Chelsea are surely on the brink of wrapping up the league title now. I think I can say that with a certain degree of assuredness, as they sit six points adrift of Manchester City going into April and with a game in hand to boot. They have a slightly superior goal difference, minimal injury concerns and plenty of players in rich enough form to see them across the line. It has by no means been the perfect season – crashing out of the Champions League and FA Cup early will be seen by many as obvious failures – but league success is what counts more than any, Jose Mourinho will no doubt insist.
What have Chelsea had though that their rivals lack this season? Their scoring record is about the same as Manchester City’s and Arsenal’s behind them, while their goals against column is only marginally less than any of the top five. Even the Blues’ record against the rest of this season’s top seven teams has been relatively unimpressive, despite being regarded as a critical component of league winning formulas in the past. They have only collected 14 points from 27 available thus far, worse than City’s (15/27), United’s (17/27) and Liverpool’s (16/30) records thus far. Statistically that could point to them having a nervy run in with three such fixtures remaining, but with a potential nine point advantage going into these games it would still take a momentous collapse for Chelsea to relinquish their grip now.
Though not starkly apparent however, Mourinho’s team’s performances suggests they warrant their impending glory. For what they have that their chasing rivals lack is a precise degree of balance to their squad and usual line-up, which prevents opposition, especially the lesser sides in the league, from taking anything from them. The ‘big’ matches become less important if so-called routine results are near impeccable, and Chelsea have shown that this season, justifying their uninspired top seven form by taking 53 points from 60 against the remaining thirteen sides – just shy of a formidable 90% efficiency rate. Compare that to Manchester City’s 46/63 (73%) record and the difference is clear: taking as many points from lesser teams takes away the pressure from high profile fixtures.
Results would suggest that Chelsea’s form this season has marked an architectural shift in emphasis. Last season it was the opposite end of the scales on which the Blues found themselves, as they took 27/36 against top seven sides, but only managed about 70% of points from the rest of the league. Though they fared better than Manchester City and Liverpool in ‘big’ matches – doing the double over both even – these sides managed to scrape ahead of Chelsea by hitting close to 80% efficiency against lesser sides. Over a campaign of such tight margins, it was the six or seven more points gained against beatable teams that decided the final league standings, not the two or three extra points won against their surrounding rivals.
This time around, Mourinho has constructed a squad tailor-made for avoiding slip ups against teams the bookies would have them odds-on to comfortably take care of. Unlike most of their Premier League rivals, Chelsea have a balance to their line-up which is designed to avoid defeat. While better quality sides are capable of upping the ante to match this Chelsea side in a one-off showdown, most inferior teams are incapable of breaking down this unit without the help of a very bad off-day – something Mourinho’s teams through the years have typically very rarely shown.
Urging Roman Abramovich to splash out €25 million to bring Nemanja Matic back to Stamford Bridge, was one of the best decisions Mourinho has made in his second spell as Chelsea manager. He is the exact kind of player the Portuguese likes to build his team around – solid, efficient and, let’s be honest, hardly an exciting prospect going forward. Costinha, Makelele, Zanetti and Khedira have all satisfied similar roles under ‘the Special One’ in the past, and Mourinho’s knack of picking out the ideal ‘boring’ player is uncanny. Matic is the perfect player to hold anchor while the rest of the midfield and attackers pile forward, and he is a player of the style, consistency and quality that Chelsea have missed for the last few years. It is hardly coincidence, surely, that the Serb’s absence coincided with Chelsea’s defeat to Newcastle in December, and then their late collapse against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League; he provides the cover that gives Fabregas et al. creative freedom, and the team’s success this season has become nearly completely reliant on this balance.
Against lesser sides this balance is vital as they often lack the quality or wherewithal to counteract it. Of course, there is a lot more to it tactically than simply playing Matic in a deep role and letting the rest of the midfield bomb forward – if that was the case then every team would attempt something similar and football would be dull and predictable – but he at least suits Mourinho’s general strategic approach and lives up to his high disciplinary standards. It is this latter point that has been one of Manchester City’s big failings this season, as Fernando and Fernandinho have often been found lacking defensively; allowing Javi Garcia’s conservative but quiet effectiveness to leave for Zenit last summer has perhaps not proved as inconsequential as it appeared at the time.
None of this is to say that Chelsea’s team is perfect, as their absence in Europe’s latter stages details. John Obi Mikel is hardly even close to a high enough standard of replacement when Matic is missing, and there is still some way to go towards moulding that typically feared Mourinho-esque defence he built success on in the past. However, what is clear for now at least, is that Chelsea are ahead of their major domestic competitors. Manchester City’s need for squad rebuilding has been talked about on this website already in some detail, while Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United still need major investment and character-building to mount a serious title challenge next season.
For now, Jose Mourinho has struck the perfect on-field balance between ‘boring’ and ‘flair’ at Chelsea, and none of his Premier League rivals have been able to do the same. And it is for this reason that the Blues will likely lift their fourth Premier League trophy come the end of May.
Crystal Palace’s hopes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek return boosted after latest comments
The midfielder is unlikely to get what he’s after at his parent club.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek has boosted Crystal Palace‘s hopes of securing his services for another season, after claiming he will only remain with Chelsea this summer if guaranteed a regular first-team spot at Stamford Bridge next season, in quotes via Sky Sports.
The 22-year-old spent last season on loan at Selhurst Park after making just 31 appearances for Chelsea since his debut in 2014, and his immense talents have earned him a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad this World Cup.
“I want to play as much as I can,” revealed Loftus-Cheek. “Even this past season just gone, I didn’t play as much as I would have liked because of injuries. So I still feel I need a proper season of playing, wherever it is.”
Loftus-Cheek made 25 appearances for Roy Hodgson’s outfit last term, and is still unhappy with the amount of minutes he managed, so it’s pretty safe to assume Chelsea – given the disastrous domestic season they’ve just had – won’t be bettering his previous return, or be prioritising taking chances on academy products next season.
And Palace will be keen to offer the stylish midfielder a deal to extend his stay with the former England manager, where, if available, he will continue to be considered one of the first names on the team-sheet.
Palace are likely to face competition from rival clubs though, as Loftus-Cheek is emerging as a star on the biggest stage of all in Russia; having flourished in his brief cameo against Tunisia. And he’s now considered likely to start against Panama, with Dele Alli nursing a slight injury.
Aston Villa could reportedly owe John Terry £560,000 in wages
The owner may have to sell shares in the club.
Aston Villa’s financial mess looks likely to continue, as the cash-strapped club could now owe captain John Terry a whopping £560,000 in wages, unless he transfers to a different club this summer, according to reports from the Times.
Villa are said to have reached an agreement with HMRC to postpone a payment of £4 million last week, but a further payment is expected this week and the club owner Tony Xia may have to go as far as to sell shares in the club to ensure all debts are paid.
The ex-Chelsea legend announced his impending departure from the midlands club last month, after they failed to secure Premier League promotion in the play-offs and his current contract is due to expire at the end of the month. But he is said to be entitled to a further month’s pay.
His weekly-wage packet was said to be worth £70,000 at Villa Park, meaning the overdue payments from the last two-months add up to over half-a-million for the 37-year-old defender. However, the outstanding July payment will only stand if Terry retires or remains a free-agent, meaning Villa will be keen to land him a new club.
Villa reportedly need £40 million in order to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations (Birmingham Mail), after gambling that they would gain promotion to the Premier League this season.
England must start Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek after Panama reveal tactics
England must opt for creativity after the Panama captain’s comments
Panama have revealed plans stifle England with a physical approach in their upcoming clash on Sunday, in quotes from captain Roman Torres on the Telegraph, and Gareth Southgate should ensure the Three Lions’ approach is suited to the style of opponent.
The Central Americans were beaten 3-0 by a star-studded Belgium outfit on Monday in their World Cup debut, meaning a win against England is pivotal in ensuring they remain in the competition beyond the group stages. And England will have a tough task taking the lion’s share of points on the day.
“England are a bit more direct than Belgium. They try to make use of the pace they have. We’ll need to be compact and limit their space,” revealed Torres told the Telegraph.
And as a result England must employ the right tactics. Creativity and bravery will be key, as they will undoubtedly have the majority of possession, and Southgate will want to make it count. Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek added instant impetus to a languid outfit, after coming on late against Tunisia.
The team’s performance became full of purpose and directness in the last 20 minutes, with both taking the responsibility of carrying the ball forward and creating, and from that arrived the corner and subsequent winner from Harry Kane.
The end product from the likes of Rashford was missing in the opening stages of the game also, as team-mate Jesse Lingard squandered a number of key opportunities to put the game to bed early, and Southgate will not want a repeat this time around.