Stamford Bridge hosts the first clash between two of the title contenders this Sunday as Manchester United visit West London aiming to reduce Chelsea’s current four-point lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League.
Roberto Di Matteo claimed in his pre-match press conference that ‘it is a little too early for the game to be decisive’ in the race for the Championship. And yet, arguably it is potentially a pivotal point in Chelsea’s season as November has been a notorious month for Di Matteo’s men in previous seasons. Di Matteo faces some tough decisions.
A year after the infamous match at Loftus Road which turned Chelsea’s season upside down after the allegations against John Terry for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Chelsea appear to be at another cross roads in their season.
On paper, everything in Abramovich’s empire is going to plan. Nearly a decade after his takeover, Chelsea are finally the champions of Europe and are playing the stylish football that the Russian has craved so desperately. This attractive aspect of their game has been injected into Di Matteo’s side through the relationship of the extremely innovative trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar.
But there is a feeling that surrounds the club that it is currently balancing on a tight rope. The FA’s charges of racism have been accepted by John Terry and without disclosing their actions, Chelsea have punished him. All of this has led to claims that Terry may be off to the sunnier climes of Valencia come January as there is talk that the ex-England captain has had enough of the controversy that has surrounded his private life over the past few years. Will Terry be bowing out by January?
There are three words that hang on a banner in Stamford Bridge to describe John Terry: ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’. Despite punishing him, he still remains Chelsea’s captain. Despite what the masses think of him, the 33-year-old simply is a natural born leader of men and has lead Chelsea to their greatest years in history. And due to these successful years, John Terry will always remain a legend in the eyes of Chelsea. So what happens if the rock of Stamford Bridge does leave?
Andre Villas-Boas failures were down to the speed at which he tried to move the football club’s senior players on. He didn’t recognise the important role that the passion of Lampard, Drogba, Cole and co. had on the dressing room. Di Matteo has learnt from his predecessor’s mistakes and is doing the same process, but gradually. The Italian recognises the importance of the experience of a player like Frank Lampard but at the same time accepts that at 34 years of age, Lampard isn’t as sharp as he once was and so isn’t a regular starter in the first eleven. Yet, the manager may find his hand forced in this case if Terry decides enough is enough.
Another aspect of Stamford Bridge’s recent fragility is the depth of Roberto Di Matteo’s squad. Despite spending millions on Hazard, Oscar, Marin and Moses over the summer it may come as a surprise to many that Di Matteo will be asking Abramovich to open up his bulging wallet again come the January transfer window. But the truth of the matter is Chelsea need a striker. This is part of the crossroads the Blues face. What happens if Fernando Torres gets an injury which puts him out of action for a long stretch? Chelsea would face fifteen fixtures before January 1st without an out-and-out striker. Abramovich’s Chelsea shines for now.
Even if Torres remains fit for the remainder of the season, Chelsea’s midweek loss to Shakhtar Donetsk was the first sign of the team missing the physical presence of Didier Drogba upfront. Di Matteo’s tactics were not working and there was no plan B. The new Chelsea boss must take the opportunity of the January transfer window and bring a plan B to the squad.
Di Matteo has already put the foundations in this season to prove that he is worthy of his two-year contract and that Chelsea’s European success last year was not simply down to luck. But although tomorrow’s fixture may not be a championship decider, it could potentially be a vital point in his team’s season. Chelsea Football Club is currently on a very exciting, prosperous path at the pinnacle of the Barclays Premier League but the wavering foundations of the club are potentially one disaster away from Abramovich’s empire collapsing.