Club Focus – Chelsea – Champions Chelsea: where has it all gone so wrong?

Ailing Premier League title-holders Chelsea’s miserable season continued last weekend as their FA Cup reign was ended in a penalty shootout defeat to Everton, leaving the resuming Champions League as their only likely chance of silverware. Last May, the Blues were riding high as they secured the first League and Cup double in the club’s 105-year history. Yet just nine months later, insecurity seems to have set into an out-of-form squad and rumours continue to circle about the position of manager Carlo Ancelotti as the West London side enters a crucial final stretch of a season to forget to date. So where did the wheels fall off so dramatically for the side that enjoyed their most successful season just a year ago?

Many have pointed to the dismissal of Ray Wilkins as Chelsea assistant manager as the turning point of the season. He was a key figure in maligned Ancelotti’s managerial unit, a valid cog at a harmonious Stamford Bridge as the Blues topped the table in early November. However, since his departure, his former side have picked up just 17 points in 14 Premier League games and won only six from 18 matches in all competitions. Wilkins was seen as a vital go-between the manager and players, a legend at the club and high in the affections of the players and fans. Now Ancelotti appears isolated and at times lost on the sidelines without the advice of his former consultant during a difficult period.

Though Fernando Torres and David Luiz made big money moves in January, the Blues failure to sufficiently strengthen a thinning squad after a summer overhaul has come back to haunt them. First choice centre-back Alex and crucially Frank Lampard missed long periods of the Blues’ campaign, particularly their winter struggle, while long-term injuries to fringe players, e.g. Yuri Zhirkov and Yossi Benayoun restricted Ancelotti’s options from the bench. 17-year-old youth prospect Joshua McEachran has made exciting progress this season but has found opportunities frustratingly limited to just three starts and 11 substitute appearances, though he is expected to play a big part in Chelsea’s future midfield.

Similarly, Stamford Bridge is no longer the fortress it once was. Only once since 2003/04 have the Blues lost more than once at home in the League; this year they have been beaten by Sunderland and Liverpool, with Newcastle and Everton eliminating them from the Carling Cup and FA Cup respectively in front of their own fans. Away from home Chelsea have struggled too, winning just five of 14 games, enduring five defeats on the road. Teams appear a lot more confident in being able to nullify a struggling attack, as the Blues threat in the final third appears to have slackened after a record-breaking 103 Premier League goals last term. The Blues have failed to score on eight occasions this season, compared to just once in their title-winning season.

Fifth in the table and 12 points behind with just 12 games of their Premier League reign remaining, including two fixtures against table-topping Manchester United and the visits to Stamford Bridge of fourth-placed rivals Manchester City and Tottenham, Chelsea’s participation in next season’s Champions League and Ancelotti’s job as manager could depend on them finding a way to lift the European Cup for the first time at Wembley come May.

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