Club Focus – Chelsea – Win or bust for Blues’ Premier League title dreams

Chelsea welcome Blackburn Rovers to Stamford Bridge this Saturday looking to get their Premier League form back on track after the worrying slump that has seen them fall nine points behind leaders Manchester United.

Outside the top four and in a battle for Champions League qualification, the Blues’ pre-Christmas rot has continued with losses to Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wanderers sandwiching Chelsea’s sole win in nine matches, 1-0 over Bolton Wanderers, and their previous league match in front of the home supporters, the 3-3 draw with Aston Villa on January 2. The crisis in confidence and series of bad results now extends to the club’s worst run in 15 years with just 10 points taken from 33 available since the beginning of November.

The Blues need to reignite their stuttering league record against a side that until recently regularly enjoyed their journey to Stamford Bridge. Between 1992 and 2004, Blackburn travelled south from Lancashire for ten league visits and returned unbeaten, winning five times and also drawing five. The tide seemingly turned shortly after the investment of owner Roman Abramovich in the West Londoners, as since a 4-0 win in November 2004, the Blues have failed just once in six games to beat their weekend visitors. Last season, Chelsea cantered to their biggest victory over Rovers in 45 years with a comfortable 5-0 win. A first half own goal by Blackburn defender Gael Givet gave the Blues a lead at the break with a second half double by Frank Lampard and goals by Michael Essien and Didier Drogba ensured Ancelotti’s men coasted to three points.

This weekend, however, the fixture takes on significant importance for Chelsea given their recent freefall down the table. Anything other than a home win will continue to undermine the host’s chances of retaining their Premier League crown. Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti must make a difficult decision whether or not to recall Ivorian striker Drogba in favour of Daniel Sturridge, who impressed in the FA Cup last weekend, bagging two goals, while Essien, Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole should return to the Blues’ starting line-up.

Blackburn visit the Bridge currently in 10th place in the Premier League and are in sporadic form themselves during an eventful season at Ewood Park. Since their new owners, Indian poultry company Venky’s, decided to sack former manager Sam Allardyce on December 13 after just a four game probation, the club has won two out of five games under the guidance of temporary manager Steve Kean and flirted with football royalty in the rumour mills with the attempted signing of Brazilian Ronaldinho from Milan and talks of possible move for Diego Maradona as new manager. Their results away from Ewood Park have not brought them much joy this season, just three wins and one draw from 11 games on the road.

Meanwhile, Chelsea’s youth team followed in their senior counterparts’ footsteps by starting the defence of their FA Youth Cup with victory in the third round. After the senior side progressed to the fourth round with the club’s biggest FA Cup win in 103 years last weekend, a 7-0 home rout of Ipswich Town, the youth team followed suit on Thursday with a 2-0 triumph away to Sunderland thanks to goals from reserve team regular 16-year-old Nathaniel Chalobah and left-midfielder George Saville to set up a fourth round date with Arsenal.

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