The Libero - Free-scoring Chelsea refuse to buckle
Published: 28 Apr 2010 - 09:03:20
You're about to blow your title chances. You're facing a crisis of confidence after a crazy few hours of football a week ago turned the race for the Premier League trophy on its head.
Your rivals are in the ascendency. Your lead at the top of the table has been eroded - and then overhauled. You're no longer in pole position and the pressure to win your game in hand is immense. You've been told it's your title to lose, and it looks like that is exactly what is happening.
You've lost your talismanic captain, sent off in the last game as his head disappeared to the same distant place as his form had. Your most potent attacking player is in a sulk having apparently injured himself in the same game.
Your manager is a rookie in the English top flight, and has yet to prove he can translate his continental credentials over here. No one knows if he can handle the pressure. In short, it's all going wrong, right at the death, and embarrassing final capitulation is surely just around the corner.
What do you do?
Thrash your next opponents 7-0 and purge those potentially infectious doubts, that's what.
Chelsea's reaction to the topsy-turvy events of a week and a half ago and the uncertainty which followed could not have been more emphatic, or better timed.
The pummelling of Stoke - incredibly the third time this season Chelsea have scored seven - put to bed any suggestion that they are lacking the bottle to hold off the threat of resurgent Manchester United.
As far as messages go, this one was loud and clear: Chelsea are not about to implode, they are not going to capitulate and they are certainly not going to hand the title to United on a plate.
Anyone who thought the impetus was now with United was sorely mistaken. This Chelsea side is so powerful, their squad so strong in depth, that it will take more than a late season charge from their rivals to derail them in their pursuit of the title - and a potential league and cup double.
A hat-trick from third-string striker Salomon Kalou told its own tale, as did the way in which Chelsea effortlessly coped with Terry's absence. Chelsea have abundant quality in reserve and if a player is missing or not firing on all cylinders, there is always another to step in and do the job.
And when first-choice players are playing so well - Didier Drogba again was sensational, despite not scoring, and Frank Lampard netted twice to bring up an impressive total of 20 for the season - it is difficult to find a weakness in Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Indeed, it seemed the only thing that could stop them was themselves. The weight of expectation of having got into a title-winning position looked like it was going to prove too great during the underpar performance against Tottenham.
Such fears have proved unfounded and surely now the title is theirs, even in this season of more twists and turns than back-to-back episodes of Ski Sunday.
All that is required now are victories at Liverpool at the weekend and then at home to Wigan on the final day of the season and Chelsea will be champions.
Much has been made of the upcoming trip to Anfield, and whether Liverpool will be motivated to do their most bitter rivals a huge favour by beating Chelsea, but Alex Ferguson need not worry about any lack of enthusiasm on Liverpool's behalf.
The Merseyside club have already proved they give their all, whatever the circumstances, when they did what was required of them against Blackburn back in 1995, beating United's title rivals on the final day of the season only for Ferguson's side to bottle it at West Ham.
Of more pressing concern to Ferguson though should be whether Liverpool can actually beat Chelsea, even when giving their all and playing to the best of their capabilities.
Last weekend's form suggests that it will be difficult to get one over the champions elect at the moment and it would come as no surprise if United were to find themselves having to win all three points against Sunderland come tea-time on Sunday to keep the race alive until the final day of the season.
Indeed, given United's stop-start search for form during the entire campaign, the only real surprise is that with just two games remaining, the destination of the trophy is still to be decided.
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- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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