Chelsea’s hope of clinging the Premier league title could be on the line as the battle for the top spot becomes fierce. The Blues are yet to win any of their last four matches and with last year’s champion, Manchester United on their tail, Stanford Bridge faithfuls are beginning to panic, especially when the African players leave next month for national duties.
All the African players, including Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Solomon Kalou and John Obi Mikel, will leave next year for the African Cup of nations, earmarked to take place in Angola in January 2010. Football pundits have warned that the players’ absence will leave a big vacuum at club level and could threaten their top spot survival.
Already, Micheal Essien’s absence caused by hamstring injury may have had a toll on the London team’s last four matches. Essien’s position as all-round midfield and defensive player could not be underrated. “He’s versatile and experienced, combine with the ability to score goals from a long range distance. Essien probably holds Chelsea’s life and his knee injury is definitely having an impact on the ability of Chelsea to defend well,” said Godwin Odo, Chelsea fan.
Essien’s dominance in the midfield and defensive skills can hardly be replaceable as Chelsea’s last three matches drawn were as a result of set-piece (mistakes) goals. Their last match against Everton couldn’t have been more obvious, the lack of communication between the Blues’ keeper, Petr Cech and his defenders is causing them to lose more points. The goals scored by their opponent were as a result of their inability to define a clear cut-line between who and when to react to balls thrown into their penalty area.
Chelsea plays Portsmouth later, Wednesday, and will be without Didier Drogba due to a back pain during training. Drogba who has scored a total of fifteen goals this season is in the form of his life and has helped the Londoners maintain their top position; helping them come back to draw after they were goals down.
Pundits are already in doubt if Chelsea can really maintain the champion’s position by January without all the African players for four weeks. But manager Carlo Ancelotti recognises that it’s going to be tough without his key players especially, Drogba but shrugged off any fear of panic in his dressing room. “Who can say we are in crisis, I don’t think so,” Ancelotti kicked back at critics.
“By January we will see how Ancelotti can manage this test and then we will be able to say whether they are in crisis or not,” said football journalist, Adrian Mutu.