Chelsea may need a Plan C to stop their season disintegrating


Yesterday morning, Chelsea could look forward to ending their Saturday match with Manchester City just four points behind the so called champions-elect. A win in Wolverhampton followed by inflicting City’s first league loss would have installed Maurizio Sarri’s men as credible challengers entering the packed December schedule.

Four points. That was the dream. Instead, they could end it 13 points behind City and closer to 13th place than first. The Blues second successive away loss, this time a 2-1 defeat at Wolves, came as no big surprise to anyone who has watched them recently, but the repercussions are still going to reverberate around Stamford Bridge.

“Of course I’m disappointed,”Sarri said. “We played very well in the first half and could have killed the game.

“Suddenly we conceded a goal and we were not the same team. It’s very difficult for me to understand why – I can’t understand the reaction.

“We played very well for 55 minutes and then suddenly we were another team.”

Until 11 days ago, the club traded on its ‘unbeaten’ tag.

Two successive away losses have removed that. The defeat at Totttenham was comprehensive. Supporters will point out that Wolverhampton is only one of two places that Manchester City have failed to win. That ignores the reality that both Huddersfield and Watford have gone to Molineux and won. They had also just lost to Cardiff and were in their worst form since promotion.

Chelsea no longer host Manchester City this weekend in a game that could either destroy or provide a massive oxygen boost to the Blue’s faltering title credentials. They enter the match ten points behind City after their 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton on Wednesday.

Sarri started Andreas Christensen, Cesc Fabregas and Ruben Loftus-Cheek for the first time, the latter scored Chelsea’s goal to add to his strike against Fulham as a substitute last Sunday. He also recalled Alvaro Morata. If this fresh blood was his Plan B to erase the memory of recent lacklustre performances, the former Napoli manager is now looking for a Plan C.

The Blues have been consistently mediocre for some weeks now, with their performances against Crystal Palace, Everton, Tottenham and Fulham all a little plodding and the results reflecting the quality of the opposition more than any rise and fall in Chelsea’s own level.

After a great start to the season, Eden Hazard has not quite been the tormentor-in-chief he can be. More concerning is that David Luiz continues to be a weakness at the back, and it is not a question of if he will make a mistake but if will it cost his side a goal as it did against Manchester United, or merely a free kick or corner. His absence against Wolves was a belated recognition of that.

Ethan Ampadu in the crowd for an earlier fixture with Manchester United. Is the  Welsh international about to receive more playing time?

Many things that have been going consistently wrong in previous matches will have to come right unless Sarri jettisons a slew of experienced players and gives youth a chance with Ross Barkley and Loftus-Cheek as the most likely beneficiaries.

He will now have to go even deeper than he did in Wolverhampton with perhaps players like Ethan Ampadu poised to start and edging out the likes of Olivier Giroud.

Sarri has said he will continue to rotate Alvaro Morata and Giroud given the proximity between games. The Frenchman started in the Europa League last week and was given the nod on Sunday, but was generally ineffective.

Eden Hazard came through 90 minutes unscathed, but an ankle injury saw Barkley miss out. Loftus-Cheek has continued his impressive form of late. Marcos Alonso was out of sorts and his withdrawal with 15 minutes to go against Fulham is believed to be fatigue-related sparking rumours that he may be rested. Still he played the whole game against Wolves.

City consequently have a day’s extra rest but themselves made heavier work of a win at Watford than needed to be after the concession of a late goal after they had been on auto pilot for a good half hour.

Manager Pep Guardiola confirmed that Vincent Kompany’s withdrawal at Watford was due to cramp. He will be anxiously waiting on Sergio Aguero’s muscle issue after Gabriel Jesus turned in another sub par performance at Vicarage Road.

The Catalan boss will know that his charges will have to turn in a better performance against Chelsea but they are well capable of it. He’ll also have had an interrupted chance to scout the opposition in Wolverhampton. Little will have scared him.

Chelsea will have to play a great deal better than they have been doing and City perhaps even worse than at Watford for this fixture to do anything  other than widen the gap even further.

Then Sarri’s task to finish Top Four and qualify for the Champions League against two fellow London sides will put him under further pressure.


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