Tuesday 23 January 2018

Hope returns for Chelsea fans

It's the hope that kills you.

And at half-time of Chelsea's barnstorming match against Manchester United last night, the home fans looked to be finally free of that particular burden.

Already 15 points behind their perennial title rivals, Wayne Rooney appeared to apply the coup de grace to the champions' prospects of retaining their Barclays Premier League title.

Forty-five minutes later, the Stamford Bridge faithful were once again dreaming of, if not the impossible, then the preposterously improbable.

But could their heroes stage the comeback to end them all by overhauling United in the title race?

Captain John Terry certainly thought so last week, highlighting famous collapses by teams holding what appeared unassailable leads at the top of the table.

But Chelsea do not just need United to suffer a meltdown, they also need Arsenal - who are eight points clear - to bottle it.

On top of that, they almost certainly must win all of their 11 remaining league games at the end of a season in which they have shown alarming levels of inconsistency.

Were that to continue, their place in the top four will come back under threat, never mind their ailing title defence.

Manager Carlo Ancelotti therefore needs everyone pulling in the same direction, putting their own personal agendas aside for the good of the team.

If that means Didier Drogba and Yury Zhirkov spending more time on the bench than on the field, they will simply have to lump it.

Rather than trying to accommodate all of the talent at his disposal, Ancelotti must settle on a shape that gets the best out of his players, with 4-4-2 seemingly the way forward for the foreseeable future.

The Blues boss also needs Fernando Torres to start finding the net.

Despite insisting he does not ask his strikers to score, Chelsea did not spend £50million on a player who fires blanks.

And Ancelotti could really do without his star left-back doing the exact opposite at the club's training ground, while it would be highly desirable for Ashley Cole and his fellow front-page fodder to keep their heads down for the next three months.

A quiet word with new boy David Luiz would also not go amiss.

The Brazil defender appears to have more in common with Sideshow Bob than just a haircut judging by his headline-grabbing performance last night.

Outrageously gifted, the £25million man just needs to dial his enthusiasm down from 11 if he is not to prove more of a liability than an asset.

Although, if he continues to benefit from refereeing as generous as that of Martin Atkinson last night, the 23-year-old's over-the-top approach could yet be what inspires his new club's revival.

A bitter Sir Alex Ferguson certainly thinks so.

Under normal circumstances, each of Chelsea's remaining fixtures - barring their return match with United - are ones in which they would be expected to claim all three points.

A tricky trip to Stoke and home games against top-four rivals Manchester City and Tottenham appear the most problematic prior to their May trip to Old Trafford.

United, meanwhile, are certainly capable of losing at Liverpool on Sunday and at Arsenal six days later before they host Chelsea.

Their away form also means victories at West Ham, Newcastle and Blackburn cannot be taken for granted.

It is almost impossible to predict how Arsenal will fare in their remaining 11 games, with Arsene Wenger's men as capable of losing to Birmingham and throwing away victories against Newcastle and Tottenham as they are of beating Barcelona.

It's almost enough to give you hope.

Press Association

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