|Do Chelsea still have the stomach for the fight?
||[Jan. 5th, 2009|09:34 am]
If you have a problem accepting Chelsea’s home defeats this season by their title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, not to mention the Stamford Bridge draw with Manchester United, then you question their whole credentials for the Barclays Premier League Champions crown.
If you point to the alarming sequence of dropped League points this season against struggling opponents like Tottenham, Fulham, West Ham and Newcastle plus the draw with hardly unbeatable Everton, then you make a powerful case to write off Chelsea’s chances of regaining the English League title, even prior to this Saturday’s crucial game at Manchester United.
And if you consider the clear lessons to be learned from Saturday’s 1-1 home draw in the F.A.Cup with lowly Southend, then you must come to a definitive conclusion. Opponents have lost their fear of playing Chelsea.
The formidable reputation of the club under Jose Mourinho, a team of fighters built in the image of their manager, carried them through so many potentially tricky tasks. But under Luiz Felipe Scolari, that aura seems to have disappeared.
It is absurd to suggest, as some are now doing, that Chelsea are throwing away any possible Championship challenge because they can’t score goals. 40 in 20 games hardly suggests a drought – if it is, then every other club in the Premiership, none of which can match the Blues’ tally, is in crisis.
Under fire Scolari says he does not expect to make any signings in the January transfer window and you can understand why. Nicolas Anelka is the leading scorer in the Premier League with 14 and midfielder Frank Lampard is joint fifth, with 8 goals.
To see the root of Chelsea’s problems, one must look deeper. Inevitably, you find a difficulty with the team which lies at the heart of their troubles.
Chelsea, for whatever reason, have currently lost their killer touch. They can set teams up for defeat – they created 15 goal scoring chances against little Southend alone – but they cannot finish them off. But that failing involves more than just the front runners.
But whether that is attributable to a lack of real hunger among men earning such fabulous sums of money that a new Ferrari a month is a perfectly feasible shopping target, we cannot know. Indeed, it is doubtful whether even Scolari can tell. Players will continue to work, to train assiduously and prepare professionally. Only they know, deep down, whether that insatiable drive for continuing success continues to burn as brightly within their souls, as it clearly once did.
This is a question we need not raise for Sir Alex Ferguson's men. With Scolari's stars, it may be another matter.
Scolari shows his maturity by refusing to rush into the street waving a fat cheque book to solve his ills. Besides, can anyone seriously suggest that with the likes of Lampard, Anelka, Drogba, Mikel, Terry, Ballack, Joe Cole, Bosingwa, Carvalho, Cech and a multitude of others, Chelsea lack either the quality or ability to finish top of the pile?
Their front three against Southend, Didier Drogba, Joe Cole and goal scorer Salomon Kalou cost almost £40million.
Scolari says he needs to teach his players greater concentration in front of goal. But it may not be as simple as that. Restoring the craving hunger for success every time they go out, a quality inculcated so diligently by Mourinho, may be Scolari’s prime task in this second half of the season.
There would be no better place to start rediscovering such a trait than Old Trafford this weekend.