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A Dull Ending In Leicester
As if by some miracle, Chelsea emerged from a lowly sixth several weeks ago to scale the heights of third position in te Premier League, just in time for the season's end. Their exploits were assisted considerably by the failings of their three main rivals for a Champions Laegue space. Now all that remains is for the small matter of keeping their nice neighbours of Arsenil out of next year's Champions League by winning the Europa League final. This task will be all the more difficult because the Blues are goal shy on these big occasions, as this result and Thursday night both demonstrated. Arsenic, by contrast, possess an excellent strike force that is more than likely to deliver them at least one goal in Baku, thus obliging goal shy Chelsea to find at least two goals of their own.
Chelsea Just Squeeze Through!
Well that was quite a little night, wasn't it? Whilst Arsenic surprisingly sailed through in Valencia, Sarri's misfiring team laboured for two hours with one goal, and were close to conceding a killer second against their dangerous Frankfurt opponents. In the end, with the clock ticking close towards eleven in the evening, young Kepa proved to be the hero of the two hours when he followed up a number of important saves with two crucial stops at the end of the penalty shootout, one which was a bit odd followed by a more conventional save. The penalty kicks (our third in the last few months) was a virtual replica of the drama in Munich from May 2012, with Chelsea missing an early penalty and then somehow retrieving the situation when three-two behind after three kicks each. The moral of the story, once again, is that if you want to avoid the awful lottery of a penalty shootout, then it's best to score more goals in the 120 minutes that you have to win the match. Chelsea for the umpteenth time are goal shy in such situations, in stark contrast to the goalscoring heroics of the other three successful English clubs from recent nights. It's all very well hoping that a resolute defence and goalkeeper will bail you out, but our struggles in front of goal, or more particularly the evident lack of creativity, could prove to be our undoing in Baku at the end of May against Arsenil Wannabes.
It was very much a case of all's well, that ends well. However, at the interval, with stalemate on the cards, there was disquiet amongst the Chelsea faithful. Would this be another missed opportunity in this most peculiar of races for Champions League positions? Fortunately, Chelsea once more demonstrated their knack of scoring more goals in the second half than in the first. The first two efforts were both headers and came in quick succession to allay the fears of the home support. Later Higuain put the contest well and truly to bed. It remained something of a shame and an insult that the legend that is Gary Cahill couldn't be risked by silly old Sarri until the eighty-ninth minute. Surely one of the heroes on Munich 2012 could have been granted the last ten minutes of normal time? Still, at least Sarri possessed just about enough class to afford Gary a final appearance in front of his grateful home supporters. One can't help feeling that Cahill has been criminally underused this season and still has at least one good year left in him even yet.
A Crucial Equaliser From Pedro
For the second time inside a week, Chelsea went behind and then equalised virtually on half time. Although this ended up prolonging Chelsea's recent winless sequence, this feels like a reasonably good result. Frankfurt will have to come to west London and win, or achieve a high-scoring draw. There remains the very real possibility that all three major London football clubs will progress to the final of their respective competition. Meanwhile, stubborn old Sarri held the flying Hazard back, a policy which could have backfired, but the risk wasn't too harmful, and indeed he should be fairly fresh for the not inconsiderable challenge of Watford on Sunday afternoon.
A Decent Draw
Chelsea gained a valuable point and inched closer to a place in next season's Champions League, courtesy of a draw at Old Trafford. Both teams had their moments, but it's very apparent that either protagonist looks likely to challenge the top two any time soon. Fortunately Arsenic were thumped at Leicester City, thereby leaving Chelsea's fate in their own hands. Two wins in the final two league matches will earn qualification. Anything less relies on our rivals to also continue to haemorrhage points. However while ManUre's last two fixtures look fairly straightforward, Chelsea's encounters with Watford and at Leicester City look decidedly tricky, to put it mildly.
A Desperately Disappointing Draw
An exciting first half with goals-a-plenty was followed by a resolute second half performance from Burnley that defied Chelsea. It all ended with tetchy exchanges and recriminations between both clubs. The hosts were clearly frustrated. They were gifted a massive opportunity to go third and finish in the top four. Now that they have blown that opportunity, they simply have to win their last three league fixtures, all of which are difficult assignments at ManUre, at home to cup finalists Watford, and away to awkward Leicester City. Nothing less than nine points will be acceptable. Otherwise the club will need success in the Europa League to grant them a ticket in next season's Champions League. The trouble is that Christensen is not an adequate deputy for Rudiger. When the Dane plays, we concede far too many. Meanwhile No Goals Kovacic is not a go to person when you're in need of a goal. Poor Chelsea have once more fluffed their lines.
A Double For Pedro Sets Up Victory
It was alright on the night, as the hosts secured a place in the last four, and in scoring their fourth goal, they made it to one hundred goals from a rollercoaster season. When they took a four-one lead, an eight goals demolition seemed on the cards, as Giroud and the speedy Pedro ran riot. However, Chelsea wouldn't be Chelsea if they didn't then do their very best impersonation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In the second half, the home team put in a nervous performance, spooked by two long-range strikes from the Czechs which temporarily threatened a massive upset. Their third goal was a majestic thunderbolt, but it was a false dawn for the away team. In the end, Chelsea held on for a semi-final double header against surprise package, Eintracht Frankfurt. However, the sooner Rudiger returns to the defence, the better.
An encouraging run of four successive victories was halted, as Chelsea lost on Merseyside for the second time this spring, each time conceding two second half goals. The ploy of fielding Hazard in a false number nine position once more backfired. Our record against the top teams is now a running sore, as the strategy is increasingly a cautious and negative one. Silly Sarri stated that he felt that his team played well in the first half, but how can no goals and a small share of possession and a failure to work the opposition goalkeeper amount to a terribly cosmic effort? Surely Conte or Mourinho wouldn't have been so contented. The loss of the speedy Rudiger just before half time was a blow. Hopefully he will be back before the end of the season. The Blues can still finish in the top four but there is no margin for error now, especially as their three rivals have a game in hand. Maybe just maybe Chelsea will assert themselves more when they visit unconvincing ManUre in two weeks' time.
Alonso Heads Home Precious Winner
This was yet another unconvincing performance but a most welcome result. After the first eleven hit the heights with an impressive conquest of West Ham three nights ago, the periphery players cooked up a largely mediocre effort. However the team warmed to their task as the evening wore on, and a fine cross from Willian was converted from close range by the lurking Alonso. The visitors now have one foot in the semi finals, but know that this fare will not suffice against Liverfools this Sunday, but then fortunately many of these turkeys will be warming the bench instead.
A Hazard Masterclass
The Chelsea faithful, who have had to be patient through a winter of mediocrity, were treated to a double helping from the majestic Eden Hazard. This was a cracking game, and a score of six goals to two would have been much more appropriate. As it was, the hosts attacked with gusto and aplomb, and narrowly avoided converting other chances. The trouble was that the delay in scoring the second goal gave rise to fears that Wet Sham would mug us with an equaliser, like they did twelve months ago. Fortunately that pesky Hernandez didn't score against us this time. This was a refreshing performance from Chelsea. Having got out of jail at Cardiff, they've really kicked on with two clean sheets, five goals, and maximum points since then. The confidence has come flooding back, which is timely, given the big challenges ahead. We really need to take something from our two visits to the north west, to Liverfools and ManUre, or else this incursion into the top four may prove to be a temporary one.