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Tuesday, 03 January 2012

Chelsea: Just How Important Is Europe For Them Now?


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Chelsea are currently suffering with their own poor run of form: without a win in four games before a dodgy triumph over Wolves - including draws against the likes of Wigan Athletic, with Didier Drogba to leave for the African Cup Of Nations in January and a gigantic few weeks approaching for Fernando Torres, it isn’t exactly going rosy for the Chelsea manager. Andres Villas-Boas has been given six months to make a good impression yet as ever the speculation surrounding a recently instated Chelsea boss has been rife.

A defeat against a better than usual Aston Villa – but still beatable side in Chelsea terms – has all but confirmed the name on the Premier League trophy come May won’t be theirs. And now it begins. The Champions League is a much-lusted, a much revered-above-the-others trophy for Chelsea even when the other top competition is available, but now it becomes their main pot to be claimed. The Premier League is out of their grasp, the League Cup – a small compensation anyway – isn’t available to be claimed as theirs.

Everything rests on it: Abramovic will have looked at the match against Villa with the knowledge that a defeat will end title hopes; if he overlooks a defeat against Napoli, he might hold the knowledge that Andres Villas-Boas’ hopes of staying in the job will be all but finished. All eyes are on Chelsea’s European ambitions and with dodgy league form in the memory bank, and booing off the pitch (though I still think they’ll get fourth eventually) an early Champions League exit would compile the misery and probably be the catalyst to veering Villas-Boas off the track.

It certainly isn’t ideal that other competitions are not available to take the heat off Villas-Boas and his players: a squad who seem to have been patched together and a squad who, as it has been noted many times before, seem to be in desperate need of a revamp. And it certainly isn’t ideal that Chelsea have entered such a new and hazardous year with what we can now see to be a partially new, partially rotting squad.

2012 is an important one in the history of Chelsea football club. Even their league form is defined by Europe’s top prize. A good run in the Premier League is needed to secure European qualification for next term or Andres Villas-Boas will certainly be out on his ear. It’s all-encompassing and with the added pressure of knowing such an unforgiving competition will make or break their term, well, let’s be frank, there will be a few squeaky bums come European nights at the Bridge.

Inconsistency is the bane of their season so far – great triumphs are meaningless when you cannot get it right against Wigan or Villa.

That, along with a varying and uncertain implementation of ethos and playing styles, has already made the title seem out of reach. But with Europe it would be faster and even more deadly. Knocked out and that is it. There are no opportunities to rewrite mistakes: Chelsea have been offered a few in the league this year, such as a win against Manchester City but then followed it up with draws against the likes of Wigan and Spurs. Europe is an even harsher bend to master than the league, yet it also the only place where Chelsea hopes lie. There will be no redemptions, no olive branches. Any inconsistency is rewarded – or actually punished – with immediate failure to progress. He must get this one right.

Sneaked inside the top four, have Chelsea, and their history has been inconsistent as of late. Quite a drop for a side prophesised to be back in the title race just a few weeks ago. Football might well be a funny old game but Andres Villas-Boas certainly won’t be laughing right now. I would argue the smart option is to actually keep Villas-Boas on. His managerial scalp would be the sixth one claimed recently in their history and stability is pivotal to a side undergoing a revolution, or a transition – a transition Andres can plan and properly implement come the summer.

What else, if Andres does pay the ultimate price? Another manager and another disruption? They have a bright one in their midst: an allowance of time to mould this side into how he sees fit should be the order of the day, as it obviously isn’t how he sees fit right now.

The problem will be persuading the hierarchy to see it that way when a quick rinse and repeat method has repeated itself so often before and especially when Champions League disaster provides them a perfect reason to get rid. The ultimatum seems to be clear for the Chelsea boss, what with the benefit of hindsight and the end of their Premier League title hopes… it’s Europe this year – and gaining qualification to it next year – or nothing for Andres Villas-Boas. Their future in oversea’s competition will probably save or condemn him.

Do you agree with Jack? Is the fact that Chelsea remain in the Champions League the only reason he has avoided the bullet at the Bridge so far or has Abramovich learnt to give his managers time? Would you be surprised to see him remain as Chelsea boss if they failed in Europe? Do you think AVB is the right man for the job? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth

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