The 2012/13 season will be remembered by Chelsea fans in one of two ways – tainted (relative) success, or a complete an utter failure. And the next eight days could define how this season is remembered. With Saturday’s trip to the South coast marking the start of a run of four matches in eight days across three competitions, how the team fares in that time could save or destroy our season.
After a recent run of poor form in Manchester, a second place finish is still possible and very much achievable. But failure to capitalise on that could leave us in hot water with two North London clubs hot on our tails. A game in hand is of some comfort but AVB’s Spurs side have been embarrassingly impressive this season and are more than capable of beating us to third or even second. And although it’s not likely considering the turmoil of their season, Arsene Wenger has never failed to qualify for the Champions League and he won’t allow his players to give up just yet. A match most fans would expect an easy three points just turned into a crucial, difficult away tie at a tricky Southampton side – see their comeback from two goals down at Stamford Bridge and amazing 3-1 win over Roberto Mancini’s flagging City side.
Two days later we seek to continue our love affair with the FA Cup. The comeback at Old Trafford was superb and we could’ve, and should’ve, won but for a typically unorthodox David de Gea save. It may not be Manchester United’s biggest priority as they go in search of reclaiming the Premier League title from their city rivals. But Sir Alex Ferguson is not one to let Rafa Benitez get one up on him so easily. Beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup would give even greater acclaim to a team who many believe have already wrapped up the title. By all accounts, Benitez loves to beat Ferguson as well. He will likely see this as one of the more important games this week.
The midweek tie against Rubin Kazan is easily the tie that Chelsea fans will care about the least. But how Benitez prioritises the week’s fixtures could shape it. He’s made it clear he wants to win it and it will be crucial to see whether he recognises that the club and fans see the league and FA Cup as the more important two. Nevertheless, if he and the team truly want to progress they cannot afford performances similar to the first leg of the previous two rounds. That importance is further compounding with Chelsea playing the first leg at home. The trip to Russia to face Rubin Kazan will be an extremely tough one. The Blues will need to take a lead into the second leg at the absolute least.
Then we finish off the gruelling week at home to Sunderland (at least three of the four games are at The Bridge). Of course, the importance of that game will depend on the outcome of this weekend. A win for us and losses for our rivals makes the Sunderland game slightly less important. A loss at Southampton and victories for our rivals make it absolutely vital. If everyone has the same result, it is just as important as this week. Regardless of the importance, it won’t be an easy game either. Yes, they are without their main goal scoring threat in Steven Fletcher and their captain, Lee Cattermole. But this is a team fighting a relegation battle. And we know from experience just how tough those teams can be.
Whatever the performances and results of the next four matches, it is sure to define our season. If we come through the next week the players will benefit from a huge confidence boost. Failure to do so would leave us in a very vulnerable position for the rest of the campaign.