5 Weaknesses That Could Cost Chelsea the Premier League Title
Ten games into the Premier League campaign, and already Chelsea appear to be running away with the Premier League title.
It would be easier to find five reasons why their performances have been so good – the dynamism provided by Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa’s goals, Thibaut Courtois’ outstanding goalkeeping. But, in the interests of balance, here’s 5 Chelsea Weaknesses that might cost them the Premier League Title…
1 – Lack of midfield structure
Cesc Fabregas has made a remarkable start to his Chelsea career, racking up nine assists in just ten appearances, and his driving midfield runs and clever passes have characterised this Chelsea side. It’s not the usual ultra-physical midfield zone Jose Mourinho depended upon during his first spell at Stamford Bridge, it’s something more technical and forward-thinking.
The only problem with Fabregas is his lack of positional discipline – he follows the ball too much, rather than holding his position. Shortly before the 2-1 victory over QPR on Saturday afternoon, as the sides lined up for kick-off, Nemanja Matic had to shout at Fabregas to drop deep alongside him, rather than remaining in an advanced position higher up. Watching Fabregas being instructed at that stage, before the game had even started, speaks volumes.
So far, Fabregas’ incredible return of assists means there’s no problem with his advanced positioning. If the assists start to dry up, though, and opponents find themselves cutting through Chelsea’s midfield, Mourinho might be tempted to change the system slightly.
2 – The lack of pace in defence
Gary Cahill and John Terry performed excellently as a partnership throughout last season, although Chelsea tended to play extremely deep, with two disciplined central midfielders protecting them, and the full-backs tucking in and defending the width of the penalty box. The responsibilities of Cahill and Terry, therefore, were basically about heading balls away.
Now, Chelsea are playing a more open brand of football, with less protection from midfield, more pressing high up the pitch, and sometimes the full-backs are given more attacking license too. Therefore, Chelsea’s centre-backs are forced to get through more work, and they don’t always look convincing when high up the pitch. In the 1-1 draw at Manchester United, for example, United attacked directly on a number of occasions, and Terry and Cahill looked very uncomfortable. At one point, Terry attempted to play a hopeless offside trap.
Chelsea have a goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, who is excellent in one-on-one situations. However, the higher up the pitch Chelsea play, the more opponents can get in behind.
3 – Diego Costa’s fitness
Diego Costa’s injury record so far this season has been strange – he’s repeatedly been considered doubtful…then has played anyway, and looked entirely fit. This particularly interesting in light of his brief participation in the European Cup final in May, when Atletico took a gamble on his fitness, but the striker barely lasted five minutes.
Costa returned from a two-week absence against QPR on Saturday and performed reasonably well, holding the ball up and bringing others into play, although he lacked his usual explosiveness. Still, it’s not difficult to imagine Costa suffering more fitness concerns, especially after such a demanding 2014.
Chelsea have two good back-ups, but they’re not as complete as Costa. Didier Drogba provides the aerial power and Loic Remy boasts great pace, but Costa has both. If Chelsea are forced to do without him for long periods, they could struggle.
4 – Fixture congestion
Mourinho attempts to win every competition he enters, and Chelsea are set for an assault on four major competitions this season. They’re already through to the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup – they’ll expect to defeat Derby, and then will face a two-legged semi-final in late January.
You’d expect Chelsea to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League too, and let’s make a quick assumption they’ll also reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup. In that case, Chelsea would play 62 games this season – and that’s assuming no replays, and ignoring any potential finals they’d reach, too.
Mourinho has a good squad, but he’s not always particularly keen to rotate. With Inter in 2010, for example, he was so keen to emphasise the cohesion between players that he repeatedly played the same XI. They were exhausted by the season’s end, had to switch to a more defensive style of football – although they did, most importantly, win the treble…
5 – Others are likely to improve
Chelsea’s major rivals have made poor starts to the campaign, but are unlikely to continue in such sluggish form. Manchester City, for example, wobbled at this stage last season with some disappointing results before rallying in the new year and eventually taking the title.
Arsenal are also accustomed to enduring poor starts before improving over the course of the campaign, while Manchester United and Liverpool should improve once their various new signings bed in.
The problem, though, is the gap to Chelsea that has already emerged. City are six points behind, Arsenal nine, while Liverpool and Manchester United are 12 and 13 back respectively, and surely already out of the title race.
We’re clutching at straws. Mourinho’s record in the second season at a club is spectacular – he’s never failed to win the league title with Porto, Chelsea, Inter or Real Madrid in his second campaign. City should improve, and put up a challenge in the second half of the campaign, but this is already Chelsea’s title to lose.
November 5th, 2014 by Michael Cox