And so the good ship Chelsea begins to rock even more with a surprising draw away to Belgium’s Genk. Surprising - only in advance of the game as on the night Chelsea deserved little more than a point. The Blues were poor and AVB will have to answer further questions about his high line defence tactic. The result itself isn’t devastating in terms of the Champions League qualification stage but fans will be hoping that the away defeat at QPR does not act as the same instigator that the 3 – 0 defeat at home to Sunderland spawned last year.
It was that defeat that began Chelsea’s terrible run – the worst in ten years - that stretched either side of the Christmas period last season. The defeat at QPR did not actually serve up a bad Chelsea performance. In fact, with nine men in the second half they were actually the better team. However, it was followed by the humiliating result against Arsenal over the weekend and Genk should have been the guaranteed three points from our final three Champions League group games. But the Belgians honestly deserved the draw – an impressive result for them.
Chelsea created the best chances in the first half and the lovely one-two between Ramires and Torres set up the Brazilian to score a neat opener. Arguably we should have put the game out of sight – we created good chances - Ramires could have perhaps had his second with a headed chance later in the half and Raul Meireles also struck the woodwork from long range. The Blues were also rightfully awarded a penalty for a Genk handball, which fan favourite David Luiz squandered. The 24-year-old didn’t seem to make up his mind up whether he was going for placement or power and after Genk keeper Koteles chose to dive the right way it proved to be a comfortable save. This has to raise eyebrows about the Chelsea attackers on the field as it took a centre-back to step up and take a penalty in the absence of Frank Lampard. Anelka missed a penalty in the Carling Cup last week, which might account for his lack of confidence - but Fernando Torres? A striker who should want to get the goals flowing declines the option to have a go at the goalkeeper from 12 yards – very strange.
AVB did not get the response he spoke of after the Arsenal game tonight. It must now come immediately if Chelsea are to prevent this stumble from turning into a slump.
So at half time Chelsea probably felt they should have been further in front but they did maintain the lead. The second half saw them return with a poor display – Genk took the game to Chelsea and deserved their goal. Andre Villas-Boas reacted and threw on the attacking trio of Lampard, Sturridge and Mata. But it felt like a half where it just wasn’t quite going to happen for Chelsea - with Lampard failing to properly get hold of a tap-in from yards out after a decent cross from fellow substitute Daniel Sturridge. Genk then managed a last ditch goal-line clearance from a Malouda shot that nearly resulted in what would have been a very unfortunate own goal as the clearance deflected backwards.
Even with the away disadvantage it has to be remembered that Chelsea fielded a very similar team to dispose of this Genk with a 5 – 0 win just two weeks ago. The two Premier League defeats have taken their toll on confidence and the way we played in the second half was reminiscent of the aforementioned slump from last season. The inability to see games out and frustrated stuttering approach when going forward – it brought back bad memories. Genk are probably a Championship team in the English equivalent and they didn’t score as much as they maybe could have but the defensive problems were still glaringly obvious. Passes were chipped easily over the back line just as they were in Saturday’s game. If AVB wants to persevere with this strategy, the organisation has to be spot on and he did not get the response he spoke of after the Arsenal game tonight. It must now come immediately if Chelsea are to prevent this stumble from turning into another slump.
I would not go as far as to say I think that this is going to become a slump – but the cracks in the foundation are evident. Before the QPR game Chelsea had the opportunity to put themselves firmly in the title race – 10 days later we’re in a battle for next year’s Champions League qualification and dropping two unlikely points in Europe. A great bit of reassurance will be of course that we are still only in November - last year’s slump lasted a lot longer than that and suddenly Chelsea had a late shout at the Premier League title towards the end of the season. It’s by no means a drastic drop in form but one that fans would like to see turned around sooner rather later. Saturday we travel to Blackburn. At Ewood Park this season Arsenal have managed to lose and Wolves have managed to win, so it’s hardly a fortress of consistency, yet with this little bump in the road preceding the game it may be quite a challenge to go and claim full points.
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