“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York” (Shakespeare- Richard III)
Yes, I know a bit of culture is always welcomed by the Soccerlens readers and who better than The Bard himself to open this piece? Of course Will actually meant that the time of discontent was waning (in it’s ‘winter’), while I borrow the great man’s phrase to suggest that down Stamford Bridge way the words winter and discontent are becoming synonymous in recent seasons.
Chelsea started the season as most people’s favourites for the title. A mature team with unquestionable strength in depth, there were no significant departures over the summer and a couple of promising additions in Zirchov and Sturridge.
Add to that the addition of a manager with impeccable credentials, a proven winner, and it wasn’t hard to decide where to place your bets. In contrast, their main rivals all lost key players and failed (in the eyes of most observers) to strengthen sufficiently.
And so Chelsea shot out of the blocks with six straight wins, leaving nobody in any doubt as to their ability to deliver. An unexpected blip occurred with defeats at Wigan and Villa but Ancelotti dusted down his troops and sent them on to record five straight wins, scoring 17 goals and keeping 5 clean sheets in the process. Arch rivals Manchester United and Arsenal were dispensed with in that run. The 3-0 dismissal of Arsenal brought-up a 5 point lead at the top and the signs for the ‘rest’ were ominous.
The middle ‘third’ of the season last year saw Chelsea’s demise as the Scolari regime crumbled and 19 points were dropped in 12 games. With a strong start and finish to the season, it was this period that cost Chelsea a shot at the title…..and of course, after an equally strong start this season you just knew that it couldn’t happen again.
But what is it with Chelsea and winter? In the 2006/7 season their record was W6-D5-L1 in the middle 12 games of the season; just 6 wins and 13 points dropped….and it cost them.
2008-9 saw a record of W4-D5-L3 and a massive 19 points dropped of the 31 they dropped for the entire season. 2007-8 was the exception where they recored 9 wins, 2 draws and just 1 defeat in that period.
And so we reached the 13 game point this season wondering whether the winter chill would get to them once again. But off they went to the Emirates and thumped Arsenal 3-0. Nuff said! It was a case of whether one of the chasers could hang onto their coat tails and just maybe keep the competition alive for a little longer. Let’s not forget than in Chelsea’s two title winning seasons the race was all but over by February.
Fast forward to today and we find ourselves with 7 of the 12 ‘middle’ games of the season completed….and Chelsea with a record of W3-D3-L1; 9 points dropped and totally unconvincing in the 2-1 home wins against Portsmouth and Fulham.
With significant injury problems both Arsenal and United have also dropped points recently but both seem to have steadied the ship and will be more than delighted to find themselves breathing down Chelsea’s neck. Both Wenger and Fergie have made statements to that effect just this week. It’s easy to explain their poor results….less so Chelsea’s.
So with several key players off to the ACN and Anelka and Essien injured can Chelsea rally in January and avoid another dismal winter? The fixture list has been kind to them but questions abound about the form of Cech and Terry, the goalscoring of Lampard and the ‘diamond’ formation (interestingly abandoned by Ancelotti half way through the Fulham game, to good effect.)
We enter the New Year with Chelsea on top but you have to ask whether that would be the case if both United and Arsenal had had better luck on the injury front. It’s not inconceivable that, come February, Chelsea could be looking up at those two in the title race and find themselves, once again, in 3rd position…..unless of course they can dispense with the winter blues.
Still favourites?….yes in my book but only by a whisker and I certainly wouldn’t put any money on it.
Ancelotti is never going to become another Scolari but right now he has work to do and the sunshine that went with his early months in charge has disappeared. The clouds have gathered and all looks different in the bleak of winter.
And that’s when Chelsea seem to get the blues!