and Champions League as Tottenham’s top scorer with nine goals this season.

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