With the Blues' Champions League qualification hopes taking yet another hit, their Portuguese boss may well find time is running out for him to turn things around
By David Lynch
That there was something different about Chelsea’s loss to Everton on Saturday - their eighth under his guidance - was not lost on manager Andre Villas-Boas.
The Portuguese described the 2-0 defeat at Goodison Park as Chelsea’s “worst in every sense of the word” this season, and wasn’t far wrong given the abject nature of the performance. The hosts dominated from start to finish and gave a showing of confident control rather than the plucky smash and grab they had executed against another illustrious club, Manchester City, just the week before.
Though the nature of the game suitably highlighted Everton’s renaissance since a January window unrivalled in the Premier League, it also conveyed Chelsea’s recent descent into mediocrity, a descent which coincided with the arrival of Villas-Boas.
It would, of course, be unfair to lay all the blame for the Blues’ recent faltering form at the door of the former Porto man but, in a week where owner Roman Abramovich frequented training, the last thing he needed was more evidence that the two are intrinsically linked.
|"I think today was one of our worst games of the season. I think the worst in every sense of the word."
- Villas-Boas on Everton defeat
Make no bones about it; this is a squad whose problems are numerous. Their flaws were perhaps papered over by the brilliant Carlo Ancelotti last year, as the Londoners came within a whisker of pinching the Premier League title, but Chelsea are firmly in decline. Key players are starting to show their age, the spine on which they relied for so long is starting to crack and the big-money buys - most of whom are not Villas-Boas’ responsibility - are proving worth less than their monetary value and in some cases worthless entirely.
It occasionally feels unfair to single out Spanish striker Fernando Torres as indicative of all the Blues’ ills but he has become something of a poster boy for their recent downfall. Against Everton he was again frustrated, as best indicated by a wild lunge which saw him yellow carded, much to the delight of the blue half of Merseyside for whom he has always been viewed as the enemy.
Yet it was telling that, whilst Torres did not show that turn of speed or ruthless eye for goal for which he is famed, he did not miss one glorious chance all afternoon. The World Cup-winning striker’s problems seem to go further than just a lack of confidence, or even a dearth of understanding with his team-mates. The issue appears to be a team which isn’t built to get the best out of him, the figure from whom all the cutting edge is expected.
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And it is this which Villas-Boas must consider: whether a stubborn refusal to cater for a forward who could provide so much is costing him dearly.
The highest price the 34-year-old could pay would, of course, be a loss of his job, and talk of his future must be framed by the trigger happy nature of the owner under which he currently works. Abramovich does not suffer fools - or those he rightly or wrongly perceives to be - lightly and, as revealed this week, cost is not an issue should he choose to dismiss another manager.
That said, it would be refreshing to see the Russian show the patience and long-term view which observers of English football cynically insist he does not possess.
The appointment of Villas-Boas is part of a project. He inherited a side for which winning the title was always realistically out of the question and must be allowed time to shape the squad in his own image. He also could also not legislate for the sudden improvement of Tottenham and Manchester City which has ensured that the chase for a top-four finish is up against two clubs, namely Liverpool and Arsenal, whose position there has, in the past, been a given.
However, Chelsea’s recent transfer outlay, wage bill and recent successes outstrip both of those sides and thus a top-four finish should still be expected. How Villas-Boas copes with that demand, given that for the first time Arsenal have now displaced them in fourth spot, will undoubtedly decide his future. With the shadow of an unsettled Jose Mourinho growing taller on the horizon, only time will tell whether even tackling that hurdle will be enough to save his job.
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