The reigning Premier League champions may have lost their grip at the top of English football, but few would have envisioned their dramatic slide which leaves them struggling to secure a top four finish as they look to catch up the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham.
Three wins in 11 Premier League games since the turn of the year, elimination from the Champions League and being knocked out of the Carabao Cup at the semi final stage by bitter rivals Arsenal has dampened the mood around Stamford Bridge after a season which promised so much.
With hopes of a top-four finish now in tatters, the only shot at redemption this season lies in the FA Cup with Southampton waiting in the last four at Wembley Stadium.
Almost a year on from being crowned Premier League champions, Chelsea look destined to miss out on the top four with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the club both on and off the pitch.
They are a club with huge potential and world-class individuals but their fragility and lack of belief is what appears to be overriding their otherwise brilliant team. The Blues have let a lead slip seven times and failed to get it back this season and their confidence is draining at an alarming rate.
Paul Merson believes the Blues could be on a slippery slope, with it possible that even a change in the dugout – amid ongoing talk of a summer exit for Antonio Conte – will not be enough to turn the blue tide.
The Sky Sports pundit wrote in a column for the Daily Star: “Chelsea are in danger of becoming another Arsenal and I don’t see how [Juventus boss] Max Allegri is going to stop that from happening.
“Antonio Conte is on his way out, but I can’t see the owner spending bundles of money in the summer. I can see Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois leaving.
“These are worrying times for Chelsea. I don’t see any way back for them. I think they’re going to be also-rans again next season. Other teams have come flying past them and will only get stronger. Tottenham and Liverpool are already ahead of them.
“Manchester United will spend big again. I don’t see City dropping out of the top four either, so Chelsea could be out of the Champions League for years to come in my opinion – just like Arsenal.”
In the first half of the campaign, Chelsea demonstrated the league winning character and arrogance that we saw throughout their 2016/17 title winning season. Notable 2-1 victories away at Tottenham and Atletico Madrid as well as the crazy 4-2 home win over Watford are fine examples.
However, since the turn of the year, Chelsea have restored their advantage and won a game just once – the 2-1 FA Cup quarter final win at Leicester – and even that required extra time.
In Jose Mourinho’s first tenure at the club, opponents could become visibly demoralised as soon as the Blues opened the scoring. Chelsea carried an aura about them but now the tide has changed and teams feel as though they are always in with a chance, even if they go a goal behind.
Chelsea’s defensive cohesion was all at sea as they finished 10th in 2015-16 and their vulnerabilities have surfaced once more in 2017-18.
In Premier League football it is easy to point the finger and shift the blame, but at Chelsea it appears to be a catalogue of factors with few willing to take the blame. The finger has understandably been pointed at the defence that, despite enjoying the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League until as recently as February, has failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games.
Injuries haven’t helped their cause and have been a constant factor which has dogged their inconsistent season.
There was Eden Hazard’s broken ankle last summer which limited his playing time at the start of the season. Some may say that the long season is beginning to take its toll on the Belgian who has failed to consistently hit the heights we all know he is capable of producing. This ultimately set the tone for Conte’s Chelsea with a variety of pulls, strains, and tears stunting their top four assault. Almost every single single senior player has missed time for one reason or another.
Three more players picked up injuries over the recent international break. Thibaut Courtois, Pedro, and Davide Zappacosta became the most recent players to spend time in the treatment room with the likes of Ross Barkley and David Luiz spending more time watching on from the stands rather than out on the pitch.
The future of Antonio Conte is another elephant in the room at Stamford Bridge. Despite winning the league title in his debut season in English football, ‘his’ summer signings have somewhat underwhelmed.
Alvaro Morata is a player completely shot of confidence, Tiemoue Bakayoko has failed to live up to his £36 million price tag and Antonio Rudiger may have displaced Gary Cahill, but he hasn’t shown the credentials to match his £31 million move from Roma.
There is no individual player to single out and not even one single area of the team to blame for this situation. Even the manager cannot be held to account for every poor decision made on the pitch. It is a collective responsibility and an issue that must be resolved if Chelsea are to bounce back next season, or risk falling further behind.
Chelsea can, however, salvage something from a forgettable campaign and they will need the support of their fans more than ever. Tickets for Chelsea games can be found online at Football Ticket Pad.
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