With the Premier League season in its home stretch, Goal.com's Shikharr Chandra takes a closer look at why it is imperative for Chelsea to finish in the top four.....
When Didier Drogba scored from the penalty spot in last season's Champions League final he not only won Chelsea their first ever European crown but also saved them from the embarrassment of missing out on a place in this season's competition. The achievement of winning the coveted trophy overshadowed Chelsea's poor display in the Premier League where the Londoners finished as the sixth best side.
It could be a deja vu moment soon for Chelsea's they enter the defining period of their season. A period crammed with fixtures that might just determine their fate for not only this season, but the next as well. Manager Rafa Benitez has been optimistic of his side's chances of finishing in the top 4 along with a couple of trophies. But things look bleak for the Blues in the Premier League after a dismal display against Southampton where they lost 2-1 with Benitez's gamble to rest key players ahead of their FA Cup sixth round replay against Manchester United 48 hours later.
It was a potentially damaging blow for Chelsea as both Tottenham and Arsenal won their respective games comfortably. Tottenham moved ahead of Chelsea into 3rd place with a 2-1 win over Swansea whereas Arsenal closed in on their Chelsea with just 2 points separating the two sides after they dismissed the challenge of Reading by 4-1 .
The advantages of playing in the Europe's premier club competition regularly are numerous with one of them being the ability to attract the best talents. This was precisely the case with Eden Hazard when he chose Chelsea over the other top clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Inter Milan chasing him during the summer of 2012.
After the FA Cup game against Manchester United, Chelsea play 7 games in the next 20 days and Benitez has to rotate his squad on a regular basis to keep the players fresh, an approach which backfired against Southampton. The Spaniard rested the likes of Hazard, Ramires, Juan Mata and Ashley Cole hoping to test his bench strength, but all he got was a feeble display from his side.
Arsenal on the other hand ended their poor league run which saw them lose 3 of their last 5 games with an emphatic win against lowly Reading. With a game in hand over Tottenham, Arsene Wenger will feel his side has the momentum to secure another Champions League spot, something he has always achieved during his time with the Gunners.
One would feel Tottenham have the toughest fixtures going into the final rounds of matches with a trip to Stamford Bridge and home games against Everton and Manchester City in addition to the Europa League tie against FC Basel. But what Andre Villas Boas's side have shown this season is their commendable fighting spirit, something that has been lacking over the seasons. However the injury to striker Jermaine Defoe for two weeks can come back to haunt them in this testing period.
|The fans need to get behind the club|
The tensions at Chelsea's camp is one thing the Blues need to get over with as they enter the deciding period of their season. The chants for Roberto Di Matteo and Jose Mourinho have hardly helped interim boss Rafa Benitez's task this season and the performance on the pitch is a clear evidence of that. The Blues only have secured a solitary point from four away games since mid-January.
The trio of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry who were instrumental in Chelsea's success last season have looked out of sorts this year. Although Frank Lampard has chipped in with his fair share of goals, his decision making and play in the center of the midfield has been a clear evidence that it's time the reigning European champions found a suitable replacement for him. The club has been over reliant on the performances of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard and without them they have looked nothing short of a mid-table club.
Chelsea are entering into a demanding situation that could see them play as many as 70 games by the end of the season and what the Blues need more than anything else is the backing of the fans. They have the players, the experience, but what Chelsea need is now is a bit of motivation to save themselves from another embarrassing season.
Who do you think will finish in the top 4? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @ShikharrC
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