Why Chelsea's Cup run has turned from their strength to weakness

The reigning European Champions were held to a draw by third division side Brentford in the FA Cup. Goal.com takes a look at why Cup runs have been Chelsea's thorn this year
Roman Abramovich's petro-dollars have propelled Chelsea from being also-rans to amongst the elite in Europe. The Russian's billions have ensured that the Londoners are ever-present when it comes to challenging for honours year after year. Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Champions League and two Community Shields can all be attributed to the Roman era.

Further, they were always known as a side who are hard to break down. A spine which was built by Jose Mourinho consisting of goalkeeper Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, was used over the years by the revolving door of managers that have been at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have had their hiccups in the league campaigns over the last two years under the reigns of Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas, but they usually compensated that with a strong showing in cup competitions.

However, in a season where Chelsea will want to forget, the Blues have had a horror run in all the Cup competitions this year. Having been dumped out of the Champions League, ensuring they hold the distinction of being the first holders to exit the competition at the group stages, overpowered in the UEFA Super Cup, outclassed in the Community Shield, Capital One Cup and Club World Cup has seen the Pensioners in danger of ending a season without any silverware.

The last time such a situation arose was under Carlo Ancelotti's second year at London, where he was harshly shown the door after winning a domestic double with the London club the previous season.

What will anger the legion of Chelsea fans is that even in the ill-fated reign of Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea were in the running for the FA Cup and Champions League despite faltering in the Premier League.

But people will raise the question as to why Chelsea have been woeful this year in cup competitions. At a club which is not short of money or controversy, the reasons are plenty.

The Famous Spine is now in its last legs

Jose Mourinho's success in England, Italy and Spain has been attributed to his ability to build a team around a core group of players. At Chelsea, every manager that tasted success after Mourinho did so with the quartet of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba in the side. Although there was a flip side to this group as many a time players' opinions dominated those of the manager ending in a conflict of interests which resulted in the gaffer getting the boot.

Roman Abramovich attempted to prune player power when he brought Portuguese Andre Villas-Boas to West London. The maverick manager alienated himself from the senior players and ended up losing his job midway into the season. Roberto di Matteo's move to revive the influence of the famous spine helped Chelsea on their way to a magnificent double by taking both the FA Cup and Champions League in the 2011-12 season.

The last of the Mourinho legion

Abramovich's desire to move from, a workman like style of football which was synonomous with Chelsea, to one brimming with flair and fluidity on the lines of Barcelona, has not worked out exactly according to plan. The early part of the 2012-13 season saw di Matteo's charges surprise many with their free-flowing football. They were also known to be defensively susceptible. This saw them lose out to Atletico Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus, all of whom rely on a high-tempo game.

Chelsea have faced such opposition in the past, but the difference was that there was no Drogba to bail them out of danger. There was no desire to keep fighting till the last whistle unlike the Chelsea of old. It was rather a meek submission by a team that was once one of the most efficient sides in Europe. One can only wind the clock back to that famous game at Stamford Bridge in March 2007 when Tottenham raced to a three-goal lead at halftime only for the Blues to make a marvelous comeback in the second half. What the Blues won't give for some of that terrier spirit!!!

Managerial Change midway through the season

Chelsea have become one of the top sides in Europe after Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003. It also saw some of the world's best managers come in grand style and removed in utter disgrace by the famous 'trigger finger' of the Russian oligarch. Managers just do not get the time to assert their influence the side. After Jose Mourinho only Carlo Ancelotti has lasted a full season in charge of the West London side. Such is the turmoil that is associated with the managerial hotseat at SW6.

This season has been no different. Club legend Roberto di Matteo, who took over from Andre Villas-Boas on an interim basis in 2012, led a fractured and divided Blues side to a historic FA Cup and Champions League, something which should have guaranteed him the Chelsea job immediately.

Abramovich chose to postpone till the very last minute on giving di Matteo the job until he was sure that preferred choice Pep Guardiola was not available. Di Matteo brought the type of football the Russian craved. With the squad being replenished with younger, faster and more creative players, Chelsea were simply a joy to watch. Their defensive lapses, however, saw them exit the Champions League in the group stages, a competition they had won by the skin of their teeth, only six months ago.

Di Matteo - One of the victims of Abramovich's trigger finger

In typical ruthless fashion, Di Matteo was gone and Rafael Benitez was brought in. Known to prefer defensive stability over attacking football, the former Liverpool boss was and is still treated with hostility by the Chelsea fans. It has resulted in Chelsea being more at home in their away games, where the volume of Blues supporters is considerably low.

Earlier, such managerial changes were done when the senior statesmen of the team were a regular feature in the side. Now the situation is not the same with the futures of Frank Lampard and John Terry mired in doubt. There is a dearth of leaders in the team.

Unhealthy dependance on Juan Mata

When Chelsea brought Juan Mata for £23.5 million from Valencia, it was seen as a change of stance at the London club. A team that relied on wearing down the opposition physically finally had a player with flair. Mata was an instant hit with the Blues fans. Scoring on debut and being in the thick of things in every Chelsea attack, the dimunitive Spaniard racked up the 13 assists in his debut season in England, only behind fellow Spaniard and Manchester City midfielder David Silva.

Despite splashing the cash on Eden Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin and Victor Moses this year, Chelsea have looked lost when their 'Number 10' is not on the pitch. The Capital One Cup clash with Manchester United at Stamford Bridge is a clear case of this fact. Chelsea were smarting after they were controversially beaten at home by Sir Alex Ferguson's men only three days before the cup clash. Though both sides chose to field some of their fringe players, it was only after Mata's introduction that the Blues looked hungry to win. Chelsea went on to win the game 5-4.

Season Appearances Goals Scored Position in Club striking charts
2011-12 54 12 5
2012-13 33 14 2

                                        Mata's influence since he has donned the Chelsea blue

Days before Chelsea were due to face Juventus at Turin, Roberto di Matteo chose to rest his key players in the Premier League match against Steve Clarke's West Brom. The Blues had managed to keep the score tied at 1-1 till halftime. After the Baggies had taken the lead, the manager brought Mata on and that oversaw Chelsea's best attacking period in the game though they eventually ended up losing 2-1.

Even against third tier opposition in Brentford, the reigning European Champions looked jaded and slow without their Spanish trequartista. It just shows the influence of the former Real Madrid man over this Chelsea team. Despite the trickery from Hazard, industry from Moses or samba magic from Oscar, Mata is the metronome around which the team functions. If Chelsea are to move away from this tag of being a one-man show, they have to find a way to function in the eventuality that Mata is rested or injured.

Follow Srinivasan Mohan on 

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