‘Liverpool only look so good this season because everyone else has been s**te.’
You’ve read it on Twitter, heard it on radio phone-ins and had it spluttered at you in the pub countless times already in 2020 alone. An all-consuming, league-wide malaise has supposedly paved the way for the Reds to stroll to their? first Premier League title blah blah, etcetera etcetera.
Congrats to Liverpool for winning the lowest quality, poorest officiated, most boring Premier League ever ???
— Lawrence Bury (@lawrence_bury) January 19, 2020
While that is obviously an unfair and envious snipe across the bows of the all-conquering Anfield club, who are (*grits teeth*) well worthy of their status as champions-elect, there is one side that has certainly benefitted from an insidious averageness that has struck down the majority of the teams around them.
That is – for the time being at least – Frank Lampard’s ?Chelsea. The Blues are an island, marooned in fourth place, five points behind ?Leicester but out of reach of an underperforming chasing pack, while Sheffield United and Wolves will not realistically maintain their pressure (surely?!).
Sounds like a cruise, no? Well, all is not as it seems. Whisper it quietly, but Chelsea are a whole seven points worse off than at the same stage last season under the much-maligned Maurizio Sarri, despite occupying the same league position. The Blues
Last weekend was a fine example of this as ?Arsenal, ?Tottenham and ?Manchester United all failed to win, and Chelsea were agonisingly downed by a last-minute Newcastle goal at St. James’ Park. Leicester’s defeat and ?Ma?nchester City’s draw means – somehow – very little has changed, as the buffer both above and below the west Londoners is still intact, despite an enthralling 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday night.
Tottenham’s José Mourinho revival has become a damp squib, while Mikel Arteta’s apparently Guardiola-esque work at the Emirates has been undone by a series of unfortunate events, leaving the north London clubs eighth and tenth respectively. Meanwhile, despite being the main threat to Chelsea’s comfort, Manchester United seem determined to match the Blues’ dodgy form as they desperately seek to return to European football’s top table.
However, having failed to capitalise on a relatively straightforward run of fixtures between late November and now – slipping to as many as six ?Premier League defeats in 12 games against the likes of West Ham, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Southampton and Everton – a far tougher schedule over the next month poses the biggest threat to Chelsea’s island life so far; Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Hull City is the only reprieve from the tumult as Leicester, Spurs and Manchester United follow Arsenal in attempting to drum up a storm, while old foes Bayern await in the ?Champions League.
With that in mind and the infamous transfer ban lifted, new signings would be welcome. But that is proving a struggle too, with targets such as Timo Werner, Jadon Sancho, Moussa Dembélé, Gabriel Barbosa, Gedson Fernandes and Dani Olmo seemingly falling like dominoes. Although, while that will be a frustration, there is nothing to suggest that the current crop aren’t already good enough to get Chelsea over the line.
After the Blues tepid start to the season, I wrote that a top four finish should not be life or death for Chelsea and Frank Lampard. That sentiment remains even though Lampard overachieved in the first half of the season, with a climate of calm around the club in spite of results, and the legendary midfielder atypically afforded the patience of the board and the fans alike – in equal parts a result of his association with the club, his insistence on utilising the academy’s products and the transfer embargo that we’ve all heard plenty about.
Granted, that patience could wear thin should Chelsea fail to regain any semblance of the form that saw them make headway earlier in the campaign, but as long as the Blues are in the top four you would imagine Roman Abramovich’s notorious thirst for blood will be satiated.
However, to maintain their status as a Champions League club they must hit another hot streak, and it has to happen now as the west London club prepares for a season-defining month. Their competitors surely won’t afford them any more slip-ups, especially United, who are breathing menacingly down their necks with a game in hand.
Gratefully, Chelsea have been at their best in the bigger games so far this campaign, with their manager seemingly having success in instilling the winning underdog mentality that served him and his teammates so well throughout his time as a player at Stamford Bridge. Lampard will be hoping that is a trend that continues over the next few weeks, otherwise the water levels may begin to rise.
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