Will Chelsea’s impossible schedule end in cheers or tears?

Chelsea’s victory over Rubin Kazan and the subsequent draw which pits Chelsea against FC Basel should provide a feel good factor. After all, if Chelsea reaches the final, Fenerbahce or most probably Benfica, are teams that a fully focused Chelsea should be able to beat in a one off final.

Chelsea faces the significantly more daunting prospect of a semi-final against Manchester City in the FA Cup; a Manchester City team fully rested following their morale boosting victory against Manchester United at Old Trafford last Monday. Victory over City would mean a final against either Wigan or Millwall, both of whom Chelsea would expect to beat.

So potentially Chelsea could be in two major cup finals, in the space of four days in May.  For any team this should be the highlight of the season; but in Chelsea’s case it looks like a potential train crash, because of a league schedule that will see them play too many vital games in too short a space of time.

In the worst case/best case scenario Chelsea will lose both semi-finals, enabling them to fit the outstanding home game against Tottenham on 15th May, the night of the Europa League final.  That would mean Chelsea playing their last four league games, away to Manchester United, Aston Villa and Everton, plus the Tottenham home game in the space of 20 days.  Still a daunting prospect with United looking for revenge following their FA Cup loss to Chelsea, a revived Aston Villa looking for payback after their 8-0 mauling at the Bridge and both Everton and Tottenham, both fighting for a top four place.

However what happens if Chelsea loses to Manchester City but beat Basel to reach the Europa League final? Suddenly there is no obvious date for the Tottenham league game, at least not without Chelsea being forced to play two games within 48 hours of each other.

Then there is the best case/worst case scenario with Chelsea beating Basel and Manchester City, to reach both finals, meaning that the Aston Villa game would be moved from 11th May and both that game and Tottenham would need to be fitted in before the end of the season.

Since the season must finish on Sunday 19th May, this means that those games would need to be squeezed in somewhere, with one of those games likely to take place between the Manchester United league game on the 5th May and the FA Cup final on the 11th.

Chelsea’s schedule if they reach both finals

Date Opponent Location Between games
Sun 14 April Manchester City Wembley
Wed 17 April Fulham Away +3 days
Sun 21 April Liverpool Away +4 days
Thurs 25 April FC Basel Away +4 days
Sat 27 April Swansea City Home +2 days
Thurs 2 May FC Basel Home +5 days
Sun 5 May Manchester United Away +3 days
Sat 11 May FA Cup Final Wembley +6 days
Wed 15 May Europa League Final Amsterdam +4 days
Sun 19 May Everton Home +4 days
  Aston Villa Away
  Tottenham Hotspur Home

All of these scenarios are daunting, but with Chelsea’s relatively small squad heavily dependent on several key players it becomes an almost impossible task to chase silverware and more importantly a top four place in the league.This would leave the only possible options as being to play Basel on the 25th, Swansea on the 27th another league game on the 29th or 30th before playing the return game against Basel on 2nd May; meaning potentially playing four games in seven days.  Other than that it would mean playing a league game 48 hours either side of the Europa League final.But what of the other game?

The importance of those league points carelessly thrown away against Southampton, Reading and Queens Park Rangers mean that there is zero margin for error in the remaining seven league games.

In the perfect situation Chelsea would win both cups and gain a sufficient points total to finish in 3rd place; in the worst case scenario Chelsea could lose both finals and end outside the top four.

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Chelsea’s Big Challenge is About to Begin

The saying that there are lies, damned lies and statistics is attributed to the former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and was made popular by the American author Mark Twain. Well this saying could not be more apt in summing up Chelsea’s bizarre season and anyone wanting to take solace from recent improved games, will wonder whether future results will be a repeat of what we have already seen so far this season or are the beginning of a new winning trend.

After having played 53 competitive games since the season started in defeat to Manchester City in the Community Shield, Chelsea face a minimum of 12 matches until the season ends. Will the last game of the season end in glory for Chelsea or will a season that started with such positivity end in miserable failure?

So far Chelsea has lost 13 times in 53 games, so based on a one in four loss ratio, we can expect Chelsea to lose another three games before the season ends.  The team has managed to score four or more goals on 13 occasions, so once again we can expect to see Chelsea hit at least four goals on another three occasions.  Does this suggest that when Chelsea are good they are very good and when they are bad they are awful?

Looking at the results and more importantly the performances so far this season there is a clear pattern. Against those teams that play at a high tempo and physically intimidate, Chelsea tend to struggle; whilst against inferior teams which allow Chelsea to play their own game, it is easy for Chelsea to win games and score goals with ease.  If Hazard, Mata, Oscar are allowed to play then Chelsea look unbeatable, even with a very limited forward line.

Chelsea’s last four matches before the international break were a microcosm of the season as a whole, with an embarrassingly inept performance against Steau Bucharest in Romania.  This continued into the first quarter of an hour of the FA Cup game against Manchester United during which time it looked as if Chelsea could be on the end of a thrashing. By the end of that game is was United who were desperately hanging on for the draw as Chelsea and Eden Hazard in particular ran them ragged.

The return against Steau was a predictably tough match, but somehow a Chelsea victory always seemed probable against hard working but ultimately limited opposition.  Chelsea then proceeded to destroy West Ham in a totally one side match; the only real surprise being that  Chelsea only scored twice, with Hazard once again imperious and Lampard inevitably scoring his 200th Chelsea goal.  So it was a real disappointment that the international break arrived to break the team’s momentum.

Chelsea’s ridiculous schedule of seven games in 18 days starts off with a trip to St. Mary’s to face a Southampton team, now under the management of the Argentinean Mauricio Pochettino.  Chelsea scored a resounding 5-1 FA Cup victory against Southampton at St. Mary’s in January, after trailing to an early goal and when the teams met a few weeks later in the league at Stamford Bridge another big Chelsea win looked likely when Chelsea led 2-0 at the break.  But not for the first time this season, the presence of a physically intimidating forward proved to be Chelsea’s undoing with Ricky Lambert scoring minutes after coming on as a second half substitution, with the equalizer following later in the game to give the Saints a share of the points.

Adkins reward for picking up a point at Stamford Bridge was to be replaced a few days later by Pochettino, who has had Southampton playing high tempo pressing football.  They sit just above the relegation zone and probably need only another couple of wins to guarantee their Premier League status.   In the eight games under their new manager, Southampton have recorded only two wins, both by a 3-1 score line, both at St. Mary’s, the first against Manchester City and in their last league game against Liverpool.

With Arsenal facing Reading and Tottenham away to Swansea City, Chelsea really do need to pick up maximum points in order to maintain their narrow points advantage over the north London teams.  Reading look certain to be relegated and have already conceded 12 times to Arsenal this season, so it is unlikely that Nigel Adkins in his first game in charge will be able to prevent the points going Arsenal’s way.  Spurs should also prove to be too strong for a Swansea team that will find it hard to be motivated, having already collected silverware and guaranteed European football next season.

So with Chelsea playing Manchester United in the FA Cup replay less than 48 hours later will Rafa Benitez pick his strongest possible lineup to face the Saints?  Benitez will probably want to add a trophy to his CV before leaving Chelsea at the end of the season; but for Chelsea finishing in a Champions League position is probably a bigger priority.

Manchester United definitely have an advantage in Monday’s lunchtime FA Cup replay.  Less so that they play at Sunderland two hours earlier than Chelsea play Southampton; but significantly because they have a massive 15 point lead at the top of the table and psychologically their game at Sunderland has far less impact than Chelsea’s.  United also have no European fixture to play during the week and this allows Ferguson to play a weakened side in the league and play his strongest eleven against Chelsea on Monday.

If there can be some positivity for Chelsea, it is that the creative part of the team is currently playing some sublime almost unstoppable football.  Eden Hazard has been almost unplayable, both for Chelsea and for Belgium, Juan Mata played virtually no football during the international break, so should be somewhat refreshed and Oscar has looked impressive when playing for Brazil, even if he has been somewhat peripheral at times for Chelsea.

The massive challenge facing Chelsea begins on Saturday afternoon with a 3pm kick off at Southampton in the league.  This is followed by the FA Cup quarter final replay against Manchester United on Monday at 12:45pm and continues with the first leg of the Europa League quarter final against Rubin Kazan at 20:05 on Thursday evening at Stamford Bridge.  If the Blues can successfully overcome these three very tough challenges, then there is every reason to believe that this fraught and underwhelming season will against all odds turn out to be a successful one.

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Next for Chelsea Bucharest and Old Trafford

I stopped writing about Chelsea at the end of October for two reasons.  First the articles were becoming too time consuming and secondly without any feedback I felt as if I was writing for myself.  Talking to oneself is regarded as being a sign of madness, maybe writing to yourself is also regarded as a sign of madness.  But without doubt supporting a dysfunctional club like Chelsea requires an element of masochism.

Having been questioned at the weekend by a supporter who said that he missed my verbal diarrhea, I decided that I would once again write some sort of match preview.

Four months is an eternity in football.  The last time I wrote an article about Chelsea, was a couple of days ahead of the the 5-4 Capital One cup victory over Manchester United.  Robbie Di Matteo was still manager; Chelsea sat at the top of the Premier league table, a point ahead of both Manchester clubs and Chelsea were still in a reasonable position to qualify in their Champions League group.

To say that everything was perfect at the Bridge would be an exaggeration.  In the space of a few days Chelsea had been comprehensively outplayed in the Champions League and were lucky to lose only 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk.  Following on from this defeat they suffered a damaging home loss to Manchester United for their first league defeat of the season, a game remembered more for the infamous Clattenburg ‘monkey’ incident, rather than the debatable red card given to Ivanovic after Chelsea had recovered from a two goal deficit.

Three weeks later, following a 3-0 humiliation in the Champions League against Juventus, Di Matteo was ruthlessly shown the door by Chelsea’s management.  With a brutality, a lack of class and total lack of respect, the manager who had given Chelsea one of their greatest ever triumphs was removed from his position after stepping off the flight back from Turin.

The Chelsea management obviously knew that appointing Rafa Benitez as manager, however temporary, was going to create a poisonous atmosphere among the supporters.  The reasons behind the appointment are known only to those who made the decision; but what is patently obvious is that Benitez was never the right fit for Chelsea.

His so called rant after the Middlesbrough cup win was far from a rant and actually was one of the first sensible press conferences he has given in his time at Chelsea; but his lack of warmth to Chelsea Football Club and the supporters in particular meant that he was never likely to receive anything but vitriol and antagonism.

His apparent lack of tactical intelligence, unimaginative substitutions and poor results have only helped damage any remaining credibility that he had. As one of the leading sports journalist remarked the other day, Rafa is always quick to blame others rather than himself when things go wrong.

With ten games to play until the end of the season, a top four finish is still within Chelsea’s hands; although even a five point advantage is not significant the way Chelsea have been playing in the past few weeks.

Fitting square pegs into round holes never works and it feels as if Chelsea have too many players playing out of position and in a style that they are not suited.  However good individual players may be, if the system doesn’t work then the results and performances will suffer.

Before the next league game against West Ham in two weeks, we have the small matter of two games against Steau Bucharest in the Europa League and more importantly Manchester United in the FA Cup Quarter Final at Old Trafford.

With Manchester United playing home to Real Madrid on Tuesday and Chelsea facing Steau in Bucharest on Thursday, Chelsea’s recovery time will be significantly less than that of United, although Chelsea can only blame themselves for failing to qualify from their Champions League group for this problem.

Steau have made steady progress in the Europa League, winning their group with relative ease, before surprisingly beating Ajax Amsterdam in a penalty shootout, after a 2-0 loss in the first leg.  They top their league by 13 points and had a comfortable 3-0 win at the weekend.

Chelsea’s biggest problem in progressing in the Europa League could be that it is lowest priority, even though victory will take them to the quarterfinals.  An even bigger issue might be the lack of firepower, with Fernando Torres being Chelsea’s only available forward.

Sunday’s game against Manchester United is a far more intimidating prospect, with the home team currently on a fine run of form.  The visit of Real Madrid will be a real test for Ferguson’s team, but as Chelsea showed in their victory at Goodison Park, it is against the better teams that Chelsea usually reserve their best performances.

The FA Cup has been Chelsea’s competition in recent years and incredibly the last time Chelsea lost an FA Cup game, other than on penalties (Everton in 2011) was against Barnsley in March 2008.

Chelsea have won the FA Cup four times since Manchester United last won the FA Cup and at the start of the competition, United’s manager said that winning the FA Cup was a major priority this season.

Whatever the results in our remaining league and cup games, my one wish, as someone who has supported Chelsea for more than 48 years, is that our owner makes a sensible decision when appointing a new manager.  Whoever is brought in to manage must be given sufficient time to develop and evolve the team, regardless of results and with no more knee jerk decisions.

With the wonderful players in the Chelsea squad and some very exciting and talented young prospects, there is no reason why Chelsea Football Club cannot challenge for every top honour for years to come as we thought would happen ten years ago when Roman Abramovich first came to Chelsea.

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Chelsea .v. Manchester United Capital One Cup preview

  • Chelsea need to play at a high tempo from the start
  • It’s time for retribution not revenge.

It is easy to look for scapegoats following Sunday’s defeat against Manchester United; but rather dwell on the shortcomings of the referee and his assistants; the focus should be on yet another very slow and lethargic start to the game by the entire Chelsea team.

Shakhtar Donetsk, Atletico Madrid, Juventus and now Manchester United have punished Chelsea for basic defensive errors; but there have been plenty of defensive vulnerabilities that lesser teams have failed to exploit.

While Di Matteo’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation should be defensively solid; it relies on the more attacking wide players to provide defensive support, something that is not being done to any great extent. This has left both Cole and Ivanovic exposed to counter attacks.

Ramires, whose rampaging runs from deep are often the key to opening up opposing defences, is not a natural holding midfielder and this often leaves the excellent Mikel exposed and outnumbered.

But regardless of the system played, basic carelessness and bad decision making have been the cause of Chelsea conceding too many soft goals, with both David Luiz and Cahill particularly culpable against United during a horrendous opening 20 minutes.

Chelsea should beat most opposition with their attacking options; but with crucial matches against Shakhtar, Juventus, Liverpool and Manchester City in the coming weeks; it is absolutely critical that Di Matteo ensures that the team begins each game at a higher tempo rather than treat the start of the game as if it were a training match.

Just as Lucescsu and Ferguson both pinpointed Chelsea’s defensive weaknesses, other managers will now be looking to do likewise.  Di Matteo can make the team more difficult to break down by focusing on the areas of weakness, without having to sacrifice anything in attack; but if these issues are not resolved then it won’t be easy to progress from the group stage of the Champions League nor remain at the top of the Premier League.

Chelsea face Manchester United in the Capital One Cup at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening with Torres, Ivanovic both suspended and with Lampard and Cole injured.

While the League Cup is regarded as the least important competition, winning against Manchester United means not only a place in the quarter final, but also the removal of a serious rival. That coupled with Di Matteo’s obvious anger at all that happened on Sunday, makes this a very important game for Chelsea to win.

Jose Mourinho always said that winning the League Cup at Chelsea was the most important trophy in his time at Chelsea, because it gave the team that winning mentality to go on and win bigger trophies; hopefully this new look Chelsea can gain the same belief by delivering this year’s League Cup.

The manager is likely to play Azpilicueta instead of Ivanovic, Sturridge for Torres while Romeu is likely to play instead of Mikel who will be rested following the events of Sunday evening.  Di Matteo has also said that there will be numerous other changes, mentioning the return to fitness of Lucas Piazon following injury.  As in the previous round against Wolves, both Moses and Marin are also likely to play some part in the game.

Ferguson has already said that he will make changes to his team, especially as they have a league game against Arsenal at the weekend; but even if he plays a forward line consisting of Welbeck, Nani and Hernandez, the Chelsea defence will have to be totally focused to prevent United from creating goal scoring opportunities.

In the new climate of retribution against divers, it is to be hoped that referee Lee Mason will be fully focused on actions of both Welbeck and Nani, who have a known propensity to fall easily to the ground without contact from any other player; not that any of Ferguson’s players would ever likely to be looking to gain an unfair advantage.

This is a must win game for Chelsea in an attempt to regain some of the ground lost on Sunday. Even though the result was decided by refereeing errors, the simple fact is that Ferguson made all the correct tactical decisions required to win the game.

It will be a victory for Roberto Di Matteo on Wednesday night if an angry and vitriolic Alex Ferguson departs Stamford Bridge with his team beaten and with his noise out of joint and will setup Chelsea for the very important series of games coming up in the next few weeks.



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Will it be wonderful wonderful Copenhagen for Chelsea on Tuesday night?

Now they have to take Chelsea seriously. 

It’s easy to say that home games against Reading and Newcastle and away trips to Wigan and Queen Park Rangers are no real test for any team; but the reality is that no game in the Premier League is easy and for a team in transition there are potential pitfalls in every game. 

The deserved win over Arsenal will have proved once and for all that it is the European Champions and not the pretenders from north London who are the more realistic title contenders. 

The manager’s brave but sensible decision to pair Mikel and Ramires and to use Oscar to nullify Arteta made the difference and ensured that much of the supply to the Arsenal forward line was limited.  

In the battle between Mata and Cazorla, it was the Chelsea man who had the greatest influence, creating the first goal and scoring the second.  After not being able to score from free kicks for a very long time, both goals came from beautifully delivered Mata free kicks. Hopefully Chelea will make more use of Mata, Oscar and Hazard from free kicks, rather than the generally ineffective efforts from Lampard and more recently David Luiz. 

Once again the difference between three points and one was down to some world class goalkeeping from Petr Cech, who made two quality saves and did enough to make Giroud’s life difficult when the Frenchman seemed certain to score late in the game. 

It was a pity that Fulham couldn’t take a couple of points against Manchester City, but with Manchester United losing to Tottenham, it means that Chelsea have a four point advantage over the two Manchester clubs. While this is insignificant at this stage of the season, at least it has the effect of applying pressure, with both Manchester clubs knowing that they can ill afford to allow the gap to increase too much. 


On Tuesday night Chelsea face the Danish champions FC Nordsjælland in a game that Chelsea must win if they are to remain on track to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League.  

For Nordsjælland, the match against Chelsea represents an opportunity to give one of the  European giants a bloody nose and just as in any cup match, Chelsea must take their opponents very seriously. 

Dropping two points at home to Juventus means that Chelsea have to better the results of the Italians if they are to finish the group in top place. But with a double header to follow against Shakhtar Donetsk, Chelsea may find that a Juventus win against the Ukrainians is the preferred result.  

So far this season the Ukrainian champions have won all thirteen games in both league and cup and their match against Juventus should provide a guide as to quite how difficult an opponent Chelsea are likely to face in the coming weeks. Before that the priority is to collect all three points in the match in Copenhagen. 

The Danish champions had an easy 3-0 win in their league game on Friday night and are currently in third place, six points behind leaders FC Kobenhavn.  They have only won two of their last six games and in their first Champions League group game they were beaten 2-0 in the Ukraine, even though they actually dominated possession. 

Nordsjælland play an attractive attacking 4-2-3-1 passing game, but against Chelsea will attempt to keep it tight, hoping to catch the European champions on the break.  Most of the squad are local Danish players, with five having recently been called into the Danish squad.  The Laudrup name, so familiar to Chelsea supporters, may well be represented by the presence of Andreas Laudrup, the 21 year old son of Swansea manager Michael Laudrup.  Laudrup is a winger who can also play as a central striker. 

For Chelsea David Luiz has recovered from the knock that he picked up against Arsenal and is available for selection; but Daniel Sturridge has had a recurrence of his hamstring injury and has not travelled to Denmark. 


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Can Chelsea pass their first big test?

After a streaky 1-0 win over Stoke City and a 6-0 stroll against a Wolves reserve team, what conclusions can be drawn ahead of Chelsea’s first big test in this season’s Premier League?

Ashley Cole remains a world class player and if your star striker is nowhere to be found in the six yards box then it’s good to know that your left back can be relied on to be in the right place and at the right time.  Ryan Bertrand continues to impress and while it may be hard for him to replace Ashley Cole at present, both Chelsea and England have a ready made replacement waiting in the wings. Bertrand can also hit the ball very straight and very hard as the Wolves goalkeeper can confirm.

Gary Cahill once again proved his quality, both as a central defender and at attacking set plays and will be the perfect replacement for John Terry, when Chelsea’s captain finally calls time on his career. Meanwhile David Luiz’s tendency to commit wild challenges remains unabated and it was with some amazement that the referee in the Stoke game only gave him a yellow card for a ridiculously wild challenge on Walters.

Ramires showed once and for all that his best position is in a central role, while Romeu showed that if we are ever in a penalty shoot out he can be trusted to take a good penalty.

Moses proved how easily he can open up a defence by running at defenders from a wide position and showed that he is as adept at going down in the penalty area as a number of his colleagues. Winning a penalty and scoring with a header meant that it was a successful first full game for the young Nigerian.

Perhaps the most significant performances came from the reinvigorated Mata who once again is looking like the player who was so crucial to everything positive that happened last season. Even though it was only Wolves, the move and the shot for his goal was sheer quality.

The concerns over Torres remain and while his headed goal against the inept Wolves defence was somewhat reminiscent of Drogba’s goal in Munich, his propensity not to be where the ball is delivered continues to be a worry.

The win over Wolves has setup a 4th round League cup tie against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, three days after the two teams play each other in the league at the Bridge.  If Chelsea can win both of these games, it will deliver a message to the other teams in the league that the balance of power is shifting back to SW6.

That late goal against Stoke kept Chelsea one point ahead of Manchester United and three ahead of Everton and West Bromwich Albion at the top of the league. With United playing at home to Tottenham on Saturday evening, Chelsea will need a win at Arsenal if they are to guarantee top spot, while three points for Chelsea will increase their lead over Arsenal to seven points.

Arsenal started the season with a couple of goalless draws; but a comfortable win over Liverpool was followed an emphatic 6-1 win over Southampton, before Arsene Wenger’s team achieved a creditable 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad in a game that they might have won.

Despite their early season depression at losing van Persie and to a lesser extent Song, Arsenal have in fact looked a far stronger and better balanced team.  The key to their success has been the partnership of Diaby and Arteta who have dominated the holding midfield roles, while Cazorla and Podolski have done for Arsenal what Mata and Hazard have been doing for Chelsea.  Gervinho who couldn’t hit a barn door last season has been more effective in a central attacking role, while Walcott has impressed when brought on by his manager.

The arrival of Steve Bould appears to have strengthened the Arsenal rearguard, with Vermaelen and Mertesaker both looking solid; but their use of zonal marking was exploited by Manchester City last weekend with Lescott scoring from a corner. Nevertheless with only two goals conceded in five league games, Chelsea will have to work hard if they are to break down the Arsenal defence.

Apart from Sturridge, who is still not yet fully fit, Roberto Di Matteo can select from a full squad. Wenger has already expressed his relief that the Drogba effect no longer exists; but Chelsea do have sufficient weapons to unlock and dismantle this Arsenal team. If Chelsea can play against Arsenal as they played for most of the game against Juventus there is no reason that Chelsea cannot come away from this match with maximum points.

With both teams likely to play 4-2-3-1, the match may well be decided by the team which is able to exploit the other’s weaknesses.

After a couple of seasons where Chelsea’s results against their rivals have been disappointing, a Chelsea victory at the Emirates will send a message to both Manchester clubs that this season’s league title is very much up for grabs.

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Beauty against the Beast – Chelsea .v. Stoke City match preview

Two points thrown away in the first home game of the Champions League campaign is not the ideal start and means that an away win is necessary when Chelsea face Danish champions FC Nordsjaelland at the start of November.  With a double header to follow against Shakhtar Donetsk, qualification for the knock out rounds could depend on the result in Denmark. But considering Chelsea were facing what is actually two-thirds of the Italian national team, both the result and the performance against the Bianconeri were not that bad.

Juventus are a quality team and while never outplayed, there were periods of the game when Chelsea’s high tempo performance saw them dominating possession, but unable to break through a solid and organized defence.  Di Matteo’s decision to play Oscar in midfield was crucial, not only in respects to his two goals; but in the way he ran the midfield and prevented Pirlo from playing his usual game.

The deflection off Bonucci for the first Oscar goal was helped beat Buffon in the Juve goal; but the second showed that the young Brazilian is indeed a prodigious talent and capable of doing the unexpected.

One of the mysteries of the evening was how the referee failed to punish Bonucci for his deliberate stamp on Oscar. While the referee only had a fleeting glimpse of the incident, the replay shows that the Italian’s cynical tackle was indeed deliberate and should be reviewed by UEFA.  Meanwhile Ramires was booked for making a clean tackle, minutes after the referee failed to award him a free kick after being fouled.  The same Portuguese referee who controlled the Champions League final only four months earlier should have awarded Chelsea a penalty for a foul on Hazard; but apparently a push in the back is now regarded as not worthy of a foul, unless the offence occurs outside the penalty area, or if it is committed by a Chelsea player.

Both Juventus goals were expertly taken; but both were very preventable as once again the same defensive issues that have plagued Chelsea in the early weeks of the season resurfaced.  The defensive midfielders have shown a tendency to lose possession in dangerous areas and are unable to close down the spaces quick enough. Once through balls are played into the spaces between the Chelsea central defenders and Terry in particular, then in all likelihood Cech is the final line of defence.

Lampard who played four games in less than two weeks was poor, frequently giving the ball away cheaply. Against poorer teams he is able to play the holding role; but against top teams his shortcomings are exposed.  Likewise Terry’s lack of pace is an Achilles heel for the defence, because opposing teams know that if they play the ball into the space behind Terry, he will be unable to recover quickly enough against quality forwards.  This is not to say that neither Lampard or Terry should not continue to be important members of the team, but if these weaknesses are not addressed Chelsea will continue to leak goals.

Saturday’s match against Stoke City at Stamford Bridge will be a very different challenge, although it is one which in the past has not proved to be too much of a problem for Chelsea who have won all four games since Stoke’s return to the Premier League.  Stoke have drawn their opening four Premier League games, including a 1-1 last weekend at home to Manchester City. Crouch scored the City goal, with new boy Nzonzi outstanding in midfield.

Stoke City do not like keeping hold of the ball and with average possession per game not much more than 40 percent, they are quick to knock the ball forward.  Despite the addition of Nzoni and Charlie Adam to the midfield, more often than not the ball will be pumped forward in the direction of Crouch and Walters; so once again the Chelsea backline will need to watch out for the balls played over the top.

The Potters like to make use of attacking set plays and with plenty of target men in and around the box, it will be important to watch for knock downs in the area.  However with so many good ball players now in Chelsea’s midfield, this has to be a perfect opportunity for Chelsea to play a more offensive style of football, using pace and skill against their less mobile defenders.

Oscar has been passed fit and is available for selection; however Sturridge is still a few days short of full fitness.

With Manchester City playing Arsenal and Liverpool facing Manchester United, both on Sunday, it is crucial that Chelsea pick up maximum points and increase their lead at the top of the table.

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