THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.
THE CAVEAT: Chelsea are back in the transfer market. But as before, any transfer bids must be accepted.
February. That treasured month of the year that was long associated, for all non-Arsenal fans anyway, with many a season’s demise for the Gunners. The Champions League is back. The League Cup final looms. The FA Cup hits crunch time. It’s all happening. For Chelsea, a new look side will enter the fray as the league season also enters the final third. And after all, its the final third that determines the outcome for all.
January Manager of the Month: Pep Guardiola
Pep does it again. 4 wins and 2 draws (1 of which was against a certain plucky Chelsea side) resulted in City keeping top spot throughout January, as well as progression in the FA Cup. Pep’s side are as currently devastating as they are decisive.
December Player of the Month: Sadio Mane
Liverpool’s Senegal forward has 18 goals for the season going into February. 7 of those came in January alone, including 2 in the 7-2 romp of Manchester United. Oof. An award never in doubt.
Premier League Fixture #25 – Wolves (Home)
Boom. February starts with a bang. Batshuayi continues with his fine form, netting his 21st and 22nd goals of the season in just 25 games. I think Chelsea have found their star forward. Olivier Giroud continues his fine form also with his 15th of the season. Both target men are hitting top form at a great time. Ruben Neves, one of many January transfer dealings for Chelsea, namely from their opponents here, nets his first goal for the club, crowning the victory in the final moments.
Its another defeat that, with Sheffield United pulling off a much-needed victory of their own, pushes Wolves down into the relegation zone in their place.
And that is the final action of Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo. In his place comes one of Barcelona’s most decorated players and manager – Luis Enrique!
That storming win in the West Midlands means Chelsea keep up the pace on Bournemouth, who also win. What a season they are having. That aforementioned victory for The Blades means they leapfrog Aston Villa as well as Wolves. And while that is a massive step towards Premier League survival….
…It appears that a new prospect was more tempting for manager Chris Wilder. Football can be a ruthless and opportunistic world. At the top, City have a tight one against Sean Dyche’s Burnley, but a win is a win. And it’s a win that puts them 7 points clear at the top as all sides reach their 24th fixture. 14 games to go, 42 points potentially up for grabs.
Speaking of ruthless, another manager loses the fight to keep his job. Mauricio Pochettino, with Spurs languishing in 10th on a mere 30 points, has been replaced with…
..someone who has at least had a better season thus far. Bournemouth are currently 4 places higher, and 7 points better off. Howe’s win rate is among the top 6 for the season. But, they have also lost almost as many matches as they have won. The problem for both sides is defending, so it will be interesting to see how this develops. Given that the now-abandoned Bournemouth were in a much better position for a European place.
Premier League Fixture #26 – West Ham (Away)
After an unbeaten January, it feels surreal enough to go a further 2 games unbeaten. Let alone win 2 in a row. This Chelsea side is hitting top form perhaps a little too late in terms of the Premier League. However, its perfect for the remaining cup competitions. The only blemish is the injury to top scorer Batshuayi. Nevertheless, this is away win number 5 of the season.
So, its 2 weeks out for the Chelsea top scorer at such a key time. He will miss the home game against Spurs and the FA Cup 5th round tie against Aston Villa. But far more significantly he will miss both Champion’s League group stage ties against Borussia Dortmund.
Premier League Fixture #27 – Tottenham Hotspur (Home)
Unfortunately, nothing to report here. Any dropped points at home can be considered a failure of sorts. Given Spurs were on the back foot throughout, with Hugo Lloris literally saving them from defeat, that narrative rings true once again. Looking on the bright side, its another point added to the tally. Next up is Dortmund at home.
Champions League Phase 2 Group A: Fixture #3 – Dortmund (Home)
Unprecedented. Unthinkable. Unbelievable. What. A. Win. Dortmund are completely dominated from start to finish. Even with it being pulled back to 2-1 at one stage. Any other outcome simply wouldn’t have been right. It almost eclipses the 5-1 drubbing of Real Madrid, but this performance was better. 7 points from this tough group so far. Amazing.
In more domestic news, Sheffield United have replaced the departed Chris Wilder with Lee Bowyer. Down on the coast, Bournemouth have hired Paul Lambert to fill the Eddie Howe void. Lambert is typically a more conservative manager, it will be interesting to see how much the Bournemouth dynamic changes at this crunch time of the season.
FA Cup Fifth Round – Aston Villa (Away)
Phew. This was a close one. On the back of the tremendous Dortmund victory, Chelsea looked tired in this cup tie. But even with Christensen having to go off early on, Chelsea’s turn of the year resolve continues, with the incoming Pedro snatching a win at the death. We go on!
As for the rest of the round, no replays and very few surprises. Newcastle’s woeful league campaign is masked as they proceed at the expense of Paul Lambert’s new side Bournemouth. Norwich’s rocking defeat at home to Championship side Fulham is the biggest shock of the round. Wycombe Wanderers of League One gave it a good go against Eddie Howe’s Spurs, but just lose out.
It was inevitable. Man City are far and away the best team in the country, and are very unlikely to be caught in the league. But this is a different chance to have a small margin of bragging rights domestically. And just like that, it’s back to the Champions League.
Champions League Phase 2 Group A: Fixture #4 – Dortmund (Away)
Another close one, with Lacazette’s second half double looking to have settled the tie. That is until five minutes from time, when Giroud pops up with his fifth goal in this Campions League campaign to salvage a point. Chelsea remain unbeaten with 2 games left and in pole position to qualify. Fuck yeah.
Over in Spain, in the same group, Real Madrid unload on Shakhtar Donetsk after their 2 previous defeats. They could even afford for their self-proclaimed talisman Sergio Ramos to go off injured. To be fair, they were already 7-0 up, plus Shakhtar were already 5-0 down when they went down to ten men. A walk in the park for the competition’s most successful club.
Premier League Fixture #28 – Watford (Away)
Jorginho has been in scintillating form, and this match was more of the same from him. A stunning free kick gave Chelsea the lead, and a brilliant by-line cross meant an easy headed goal for Giroud. Another man whose form cannot be understated. Batshuayi is back. His assist for Pulisic at the death capped another fine away win for the boys in blue.
Elsewhere in the gameweek, Man City take another step to Premier League glory. Their easy 5-0 away win at West Ham is topped by Man Utd only managing a draw at home to Lee Bowyer’s Sheffield United, who are desperate for Premier League survival. Eddie Howe’s Spurs are gradually improving, and their win over Everton puts them just below his previous side Bournemouth. Liverpool maintain their chase for Champions League placing with their 17th win of the season, which keeps Arsenal at arm’s reach away from a similar placing. More good news for Chelsea, that.
Premier League Table, end of February
Man City’s lead at the top grows to 9 points, and look unstoppable right now. February was indeed a month of some real progress for Chelsea. One place gained, with 10/12 points obtained. The Champions League placing gaps could be too much, but with 30 points up for grabs, it’s still possible. But it is certainly worth noting that Chelsea’s last defeat in the league was against Everton in December. That was 10 games ago. There are 10 games left. After utter inconsistency, we finally have consistency. Now more than ever, there is no room for complacency. See you next month.
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For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.