Alan Hansen: Alarm bells ringing for a fading force
Go back to the days when Chelsea were winning three Premier League championships, and they could almost have put two teams on the pitch who would beat Birmingham. But they just do not have that strength in depth any more.
I was never among the cheerleaders who said that Chelsea would win the title convincingly this season, because you looked at their squad and it seems, for the first time in a long time, a bit threadbare.
They are better off having three defeats in four games at this stage, rather than in March or April, because at least they have time to rectify the situation.
It is a fact that Chelsea are not as good as they were two years ago. Roman Abramovich has tightened the belt and decided not to spend the money, but when you are on top and winning, you have to continue spending if you are to improve on what you have. If you see someone who is better than the player you have in that position, then you buy him.
Ricardo Carvalho was a great player for Chelsea. With John Terry, he was their best centre-back and yet the club let him go, which at times has left them unbelievably weak.
Last weekend Sunderland were magnificent in winning 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea had a centre-back partnership of Branislav Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira, who had never played alongside each other.
The team with the most strength in depth is Tottenham. You look at their bench and it is incredibly strong -- the club might have had their ups and downs of late, but you can see them as a coming force. With Chelsea, you see their bench or the players they are missing and you think: "That's a bit suspect.''
Frank Lampard and Michael Essien, still out injured, would have given them a little extra.
Lampard is a key absentee, not only because of his fitness levels, but because of the number of goals he scores.
If there is one member of this Chelsea team guaranteed to get on the end of a ball in the box, or create an extra yard of space, it is him.
Florent Malouda has played sensationally, but Lampard has been missed when the going has got tough. Chelsea, when they are struggling, start to find out who their key personnel are, who should be first on the team sheet.
Lampard would be one of those.
Carlo Ancelotti seems to have faith in young players such as Gael Kakuta and Josh McEachran, but if he turns around at the end of the season -- after Chelsea have finished second in the table and gone out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League -- with the argument that they have youngsters who will come good in four or five years' time, you will not find many supporters who have sympathy.
You need to strike a balance between having a strong squad and bringing youngsters through the academy, but the problem you will always have with that type of formula is: how many of them make it? The perfect model is meant to be Arsenal, but how many of their first team are products of the academy? Gael Clichy is the only regular; all the rest have been bought.
It has been a long time since the phrase 'you'll never win anything with kids', but in this day and age you need to have the ability to replace quality with quality, or you'll flounder.
What we have seen with Chelsea in the past few weeks is that they have not got enough strength in depth.
The Ray Wilkins affair is strange. The reasons for his departure will come out, but it appeared on the touchline that Ancelotti was guided by him on certain matters.
Players would have listened to him in the dressing room. Chelsea say his loss is not a problem, but it is.
The only way, ultimately, in which they can put their season right is to get back to winning ways, starting at Newcastle on Sunday. They are not in freefall yet, because they are still top. But the alarm bells are ringing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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