LONDON ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Ramires of Chelsea looks dejected as Sunderland celebrate as Nedum Onuoha scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Sunderland at Stamford Bridge on November 14 2010 in London England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
With an embarrassing 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton on Wednesday, it's probably reasonable to say that Chelsea's hopes of winning the league are smaller than the inverse of Didier Drogba's ego (don't do that calculation, it's got "universe breaker" written all over it). Chelsea are now looking at the Champions League and the FA Cup as their only real hope of earning silverware this year, and while they're slumping I don't think it's crazy to say that a top-four place in the league is probably secure.
Chelsea are fortunate in that their next European opponents are FC Copenhagen, the weakest team to emerge from the Champions League group stages. This gives the Blues plenty of time to work their way out of the slump they're currently mired in. How? Well, I have a few suggestions...
- Rotate the squad. One of the major concerns coming into the season was the age of the team, which manifests itself in two ways - increased injury frequency and an accelerated decline in performance due to overwork. Obviously, we've already encountered the injury bug and it's been a rather massive pain. Regarding the second point, most of Chelsea's best players are on the wrong side of 28, and they're not doing so well with the long slog of the season. Nicolas Anelka is playing like his feet have been nailed to the floor, Drogba looks like he could actually keel over and die at any minute, and God only knows how John Terry is managing to stay playing reasonably well after his run of injuries. The squad, then, needs to be rotated enough to rest key players. Keeping the superstars fit for a Champions League run has to be major priority. It's no good getting to the quarter finals without the team to get through to the semis.
- Use the youth movement. Am I alone in thinking that Josh McEachran is the best passer of the ball on the entire team? That Patrick van Aanholt could occasionally spell Ashley Cole? That Daniel Sturridge is slightly more deserving of the chance to start than Salomon Kalou? I don't think so. While the superstars contrived to own-goal their way to a defeat at Molineux, the reserve team beat Tottenham's reserves 7-3, with Sturridge netting five times. At some point, the youngsters will have to be integrated with the team. Why not during this "bad moment"? After all, it really can't make things any worse than they currently are, and there's a variety of ways that it might get better. There's no shame in using 2010/11 as a rebuilding season.
- Don't panic. I guess this is more towards the fans than the team, but it's worth reminding ourselves that this the team that won the double last year, except Ashley Cole and Michael Essien are both fit. Granted, everybody's a year older, but it's not like Chelsea's talent has fallen off a cliff, or that Carlo Ancelotti's gone mental. Keep calm and carry on.
Chelsea need to fix things, but they need to remember that a year in transition was to be expected at some point. After the beginning of the season, I didn't really expect it to be this year. The key is taking the rebuild seriously - don't overreact and buy, say, Kaka, and for heavens sake don't fire Carlo Ancelotti. This is a natural part of a team's life cycle, and acting as though these seasons shouldn't happen is insane. We need to act decisively, but not irrationally. Let's make the most of this year.