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Chelsea FC: No Testing Necessary

Written By Craig Wilmann

At 2.36pm on Saturday afternoon, a mixture of shock, horror, confusion and, in some cases, excitement, swept across the nation. People sat transfixed, staring at their television sets, unable to move. Others glanced cautiously out of their windows; unsure whether it was still safe to go outside, wondering, desperately, if the world were still an inhabitable place. As beads of sweat slithered down foreheads all over the country, many must have felt that the apocalypse was nigh. The day foretold only in myth and legend, the day most believed would never come had finally arrived. Chelsea had failed to score in a Premier League match.

It was the first time such an event had transpired since boxing day 2009, when Joe Hart, the same man keeping goal for Man City on Saturday, had put in a man of the match performance to keep Chelsea out at St. Andrews. On that day, over nine months ago, Hart was outstanding, making saves like they were going out of fashion. It was the exceptional performance of an exceptional season for the young England goalkeeper. On Saturday at Eastlands, however, no such heroics were required from Hart for Man City to keep Chelsea at bay. The keeper was largely untested, with Branislav Ivanovic’s header, the closest Chelsea came to scoring, eluding Hart and hitting the post.

Perhaps it was this that made the Champions’ failure to score all the more startling. The same Chelsea side that had hit the net 29 times in seven matches in all competitions this season, failed to properly test the Man City keeper. Maybe it was the fact that the Blues had lost three days previously to Newcastle in the Carling Cup, creating the potentially horsemen of the apocalypse summoning situation where Chelsea had lost two matches in a row. Whatever it was, the result of Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off at the City of Manchester Stadium provoked a great deal of excitement from the non-Chelsea-supporting public; average supporter and seasoned pundit alike. Chelsea have failed their first real test of the season, most agreed. Chelsea’s good form was only a result of playing easy teams, many suggested. This is the start of Chelsea’s decline, a few whispered. Luckily for Chelsea fans, reports of the club’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

The notion that Chelsea had only played easy teams this season prior to the Man City match and that their true strengths would only be known when they faced a proper challenge, was an idea served up by Alex Ferguson and gobbled down whole heartedly by most who follow the beautiful game. One gaping flaw in this argument is that it requires Chelsea to be a brand new team, a side we know nothing about and a bunch of players who have only ever tested themselves against the likes of West Brom and Blackpool. What Ferguson’s argument ignores is that only four and a half months ago, Chelsea collected the Premier League trophy, something that requires each team to ‘test’ themselves against every other top team in the country. The side that lifted that trophy is largely unchanged from the one that currently leads the way in this year’s competition. The only significant change is the return of Michael Essien, and his effect on the side hardly needs testing.

Yet, Chelsea did lose a match and they played fairly poorly, which cannot be ignored. Four rather lame attempts on target hardly smacks of brilliance. However, the simplest explanation for Chelsea appearing rather subdued was that it was just that type of match. Roberto Mancini is clearly building his Man City side from the back, in a similar way to how Jose Mourinho developed Chelsea. The game was always going to be a cautious affair and a major reason for Chelsea’s lack of attacking zeal was that they clearly felt a draw would have been a good result. Mancini presumably felt the same and neither side seemed desperate to get a winner. In the end, it was the fact that the away side pushed for a goal slightly more than their hosts that worked in Man City’s favour, as the Sky Blues countered superbly from a Chelsea attack. This sort of game was always likely to be decided by a solitary goal and it could easily have been the Champions, rather than the challengers, who got it.

For the sake of the league, it was probably best that Chelsea lost, as it would allow Arsenal and Man United the opportunity to significantly close the gap on the leaders. Luckily for Arsenal fans, their side weren’t due to be tested that day, as they merely had to beat one of the ‘easy’ teams that Chelsea disposed of earlier in the season. Unluckily for Arsenal fans, they were reminded that no game in the Premier League is easy. Man United, too, had the relatively simple task of defeating Bolton Wanderers, a side Ferguson would no doubt have dismissed as easy had they been playing Chelsea. Instead, United drew and Ferguson claimed it would be tough for other big teams to come to the Reebok Stadium, citing it as another had test no doubt.

Ultimately, at the end of a disappointing few days for Chelsea, the Stamford Bridge side remain top of the league by three points, are relived from the burden of league cup matches and have an early opportunity to put things right tonight against Marseilles. Should Chelsea make light work of the French side and win convincingly, it will likely be considered an easy victory for the English Champions. Anything else, however, and it may be another hard test failed by the flunking Blues.

Will Chelsea bounce back against Marseilles tonight or will it be a third successive defeat for the English Champions? Do Chelsea need to beat a top side to prove they are a great team or have they proved it already? How will Chelsea’s defeat against Man City affect their mood ahead of the Arsenal match this Sunday? Have your say below.

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