2500: Chelsea: When does a 2 defeat
by : Hugh Larkin
As well as bringing inflation to transfers, player wages and ticket prices, Roman Abramovich’s transformation of Chelsea has also made a difference to what constitutes a crisis. There were reports this week that the Russian billionaire had gently sent a couple of associates down to the Bridge to enquire about the causes of two defeats in a row.
Not that Chelsea alone can be blamed for the absurd levels of expectation placed on teams in the Premiership. In the last two seasons the sum total of games lost by the title winners is one- the same number of losses suffered by Chelsea in this year’s competition.
Couple a loss at Manchester United with a 1-0 reverse at middling Spanish side Real Betis and at the very least you have an uncomfortable scenario for a club where winning has become a habit, even when playing below par.
Last year the team went down at Manchester City in the League, Newcastle in the FA Cup and Liverpool in the Champions League. Put the first down to early season teething, the second to a bizarre set of problems and the third to a linesman’s decision and Jose Mourinho was relatively unbothered. There were three other losses in the Champions’ League (Porto, Bayern Munich and Barcelona) – but ultimately none of them affected Chelsea’s progress.
Now he’s had his first taste of two defeats on the bounce and at least in the game with Betis, he felt moved to admit his team deserved to be beaten. He covered his retreat from Old Trafford with faint praise about United’s battling qualities but it still adds up to new territory for the side under his management.
Arsene Wenger- never one to be backward about events in West London- has been musing about the title race not being over and he has a point. The level of expectation on Chelsea’s players is phenomenal; having the best squad in the Premiership is one thing but when it is so much better than anyone else’s, second place just doesn’t appear as an option.
Chelsea simply have to put the show back on track- if they had any doubts about that then their owner’s ‘enquiries’ will provide encouragement. On the plus side, their next Champions League fixture is a visit to the perennial whipping boys of Anderlecht and that should offer every chance of a confidence boosting victory. Unfortunately before that trip, this weekend sees the visit of Newcastle United, exactly the sort of fixture to avoid at this juncture.
The Geordies are on a roll since Michael Owen arrived and most other players got out of the treatment room. With Owen’s goals to fire them up and Scott Parker with a point to prove, they are going to be difficult visitors to subdue and Chelsea have reached a pinnacle of performance where even a draw is going to be seen as a slowing of their momentum.
Three defeats on the spin is simply unthinkable. Were that to happen the media vultures would be circling and they might well be joined by the owner. The Newcastle game is the biggest contest for Mourinho and his players since last season’s Champions League semi-final and is a tremendous test of their credentials.
Should the Blues win the match, everything will be rosy again; if they draw it the question marks will continue and the Anderlecht game can’t come around quickly enough. Should they lose, it won’t be the end of the world but we will have a title race again. And Mr Abramovich might be asking his questions in person.
17 November 2005