English Premiership

Chelsea doing it the hard way

2015-03-16 14:23
Cesc Fabregas (Supplied)
Cesc Fabregas (Supplied)

London - If Chelsea are going to win the Premier League it looks like they will stumble hesitantly across the finish line rather than stride majestically through the tape like an all-conquering Olympic champion.

Sunday's frustrating 1-1 stalemate with Southampton at Stamford Bridge was their third successive home draw in all competitions and served to highlight all-too-apparent deficiencies in Jose Mourinho's team.

Too many players seemed tired and listless and Chelsea again appeared over-reliant on Eden Hazard's lightning pace and tricky ball skills to drag them out of a hole.

The Londoners may be six points clear at the top of the table, with a game in hand on their rivals, but the dynamic tiki-taka football that was on view at the start of the season is now a distant memory.

Do not fall into the trap of believing the destiny of the championship is assured because not only are Chelsea struggling for form, they also have three dangerous fixtures still to negotiate against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.

Even Mourinho acknowledged that it is no longer a two-horse race for the league crown.

"There is a danger of more teams being in the title race," the Portuguese told reporters after the Southampton game.

"Of course Arsenal are still in the race, seven points behind. We are not complacent, that is something I cannot accuse my players of.

"The danger is always there ... but if someone had told me in August that in March we would be six points in front with a match in hand, I would have signed for that immediately."

That may be the case but Chelsea were unable to take maximum advantage of second-placed Manchester City's shock 1-0 defeat at lowly Burnley on Saturday and were lucky to go into the break on level terms against a Sadio Mane-inspired Southampton.

Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas looked more like a pedestrian Sunday morning park player than a World Cup and European Championship winner as he frittered away possession time and time again in the first half.

Brazilians Oscar and Willian flattered to deceive behind Diego Costa in attack and even the normally rock-solid Nemanja Matic was withdrawn in the second period.

To be fair to Chelsea they were much better after the break and Fraser Forster had to be at his best in the Southampton goal to keep them out.

Then when Mourinho made a late change by bringing on Juan Cuadrado, the club's new Colombian signing from Fiorentina caused raised eyebrows among the fans as he resembled a fish out of water on the right wing.

Hazard, as usual, was a constant threat but the Belgium playmaker is beginning to feel the effects of a long and draining season.

Unlike Oscar and Willian, the other two players who occupy the three creative roles behind striker Costa, the 24-year-old Hazard is so important to Chelsea that he is rarely rested for games and not often substituted during matches.

With 10 games, almost a quarter of the season, left to play Chelsea's title run-in could depend on their trip to third-placed Arsenal on April 26 and the home fixtures with fourth-placed United on April 18 and fifth-placed Liverpool on May 9.

Mourinho's men looked invincible at Stamford Bridge at the start of the season, powering their way to 10 successive home league victories.

However, a run of four draws in the last five home games in all competitions suggest that visiting teams have worked out a way to silence their biggest weapons.


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