The shock of losing our hefty unbeaten record in home league games in October was replaced by the desire to kick-start a new run in November, beginning with a visit from Sunderland.
Aside from the Liverpool defeat, October had been a good month for us as we began to show our potential with goals and emphatic wins as our evidence.
We continued the theme against the North-East side, trouncing them 5-0 in an entirely one-sided game. Alex scored the opener and Frank Lampard netted the fourth, but it was Nicolas Anelka who grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick. Chelsea were top of the league and loving it.
And then came a Champions League defeat to instantly dampen our spirits and again raise questions over Luis Felipe Scolari’s system. A sloppy ninety minutes against Roma proved that we did have some limitations, and we weren’t yet the finished article. Former Blue Christian Panucci opened the scoring as Chelsea’s defence switched off during a set-piece, and Roma went 2-0 up early in the second-half as a Mirko Vucinic long-ranger beat Petr Cech.
Vucinic wasn’t closed down adequately for that goal, and his second, and Roma’s third, was even worse from a Chelsea perspective. John Obi Mikel, settling into his holding role in the long-term absence of Michael Essien, lost the ball in Roma’s half and Vucinic began to head towards our goal. He tricked Mikel into sliding in and simply nicked the ball away from him and continued his journey to Cech. Slotting the ball past the goalkeeper, Vucinic put the Italian side 3-0 up. Chelsea were in disarray.
John Terry scored a consolation and Deco picked up two yellow cards – the second for taking a free-kick “too quickly” – as Chelsea crumbled in Rome.
A weekend win at a water-logged Blackburn papered over the cracks, as an Anelka brace secured the points, but consistency was to become a problem in November, as displayed by a League Cup tie against Championship side Burnley.
At home, against lower league opposition, a routine win was on the cards. Needless to say, events took a turn for the worse once the football actually began. Didier Drogba – blighted by injury so far this season – scored the first of the game but attracted controversy during his celebration, chucking a coin thrown at him back where it came from into the throng of Burnley fans.
Worse was to come for the Blues as one-time Premier League flop Ade Akinbiyi equalised for Burnley in the second-half, and Brian Jensen kept everything out at the other end. Chelsea could not find a way past the ‘keeper despite 30 minutes of extra-time, which meant the game would be settled by a penalty shoot-out.
Now Chelsea and victorious penalty shoot-outs don’t exactly go together, and unfortunately it was the same old story at the Bridge. Burnley won 5-4 on spot-kicks, and Chelsea exited the League Cup with a whimper.
A trip to Premier League whipping boys West Bromwich Albion was next up as the Blues aimed to save face following the Burnley debacle. Face was saved, goals were scored, points were won, and record-equalling tenth away win in a row was secured as Anelka added two to José Bosingwa’s opener.
Anelka’s recent golden touch was a relief for Chelsea as Drogba picked up a three-match ban for his charity work towards the Burnley fans. The Frenchman was leading the line superbly, and with only Franco di Santo waiting in the wings, Anelka was imperative for Chelsea’s hunt for success.
However, Anelka and the rest of the line-up could not find a way past Newcastle United, the next visitors to the Bridge, in a frustrating league game. On the same weekend, Liverpool drew, Manchester Untied drew, and Arsenal lost, which meant that although we didn’t lose ground, we missed an opportunity to pull away from our main title rivals.
In many of the games we lost and drew up to this point, it had been a similar story in almost every match. We missed out on wins because of a lack of chances, and we didn’t create enough chances because our attacking style was stifled by the opposition. Instead of changing our ways, Scolari persisted with this preferred formation but ultimately, we ended up fruitless in games like Newcastle at home.
0-0 was the final score, and murmurs of discontent amongst Chelsea fans were growing.
A 1-1 draw at Bordeaux in the Champions League the Wednesday after did nothing to appease the doubters, with chances again at a premium for Chelsea. Anelka scored again to put the Blues 1-0 up, but a free header from a corner snatched a point for the French side. Lampard saw red for a reckless lunge late on, while Scolari sent the tabloid journalists into overdrive by joking that he may as well go back to Brazil if Chelsea did not beat Cluj in their final Champions League group game. Many Chelsea fans would have dipped into their pockets for him.
In fact, some may have thought about chartering their own flight so they could see him off at the airport after the next league game. Arsenal were the visitors to the Bridge, and, inexplicably, Arsenal were the winners at the Bridge.
Arsene Wenger’s young side had struggled to keep pace with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea this season but with the Blues in inconsistent form in November, they must have fancied their chances. Although Johan Djourou’s own goal gave us the lead, two goals from Robin van Persie (one of which was blatantly offside) gave Arsenal a shock win and further increased the pressure on Scolari.
That pressure was to continue throughout the coming months, until finally it reached a point where his position became untenable. November’s events may well have been a defining factor in the eventual departure of Luis Felipe Scolari.