Times are tough at Stamford Bridge for the first time in recent memory. Over the course of the last six games Chelsea have lost 11 points, their sole win coming against lowly West Brom on Boxing Day.
Some may call this run a simple spell of bad luck for the Blues, and that they may be able to pull out of it with harder training and determination. However, their latest display, a 3-0 pummeling at the hands of the hated Red Devils from Manchester, was evidence that with a rejuvenated squad (John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho returning) and more intense conditioning were not enough to change the team's "luck."
Luck in my opinion has nothing to do with the club simply underachieving, and more often than not a club that is underachieving is often due to a lack of commitment to the manager.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, for his part, has done nothing to dispel such notions. Much media attention has been given to his dilemma of having two stellar center forwards whom he claims "cannot work together" despite each player offering a dissenting opinion.
To combat this Scolari struck out by saying that such a pairing is impossible because he does not have a true left-footed winger to use in a 4-4-2 formation. However, in his star-studded squad he has the multi-talented Joe Cole, who often plays left wing internationally, and until last week he had the oft-unused services of Wayne Bridge, whose supreme versatility allowed him to play in midfield and defense.
The same amount of media attention given to the forward issue has also been given to the fact that billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is undergoing a personal money crunch during the current global economic downturn. In spite of all those reports (and a squad that would make most teams drool and most payrolls cringe), it appears that Scolari is begging for additional resources in the January transfer period.
His brilliant response to his problems? To bench the league leader in goals to start the past two league games. Honestly, I do not know what Scolari was thinking. Didier Drogba has been of decent form lately, but it does not compare to that of Nicolas Anelka all term. The other problem that is immediately evident in the benching of "Le Sulk" is that he will be his old, moody self and not play at the same level.
With the team now simply a point ahead of Manchester United and four behind pacesetters Liverpool, it is time for Scolari to begin cracking down with authority and playing both of his strikers, dealing with the fact that Joe Cole may actually be a good player and deserves to play more (he has only finished one game so far this campaign) and that the team is solid as is.
Another hard truth that he may have to face is that his Portugese pupils (Deco, Jose Bosingwa) are not performing as well as they did at the beginning of the term, and he must not play favorites. Though he may not want to do so, struggling players need to see the bench and focus themselves more. Deco and Jose Bosingwa need such direction to find the players they were at the beginning of this season.
With stronger direction and a firm hand (i.e. Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant) this team is capable of producing results, and with a coach as capable as Scolari has shown himself to be, there is no reason to believe that Chelsea cannot still contend for a title run this year, or, for that matter, a Champions League trophy.