Chelsea are seemingly falling into a crisis with five winless matches in the streak. The team's morale looks at an all-time low, and with reports of rift in the team, it can only get worse for the Blues. As was evident against Napoli on Tuesday night, the team not only lacked a proper striker but also lacked in defense with Terry absent. It has become increasingly evident in the past few months that something is wrong with this Chelsea squad, be it the manager, players, owner or anything else.
Chelsea still have an outside chance to overcome Napoli and progress further in the competition when Cavani and Co. come visiting in three weeks time at Stamford Bridge. But to achieve that, Villas-Boas' men need to up their performance level by some notches.
But before their European night, Chelsea face relegation, battling Bolton Wanderers in the upcoming weekend as they look to fight back for a fourth-place finish in the Premier League.
As the Blues try to sort out their weaknesses and stop their season from falling apart, let's take a look into the possible lineup our manager might field during the home game next weekend. Villas-Boas's selections have not looked the ideal at times, but we shall make a guess regarding the same.
We will assume that the Portuguese tactician shall use his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, which has been designed to get the most out of our misfiring striker, Fernando Torres.
1. Goalkeeper (Petr Cech): Petr Cech has not been in his best form this season, playing his part in letting in goals much more than usual. Against Napoli, he looked sharp and made some vital saves, but was let down by erratic defending. He is undoubtedly to start against Bolton and help Chelsea put their season back on track.
2. Central Defender (Gary Cahill): With captain John Terry being ruled out for up to six weeks nursing a knee injury, there is not much choice for Villas-Boas but to give his January signing, Gary Cahill, another first-team start. The ex-Bolton man, apart from a few stray errors, has been solid at the back, and against Napoli, was the best defender for Chelsea. He is gradually building his confidence and will be looking forward to another impressive outing against the Trotters.
3. Central Defender (David Luiz): The fizzy-haired Brazilian has been impressive but equally erratic this season, which has cost Chelsea vital points. His ability to make deep attacking runs into opposition defense provides Chelsea with much-needed support up front, but he is often found out of position. Moreover, his affinity to make rash, mistimed tackles has seen him being carded several times.
But Luiz seems to have attracted the favor of manager Villas-Boas, which has seen himself seal a permanent place in the starting 11. So when Chelsea welcome the Trotters at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Luiz is likely to keep his place at the heart of the Blues defense.
4. Right-Back (Jose Bosingwa): Chelsea's Serbian defender has been one of the better performers this season. But on Tuesday against Napoli, he had a nightmarish outing, being at fault for two of the three goals conceded. The usually disciplined right-back failed to put the lease on Lavezzi, which finally led to a 3-1 loss.
Jose Bosingwa was forced to leave the game early due to a pulled muscle. The Portuguese is likely to get the nod over Ivanovic, and this prediction was made taking our manager's often erratic plans into consideration.
5. Left-Back (Ashley Cole): Ashley Cole has not been particularly impressive this season, looking slow at times, but has managed to keep his first-team place. After taking field against Napoli being not fully fit, it is likely Villas-Boas shall hand him the start against Bolton. With our new manager seemingly reluctant to give youngsters a chance, hopes of young Ryan Bertrand starting are bleak, with Ashley Cole likely to get back his role.
6. Central Midfielder (Raul Meireles): Though Villas-Boas was severely criticised for his choice of the off-form Raul Meireles against Napoli, it seems the Portuguese has a soft-spot for his fellow countrymen. Meireles had made a few impressive displays earlier in the season, but has looked out of depth in the past few months. His poor on-field exploits do not explain his regular first-team starts.
Though he was crappy at best against Napoli, we are surely to watch him take the field against Bolton too, as Villas-Boas has a special spot for his fellow countrymen, and performance has got nothing to do with that.
7. Central Midfielder (Ramires): Chelsea are reportedly trying to make their Brazilian midfield-maestro sign a contract extension, which reveals his importance in the squad. After overcoming an average first season as a Blues player, Ramires has come of age this season. He has forged his place in the team with his endless runs combined with his goal-scoring abilities. Though he did not have a field day against Napoli, he was not that bad, and there is no reason to believe Villas-Boas will bench one of his better performing players.
8. Central Attacking Midfield (Frank Lampard): Juan Mata was undoubtedly Chelsea's saving grace against Napoli and has been all through this season. Against Napoli, he played comfortably behind Drogba, and even scored Chelsea's solitary goal.
Mata has reportedly come out with a broken finger from Italy, and we can only hope that he is able to play the match. But for this prediction, we shall count him out. With Mata out injured, Villas-Boas shall obviously hand Frank Lampard a start in the spot behind the striker.
9. Left Wing (Florent Malouda): With Juan Mata out injured and Villas-Boas not seemingly a manager who would hand some promising youngster his debut, it is likely to be Florent Malouda who gets the role not because of his performance (which has been pathetic at best), but for the reason of Juan Mata being sidelined. The Frenchman's performance levels have fell drastically this season, which has seen him fall out of favour, though he is likely to get another rare start against Bolton in quick succession.
10. Right Wing (Daniel Sturridge): Youngster Daniel Sturridge had a pretty good outing against Napoli. Though he played a vital role in Chelsea's all-important only goal of the match, he was also responsible for wasting numerous chances too through his selfish play. The English youngster has potential to be a great player, but he still has a lot to learn, the first of which is, football is a team game, not an individual sport.
After Mata and Ramires, he has been Chelsea's most consistent performer this season and is likely to hone his skills when Stamford Bridge welcomes the Trotters on Saturday.
11. Striker (Didier Drogba): Didier Drogba's return from the African Cup of Nations was seen by many as Chelsea's only hope of overcoming the present crisis. Against Napoli, the Ivorian took the field, but was not very effective. Though he created many chances, his failure to convert a couple of sitters was disturbing.
Handing Torres another chance for resurrection seems a logical decision, but given the pressure Villas-Boas is under, it is likely that Drogba shall get his second successive first-team start as the under-fire manager will be looking to get those three points without any trouble.
Substitutes: Ross Turnbull, Michael Essien, Oriol Romeu, Branislav Ivanovic, Fernando Torres