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Chelsea

The Three Horse Title Race enters the final furlong this weekend

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Going into this round of Barclays Premier League fixtures, the top three teams are all firmly in the hunt for the final prize. Following the 2-2 draw for Manchester City on Wednesday to follow on from the hard-fought 3-2 loss at Liverpool at the weekend, the top of the table now has a very different look to it compared to a week ago. Liverpool currently lead Chelsea by 2 points, with Manchester City a further 5 points back but with 1 game in hand. How will the next set of fixtures affect the title race as the season enters the home straight?

Liverpool are still sitting pretty in first position after the crucial win over The Citizens in an emotional afternoon at Anfield. Regardless of what both managers involved have said after the game, the result was a pivotal one and almost certainly bears more significance than any other match this season. The Reds went toe to toe with arguably the best squad in the country and came out on top in the end. The effect on the Liverpool players was clear to see as they engaged without exception in a group hug upon the culmination of the game.

Belief and hope that was growing in magnitude beforehand has now morphed into expectation. Having come through what is widely acknowledged as their toughest remaining test, the pressure is very much on now. Before that match, both Liverpool and City could have won the league should they have won all their remaining fixtures. Now however, that burden is shared between themselves and Chelsea. For Liverpool now, withstanding the expectation from the entire nation poses the biggest threat.

Sandwiched amongst three eminently winnable games is the always tough home fixture against Chelsea that many now see as the match that will determine the final outcome. Liverpool will definitely be without Jordan Henderson’s energy as he sits out the second of a three match suspension, but will hope to have Daniel Sturridge back in the fold. A tweaked hamstring suffered in the defeat of City is not as serious as first feared and re-partnering the SAS against Chelsea will greatly help their chances.

Liverpool always seem to win against Norwich, and further still Luis Suarez adores playing them, having scored 3 hat-tricks in four matches against Sunday’s opponents. I do not see the trend being bucked this weekend despite Norwich’s desperation to escape their current demise. Determination instilled into Liverpool’s minds by Gerrard’s rousing team talk last Sunday will surely give them the motivation to play with the same intensity. I predict a 3-1 victory to Liverpool with Suarez bagging a brace, moving them onto 80 points.

Chelsea have been a vintage Mourinho side this year with Stamford Bridge remaining an impenetrable fortress. This can only be what we all expected, having not lost a home game while manager of Porto, Inter Milan, or Chelsea in both spells in charge. Mind games have been prevalent for weeks as he declared his side out of the title race even when in first position. Even now, they find themselves only 2 points behind the leaders and the match at Anfield to come next weekend. It is absolutely the case that all is not lost and they ground out another win against Swansea on Sunday in typical style.

I foresee a similar game for Chelsea at home to Sunderland tomorrow; a potentially frustrating one for long periods of time but at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will get the job done. Were Sunderland to pull off a huge shock and hold The Blues to a draw even, then it may even be that on-loan Liverpool forward could have a large part to play. The win that I expect to happen would retain Chelsea’s position of 2 points off the top when the weekend’s action is concluded.

One factor that may play a vital role in Chelsea’s trip to Anfield on the following weekend is that it falls directly between the 2 legs of their Champions League semi-final clash. We shall have to wait and see how Mourinho is able to manage his selections through this period and to what extent the players and both mentally and physically drained after their exertions. With the tie likely to still be in the balance after the first leg, José would surely have to prioritise one game over the other. It will be intriguing to see how those seven days play out.

Prior to their trip to Merseyside on Sunday, Manchester City were most people’s favourites for the title. Now though, less than a week on, they have picked up only one point from a possible six and so are lagging behind somewhat. Their manager Manuel Pellegrini blamed the abject performance on Wednesday on being “mentally tired” after the trials and tribulations at Anfield only 3 days earlier.

Under normal circumstances then, a home fixture against West Brom would be the ideal tonic. However, will the home support be less boisterous than usual and become frustrated easily if things are not going their way? This will only harm their team’s chances against a side who are effectively safe from relegation for another year and so will go out playing with freedom.

I can’t see 2 disappointing results in a row for Man City at home and it would be unthinkable for them to only obtain two points from a possible nine. Sergio Aguero will have gained a little extra match sharpness and his presence will provide a serious danger to the Albion back line. I predict that Man City will be out to prove a point at the Etihad on Monday and will win comfortably, with Aguero netting at least once.

If all these results do go as predicted, then that would leave the points separating the sides unchanged. However, it is now the job of the teams below Liverpool to close the gap. Therefore, by maintaining the distance between them and their rivals with one less game left in the season, it would remain advantage Liverpool with their clash against Chelsea fast approaching on the horizon.

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

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Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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Champions League

Are Chelsea potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Antonio Conte will be looking to emulate his Italian counterpart Roberto di Matteo, by leading Chelsea to Champions League glory this season. The Blues’ champagne moment six years ago was the realisation of a dream Roman Abramovich had held since he gained ownership of the club in 2003.

Chelsea are the reigning Premier League champions, having claimed the title in Conte’s first campaign in charge. But the former Italy boss’s honeymoon period is now over, amid a run of mixed results and speculation of player unrest. Here, The Boot Room assesses Chelsea’s prospects of lifting the Champions League for a second time.

Performances so far

The Blues were in the same group as both Atletico Madrid and Roma – as well as minnows Qarabag – and they finished level on points with the Italian club at the top of the standings. The highlight was a 2-1 victory away to Atletico, courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from Michy Batshuayi. A routine double was completed over Qarabag, but it was their results against Roma that shaped the final standings.

Even though both clubs ended on 11 points to qualify for the last 16 and Chelsea had a vastly superior goal difference, the Blues could only follow up their 3-0 defeat in the Italian capital with a 3-3 draw at home. This proved costly, with Conte’s side finishing second and being drawn against Barcelona, which has significantly dented their chances of making it into the quarter-finals.

Squad strength

Chelsea captured the Premier League at a canter last season, thanks largely to the goals of Diego Costa and the brilliance of Eden Hazard. Despite the summer arrival of Alvaro Morata, Costa’s departure has been a big loss. Surprisingly, Nemanja Matic was permitted to join Manchester United, while David Luiz has fallen out of favour under Conte.

Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have added depth to the squad, while the rise to prominence of Andreas Christensen has been an unexpected bonus. Ross Barkley is the first of their signings in the January window and perhaps more will follow. Most important is proper competition for the misfiring Morata, with Chelsea currently lacking a cutting edge in tight games.

Manager

A three-time winner of Serie A with Juventus (to go alongside last season’s Premier League crown), Conte is without doubt a manager of immense repute. After Jose Mourinho’s reign had turned sour, the 48-year-old was the perfect successor. He revitalised Chelsea and turned them into champions after adopting a 3-4-3 formation that proved to be a masterstroke.

Conte has a unique style of management. His demonstrable shows of passion are loved by supporters, but his intensity has sparked rumours that he is not universally liked by his players. Costa fell foul of his wrath last summer, while Brazilian centre-back Luiz is the latest to be marginalised. Conte’s public clashes with his superiors over failed transfer targets have increased the tension.

Chances of winning

When Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, they had to beat Barcelona over two legs in the semi-finals. If they want to lift the prestigious trophy again this year, it’s a feat they will need to repeat. Although the Blues are more than capable of competing with the very best in Europe, they would much rather have avoided opponents of Barcelona’s class at this stage.

Chelsea only have themselves to blame for not topping Group C, which would likely have given them a smoother passage to the last eight. Barcelona, the runaway La Liga leaders, are by no means unbeatable, but they will be the favourites to progress and Chelsea will need to be at their very best over both games to stop them.

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Chelsea

Why Andreas Christensen is the future of Chelsea’s defence

Jake Jackman

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Christensen
Photo: Reuters

Andreas Christensen has been rewarded for his great form this season with a new contract at Chelsea and it looks like he is a player who the Blues want to build around for the future. The Danish international has been one of the breakthrough stars of the Premier League campaign and he is proof that there is value to the loan system used at Stamford Bridge.

It has long been criticised as the club have stockpiled talent and few have made it to the first-team. However, Antonio Conte has opened the door to those that have spent time out on loan and breaking into the first eleven is now a realistic aim.

It was a surprise when Victor Moses was given a prominent role last season, but he was the success story that gave hope to the likes of Christensen. At the beginning of this campaign, there was hope that the defender would follow in the wing-back’s footsteps, but he was initially behind David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger in the pecking order.

The 21-year-old knew that he would have to work hard to earn a regular starting spot at Stamford Bridge and he has done just that. He has looked every inch a top-six player when he has played and is now seen as part of the club’s first eleven.

Christensen has made 23 appearances this season and it was crucial that the club secured his future at the earliest opportunity. His recent four-and-a-half-year contract is justified.

BBC Sport report the following quotes from him:

“I’m just happy to be committed to Chelsea for the future. I’m enjoying it at the club and everything is working well”

Christensen has had a rapid rise to the top of the sport. The defender is already a first-team regular for a Champions League team at the age of 21. The Danish international had an excellent two years on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Although the system can be abused, it can be a useful aid in developing a player if used correctly. Chelsea haven’t always been great at this, but they got it right with their talented centre-back.

At the age of 19, Christensen had a lot of potential and had already made his first-team debut at Stamford Bridge. However, he was raw and not ready to take up a prominent role in the squad.

He could have stayed around to offer competition, but the decision was taken to send him out on loan. There would have been a lot of interest in him given the hype around him at the time. Chelsea opted for the Bundesliga and Monchengladbach.

This was seen as a good standard and the league has a great reputation for developing young players. Clubs in Germany are more willing to give opportunities to those in the infancy of their careers and that is why more and more young English players are going there.

Monchengladbach immediately gave Christensen a regular starting place and he developed quickly. By the end of his first season, he was regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the division and there were Chelsea fans clamouring for his return.

The loan agreement couldn’t be broken and in hindsight, that was positive for Christensen. One problem with the loan system is that players don’t get to fully settle at a club as they know their stay is going to be a temporary one.

The defender knew that he would be at Monchengladbach for two years and that was certainly a good thing. If it is the right marriage between club and player, there is a lot to gain from a two-year loan.

During his time in Germany, Christensen played regularly in the Bundesliga and got to test himself in European competition. Considering he was planning his long-term future with Chelsea, it was important that he got used to playing a European schedule and Monchengladbach provided that.

These comments to Sky Sports show how crucial the defender thinks the loan experience was for him:

“For me personally, it was the two biggest years of my career. If it went badly I might not be here now, but because it did I am here, feeling confident and in a good spot,”

“The experience of playing in the Champions League and at the top level for two years every week helped me a lot.

“Both for the club and for me personally, the plan was always to come back into the first team.”

Sometimes a player can be loaned out as the parent club don’t know what to do with him and his career is put on the backburner. Christensen suggests that Chelsea mapped out his career path and told him exactly what he needed to do to break into the first-team.

The Blues deserve credit for that, as they gave the player a clear directive and he made sure he achieved the necessary progress while out on loan.

This season has been a breakthrough for Christensen as he has replaced David Luiz in the heart of Chelsea’s defence. That is a huge show of faith from Antonio Conte as he has taken the place of a £50 million signing and he has been full value for his spot in the team.

The 21-year-old’s greatest strength is his ability on the ball, as he has a pass success rate of 93.9% in the Premier League. In a three-man defence, it is important to have a player willing to carry the ball into midfield and the Danish international is the best in the squad at that.

David Luiz has frequently been praised for his ability on the ball, but he can be careless in possession and make costly errors that lead to goals. Despite his age, Christensen can be relied on not to do that and he has grown into his role with every game.

In addition to his quality on the ball, the young defender can compete physically as shown by his average of two successful aerial duels per game. That was a weakness of his game during his teenage years, but his loan spell allowed him to develop his skills and he is now ready for the rough and bustle of the Premier League.

Christensen isn’t an aggressive defender and he prefers to use his intelligence rather than his physicality to regain possession. He is currently averaging 2.5 ball recoveries and 3.6 clearances per game.

The Danish international is a good reader of the game and complements the rest of the defence well. There is a long way to go until he fulfils his potential, but he is on the right track and set to become a mainstay of the Chelsea team for years to come.

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