Chelsea and Jose Mourinho partied like it was 2099 following their 2-0 victory over Liverpool at the weekend, and with good reason seeing as they fielded their second-string team.
Though, in truth, I would not consider only one new face in Tomas Kalas enough to declare Chelsea’s weekend side to be second string. Nonetheless, Chelsea hauled themselves right back into title contention with the win at Anfield, and are now only two points off the top.
This is a remarkable achievement given that Chelsea played without a free-scoring striker all season long. The Blues are yet to truly fill the void left by Didier Drogba, though the likes of Andre Schurrle, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o have shown a willingness to try – even if only in fits and starts.
Romelu Lukaku is certain to return to his parent club and perhaps make a better fist of filling Drogba’s shoes for the start of the new season after two productive loan spells at West Brom and Everton.
Some may have been apprehensive about Chelsea’s league title and Champions League bids following the loss of Petr Cech (shoulder) and Ramires (suspension), but Edin Hazard and John Terry returned to fitness for their Champions League match against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday night.
Chelsea, in spite of all the resolve they displayed at Anfield, have not been in sparkling form of late. Three losses, all against unfancied opponents, in their last seven fixtures saw Mourinho’s charges stumble in their title run. But the result at Anfield will have restored some confidence and with only two games left to play – at home to Norwich and away to Cardiff – The Blues appear unlikely to falter again.
What’s more, Chelsea are in the unenviable position of being reliant on the likes of Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham to do them favours against their fellow title challengers if they are to reclaim league glory.
Upon closer inspection:
Chelsea host Norwich City:
Norwich have been this season’s worst travellers having only won two and drawn two of their 18 away games. Neil Adams’ side have also lost their last five on the trot, but the form book may not have too much relevance here.
As stated before Chelsea have lost to Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa in recent weeks so this may not be the foregone conclusion many think it is. Norwich lie 18th and are only just behind Sunderland on goal difference.
It therefore goes without saying that Norwich will give everything in their remaining two games to stay up, and as Chelsea are unlikely to employ the same tactics that led to their win at Anfield, the Canaries could well be in with a shout here in a more open game.
In truth though, with Chelsea’s backline regaining strength, Norwich should be shut out at Stamford Bridge with relative ease.
Prediction: 2-0. Chelsea need to win their remaining two games, while needing favors elsewhere, if they are to win the league and Jose Mourinho will be loathe to stumble at home to such poor travelers.
Chelsea should keep an eye on: Robert Snodgrass, Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Wes Hoolahan (if fit) and Bradley Johnson.
Chelsea travel to Cardiff:
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his Cardiff City team find themselves at the foot of the table and only two games remain to pull off a remarkable rescue. They suffered a 4-0 humiliation away to Gus Poyet’s Sunderland last time out, and Chelsea’s arrival on the final day of the season is unlikely to be something to look forward to.
They may, however, take heart from the fact that four losses in their last eight games is not too bad a record for a team propping up the table. They also performed admirably to beat top-ten side Southampton just two games ago, and as long as there’s a chance of survival, Cardiff will make a good fist of trying to stay up.
Frazer Campbell and Jordan Mutch, in particular, have enjoyed a good season in spite of their log position and will leave every ounce of effort out on the pitch if it means Premier League survival.
But having suffered a 4-1 loss to Chelsea in the early part of the season, the Bluebirds will be well aware of the threat posed by Jose Mourinho’s side. Depending on what may happen in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal against Atletico Madrid, Chelsea will still harbor hopes of claiming two of the biggest club trophies in Europe.
Prediction: 0-2 to Chelsea. A lot depends on Cardiff’s next match against an out-of-sorts Newcastle side who contrived to lose their last six games in a row. If Newcastle win, Cardiff may be doomed to relegation (depending on what happens elsewhere), but a win for the Welsh side could give them the impetus needed to get a result against Chelsea.
Chelsea should keep an eye on: Jordan Mutch and Frazer Campbell provide the main threat, but they also have the support of Craig Noone and Steven Caulker. These players work well together and desperation to stave off relegation may provide the fuel to drive Cardiff on to a favorable result.