thumbnail Hello,

Roberto Di Matteo's men fluff their lines yet again as they were completely outplayed at home by the greater zest and conviction of Spurs

COMMENT
By Wayne Veysey at Stamford Bridge

In perfect springtime weather, we expected a lunchtime treat. Instead, we got a chess match in the sun. 

The conditions were balmy but it was not the barmy scoreline that has been a feature of so many derbies this season.

After 6-1, 5-2 and 5-3, it was back to earth with a thud. However, this nil-nil was not a product of inertia from Tottenham. Harry Redknapp’s team have good reason to feel short-changed after producing a classic away-day performance and carving out nearly all of the game’s outstanding chances.

Chelsea, by contrast, did not make home advantage count. They were listless and tepid, boring
FIVE KEY FIXTURES
Arsenal
Mar 31
QPR (A)
Apr 8
Manchester City (H)
Apr 21
Chelsea (H)
Apr 28
Stoke City (A)
May 13
West Brom (A)
even.

The clocks will go forward an hour on Saturday night but it feels like Chelsea have gone backwards this week. They failed to keep Manchester City at bay in midweek and emerge from a 90-minute bout with a team they have bullied for two decades glad that the gap between fifth and their fourth-placed opponents is still no more than five points.

It felt like Roberto Di Matteo’s team had taken one look at the blue sky and thoughts had immediately turned to the beach and the sunlounger.

The slow pace worked fine in the first half, when both teams were busy cancelling each other out. Redknapp had sensibly beefed up his central midfield, pairing Scott Parker with Sandro and, rather than pushing Luka Modric out wide, asking the Croatian wizard to dictate the game from the centre.

Even Modric was initially dragged down by the congestion in the middle and the lack of guile around him. Michael Essien and Frank Lampard hovered deep, barely straying from the toes of Chelsea’s centre-halves. The result: a severe deficit of imagination and chances.

But Spurs woke up and began to prosper. Only a fine reflex Petr Cech save and the latest in a bulging catalogue of goal-line clearances from Ashley Cole prevented Rafael van der Vaart seizing his glorious double-chance on the verge of half-time.

In the second, all the convincing attacking play came from the men in lilywhite. Emmanuel Adebayor was outstanding, holding the ball up and bringing his team-mates into play. When there was no-one around him, he put his head down and simply ran with the ball.
FIVE KEY FIXTURES
Chelsea
Mar 31
Aston Villa (A)
Apr 9
Fulham (A)
Apr 14
Newcastle (H)
Apr 21
Arsenal (A)
May 6
Liverpool (A)

Gareth Bale moved inside from the left flank and prospered. He evaded tackles and created chances, both for himself and team-mates. Modric was the orchestrator of it all. Essien’s reservoirs of energy ran out and he was subbed. Lampard hung on unconvincingly.

Only one team looked like breaking the stalemate. Only one team deserved to. Juan Mata saw a
free-kick rebound off the post, but there was little else to trouble Brad Friedel. The introduction of Fernando Torres and David Luiz did not have the desired effect. Torres, stuck out wide, could not get involved. Luiz, at right-back, could not stem the flow of Spurs attacks.

Chelsea kept the back door shut, and their resilience was epitomised by Gary Cahill’s John-Terry-esque block on a goal-bound Adebayor shot after he had rounded Cech and shot at the empty net. The crossbar kept out an emphatic Bale header, William Gallas headed over from five yards and Cech pushed away Bale’s free-kick in added time.

But the 41,000 souls who basked in the midday sunshine would have expected far more energy and threat from the home team. Where was the dynamism and power so evident in the back-from-the-dead display against Napoli 10 days previously?

Dider Drogba, Essien and Lampard, so influential against the Italians, summed up the malaise against Spurs. Juan Mata looks like his first season in English football is catching up with him. Only Daniel Sturridge offered a consistent attacking threat and he was typically hit-and-miss with his end product.
FIVE KEY FIXTURES
Tottenham
Apr 1
Swansea City (H)
Apr 7
Sunderland (A)
Apr 21
QPR (A)
May 6
Aston Villa (A)
May 13
Fulham (H)

Perhaps this is the stage Chelsea have reached in their evolution. The old stagers can raise their games for big one-off occasions but the days of dominating two matches a week have gone.

This performance and result will probably have little bearing on the outcome of their inviting Champions League quarter-final against Benfica but the portents for qualifying for next season’s competition are not good.

Undoubtedly, Chelsea took a step back on Saturday. They have not quite blown a top-four spot but it feels like an explosion that would send tremors through Di Matteo’s long-term prospects of staying in their dugout is not far off.

With trips to revitalised Arsenal and Liverpool among those in a decidedly tricky eight-match run-in, the odds on the first campaign of the Roman Abramovich era without the soundtrack of the Champions League anthem are increasing.

Chelsea are marooned in fifth for good reason. They have not been good enough this season. Carry on playing like this, and they will not deserve to finish in the top-four, either.

How do you stay up to date with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com – your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.

Related

From the web