With Roberto Di Matteo’s side now well and truly engaged in a battle for fourth in the Premiership, it seems as though they are going to have the toughest run-in of all the English sides. They take on Tottenham in the FA cup on Sunday and have home and away legs against Spanish giants Barcelona interspersed throughout the month. That sees Chelsea scheduled to play a minimum of 5 games in 14 days, which requires astute planning and preparation from the manager.
It could turn out to be a bit of a catch-22 situation for Chelsea who need to throw their efforts into the League fixtures in the coming weeks if they are to qualify for the Champions League next season. But at the same time, they could miss out on cup success this time around if they don’t rotate their squad and rest some first team players. Newcastle and Tottenham currently occupy the space above the Blues in the table after they dropped points away to Fulham on Monday night. It’s not as though they can go into League games expecting to win and hope others falter ether because the fixture computer has thrown them into matches against Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool in the final weeks.
It’s a perfectly logical argument to say that Chelsea are in the semi-finals of the Champions League this season, so why not concentrate on that whilst they are still in it, than go all out for a spot in the qualifying rounds next time around. But the fact of the matter is that they are up against Barcelona. Call it cynical if you will, but realistically Di Matteo’s side will know they have a slim chance of progressing to the final.
It’s quite possible they will have a better chance of actually winning the competition next year, with time to improve the squad in the summer. Therefore its easy to see the Chelsea boss wanting to go into the game away to Arsenal on the 21st with a full strength first eleven in what could be a crucial match for the team. This game comes just three days after the first leg with Barca at Stamford Bridge, so we could see Di Matteo rest a couple of players here and go defensive to stop the away goals, then go all out at the Nou Camp.
It also gives Chelsea a chance to put out a full strength side against Spurs in the FA cup, which comes after a reasonable six day break. After this, the staff can assess the key players ahead of the Barca game. It all seems like a bit of a juggling act for Di Matteo at the moment, which has prompted calls from some people that English clubs do not get the favourable treatment from Uefa or the FA in terms of moving fixtures and heavy schedules. The relative success or failure of Chelsea’s season ultimately now comes down to a period of just two or three weeks.
The problem of fixture congestion is emphasised for Chelsea this season because of the lack of participation in the latter stages of cup competitions by the top English teams. If both Manchester clubs and Arsenal had progressed in Europe and domestically, then they would have the same problem. It’s not as though Chelsea are the only victims here either. Barcelona play once every four days from now until May, including El Classico in La Liga, although admittedly their domestic cup competition has taken a prolonged break until the end of May.
So it leaves Chelsea’s interim manager with a difficult balancing act to pull through, without a simple solution of stick or twist. Against Fulham we saw Mata, Drogba and Sturridge occupy the bench from the start of the game, and although they went a goal ahead, Chelsea clearly lacked attacking flair and potency. In games to come, Di Matteo may be a lot more wary of starting games without that sort of pace and creativity on the pitch, with every opponent now looking to capitalise and pick up valuable results at the business end of the season.
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