On Saturday night the idea of no Chelsea games to stress about for a week was the only crumb of happiness you could cling to. Forget the football and have a week off. Unfortunately this little break without any premiership football has done nothing to calm the nerves. It’s a wonder I can type this article given the state of my finger nails. With only three games left to play in the league and one diminished point ahead many would have preferred a chance for the side to bounce back and thump a team midweek. Instead we’ve all had to dwell on yet another Manchester United last minute winner and a poor derby display which deservedly saw Spurs tighten a grip on fourth place. It was only the weekend before that we were in dreamland, so here’s hoping the emotional swingometer takes a nice upturn again this time round.
What little news has came out of the Bridge this week hasn’t been the happiest either. Obi Mikel has ligament damage and might miss the remaining games. The juggernaut replacement on the other treatment table is Michael Essien, now being widely tipped not to play again this term. To cap it all off contract talks have been put on hold until the end of season which could see Ballack and Joe Cole leave on a whim if they decided to. All it will take is Spurs to blow it against Man U on Saturday (let’s face it, that’s not unheard of) and we could be chasing the top spot. Thankfully, as it stands, we are still top and we are only three winnable games from clinching the title. I think a little time to regroup and come back stronger for these matches should do us the world of good. Given that the players have a week to train and analyse what went wrong last Saturday the side should be starting with renewed focus and all guns blazing come kick off.
There were a few disappointing problems at White Heart Lane but nothing too drastic that couldn’t be resolved this week. In simple terms too many key players had an off day and we paid the price for some incisive breaks from Spurs. Drogba never looked at his best and meant we lacked a cutting edge at times, Deco wasn’t high enough up the pitch to influence anything and Paulo had a complete nightmare evening against Bale. Ballack then continued his recent poor form, magically disappearing from the match again only to pop up with a sweet cross for Lampard’s consolation. JT also had as dire a performance as we’ve seen since Everton away, he stumbled, like he was punch drunk, into challenges and completely lost his composure for the second yellow card. Given the media attention of our previous games it was obvious the referee couldn’t wait to make amends, first the penalty, which was still as vague and unclear after numerous replays, and then the sending off. The press who questioned JT’s ability and form off the back of this one game really need to get a grip though. I thought the witch hunt season had finished. A big hand in our recent good form has stemmed from the rock solid partnership of Alex and Terry in defence, something that haven’t gone unappreciated by the Chelsea faithful even if it seems to have passed Fleet street by.
Given the players missing the Stoke City game might be one where Ancelotti goes for broke and puts out a very attacking side to secure the three priceless points. Taking into account the form of Zhirkov it would be madness to drop him but I think the return of Ashley Cole could see the pacy Russian move into midfield. With Malouda tucked inside closer to the frontline that would offer some real speed and width on the left. Deco would be a more attack-minded player as ancor and is capable of keeping the ball zipping along in this position quite easily. However he is lacking aerially and, especially against the Delap hurling Stoke, that might mean that Belletti or Ballack will start. Drogba was isolated at times against Spurs and having Anelka starting alongside him would certainly give the central defenders more to worry about. I would expect Joe Cole’s superior work ethic would see him get the nod against Liverpool the following week. Whatever Carlo decides to go with changes in personnel will be needed on Sunday and it’s vital he gets the balance right. Three points will mean we remain, where we deserve to be, at the top of league.