The stats don’t lie. Chelsea’s opening 10 games brought about 25 points, while the next 16 fixtures saw the Stamford Bridge outfit net just 19 points – a dramatic slump that has led to a steady slide down the table. In that time, two very important players been taken away from the Blues for one reason or another, as talismanic players Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have failed to offer the same effect they did at the start of this season. The duo contributed a stunning 51 Premier League goals throughout last season as well as 30 assists, while this campaign they have assisted just 11 and scored 13 between them.
When the burden has been shifted to the likes of Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka – who both performed so well alongside their star duo for so much of last season – they have struggled to step up to the mark, instead losing form themselves. The loss of Lampard’s creativity for so much of the campaign has been a major reason of the team’s downfall. His stand-in – summer signing Ramires – has struggled to insert the same quality.
It hasn’t helped that their other reliable source of goals, Drogba, has found it difficult this season. The Ivorian has suffered with both a bout of malaria and the ever-imposing problem of his own petulance. While last season Ancelotti managed to bring the strong, deadly, workhorse of a striker that was deemed unplayable on so many occasions, he has reverted to the brooding, sulking and (at times) uninterested player that we saw so often under Luiz Felipe Scolari – and we all know how that ended.
But being denied full usage of your two most influential players shouldn’t see a side fall from grace so dramatically. It has raised huge questions regarding the size, age and quality of Chelsea’s squad. Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho and Joe Cole all left in the summer, leaving the Blues with a lack of real quality beyond their starting XI.
The fact that a large amount of the team’s most important players are the wrong side of 30 has also come under scrutiny, but they are the same players that were still considered world beaters six to nine months ago; it would be foolish to suggest that in such a short period of time, their bodies have suddenly let them down. It’s also worth pointing out that Ray Wilkins’ departure in the middle of November signified a run of six league games without a win, but it is unclear what affect the likeable assistant manager’s departure has actually had on the squad.
What is clear is that the side that took to the pitch against Fulham on Monday night is a far cry from the side that was sweeping aside similar opposition at the start of the campaign. With the title dream growing evermore unrealistic with each passing game, Champions League qualification is the rest of the season’s aim – and who would’ve predicted that going into November?