Reflecting back at the halfway stage of this four game (over nine days) period, which I think gave us the perfect chance to kick on, finish strongly and finally start showing some consistency – we produce two of the most inconsistent performances of the season. Since Saturday we’ve succeeded in two things, namely shortening our odds of winning a trophy considerably and making the race for fourth place a lot more difficult than it ever needed to be.

I soon as I saw the front five for the Southampton game (the same front five that lost at home to QPR) I couldn’t bring myself to hope for much more than a very scrappy, unconvincing win – something which we ultimately didn’t even really come close to achieving. It was a harsh reminder that precisely when we need it, our squad has virtually no depth at all. I think that Marko Marin and Victor Moses have been two really average signings and whenever they start together we barely look like a top half PL team in attack, let alone a European superpower. The over-dependence we’re all aware of on Eden Hazard and Juan Mata in particular not only to lead this team but to bring up everyone else on the pitch is reaching a dangerous level – one where a lengthy injury to either must lead to a severe diminishment of ambition.

 

On a more positive note, yesterday’s game against Manchester Utd inspired quite a few reasons to be optimistic. Against the champions elect of the division, a team that hadn’t lost a domestic game for more than five months, with no real weaknesses and everything to play for, I thought we contained them pretty straightforwardly and matched them if not surpassed them in quality everywhere on the pitch.

I’m sure Benitez picked yesterday what he thought is our best starting XI and I think the result will have thankfully vindicated him. His and di Matteo’s selection difficulties all year have been through the spine of the team which is where the vast majority of rotation takes place. I’m sure our now that our strongest possible centre half partnership is David Luiz and Ivanovic – ironically the two least natural centre halves in the squad! They both are a lot more physical than either Terry or Cahill (who rely more on pace than presence) and along with Vincent Kompany, I reckon they’re two of the three best defensive headers of the ball in the league. Meanwhile I think the Mikel-Ramires partnership in midfield has been established for a long time. Ramires is the most resourceful/hardworking foot soldier in the side, brilliant going forward and tracking back and Mikel seems to understand and complement his movement far better than anyone else in the side. It’s a fact that when Lampard plays instead of either, Chelsea play worse.

Sadly, now though Benitez won’t get to play this XI for at least two weeks because of a hamstring injury to Ashley Cole. Ray Wilkins bizarrely blamed Benitez for the injury saying if Cole had played against Southampton it wouldn’t have happened, which might have been true but was hardly fair, given the rather large number of matches Ash has played this season and not pulled a hamstring having not played two days before either. Either way, this is a huge opportunity for Ryan Bertrand to show he could be Chelsea’s first choice left back at some point with a lot of important games to come before Cole’s scheduled return date. He’s certainly made a good start with United creating virtually nothing down their right flank yesterday. (largely due to how terribly Nani played mind you)

Two moments decided the game yesterday and both were phenomenal highlights. The first being a Chelsea ‘goal of the season’ contender, with Mata taking the ball, effortlessly making space for himself with a simple turn before sending in a perfect chipped pass for Demba Ba to reach for and volley over De Gea. It was a goal worthy of settling most ties. The second equally as important moment was an incredible reaction save by Cech from a close range Javier Hernandez header. The timing of his run across his goal line and the strength in his left wrist to turn it over were both world class. It was a nice reminder what he’s capable of as talk of Courtois returning becomes louder.

In the end I think few would disagree that Chelsea deserved the win, over both legs as well as yesterday, as we head off to Wembley yet again to play Manchester City in the semi-final. We’ll go in as underdogs for sure. City’s victory against us has since seen their form rise back to how they began 2013; Tevez, David Silva and Yaya Toure all seem to regaining individual form as well. History will be on our side with Chelsea still undefeated in FA Cup matches at the New Wembley Stadium, although it’d be delusional to ignore what a huge reason for that statistic Didier Drogba was – this semi will be our first game there without him.

However, we have a manager desperate for self-vindicating trophies, we have young players desperate to win the first big medals of their career and we still have a good number of players with more experience of winning FA Cups than almost anybody in the history of English football. We’ve proven we can’t be taken lightly by anybody in this competition in recent years and it’s important we pass this onto the new generation. As much as you think they would, trips down to Wembley for Cup finals just don’t ever seem to get boring.

 

Quickly, looking ahead to the Rubin Kazan game on Thursday night, I think the plan will and should be to rest Mata, Mikel, Luiz and Ba (cup-tied anyway) and set ourselves up just to be solid, with a view to winning the tie with away goals when we’re more rested next week. This a really awkward tie with the timing, the travelling and the artificial pitches and given Rubin’s league status it seems logical the Europa League is their main priority. We know however that with solid, mistake-free performances we should have the quality to move past them without too much trouble. Let’s just not be chasing the tie when we start the 2nd leg.

 

 

Finally, the following is a prediction grid for all our results, as well as Tottenham’s and Arsenal’s for the remainder of the league season:

Chelsea Remaining Fixtures Points Tottenham Remaining Fixtures Points Arsenal Remaining Fixtures Points
Sunderland

3

Everton

3

West Brom

3

Fulham

3

No Fixture

0

Everton

3

Tottenham

1

Chelsea

1

Norwich

3

Liverpool

1

Manchester City

0

Fulham

1

Swansea

3

Wigan Athletic

3

Manchester Utd

0

Manchester Utd

0

Southampton

3

QPR

3

Aston Villa

3

Stoke City

3

Wigan

3

Everton

1

Sunderland

3

Newcastle

1

Total

15

Total

16

Total

17

Final Points

70

Final Points

73

 Final Points

70

 

 

Being, in my opinion, reasonably realistic, we’re in a bit of trouble here. Our run in is clearly the most difficult and if things go according to my predictions we very may well be finishing fifth on goal difference. Six points out of six against Sunderland and Fulham is an absolute must and then especially if Spurs beat Everton, their game at Stamford Bridge becomes as big as the Cup final for us if not bigger. If we could win that game then our final points total will rise to 72 whilst Spurs’ drops to 71 and we finish in 3rd place. That’s how tight it is.

Relying on Wenger not to do something that he’s done every year since he took the Arsenal job fifteen years ago doesn’t sound like a good plan. But relying on Andre Villas-Boas not being able to rectify Spurs’ inferiority complex and perpetual habit of ‘bottling it’ when comes down to business, looks like our best hope at this stage.

 

@MatthewClark46

What am I? A highly evolved male primate from England. A 21 year old accounting graduate. A lover of classic literature and European football. Keen blogger and essayist. Wannabe polemicist. Leftist. Humanist. Atheist. Scorpio. Always up for a debate. Gravatar: Christopher Hitchens/