A team’s season can often be decided by one or two pivotal games. These matches may be spaced months apart but the results are ultimately crucial to whether a team is celebrating success come May or thinking about what could have been. These games may gain importance in hindsight after a season has finished, an example of this type of game would be Chelsea’s second leg against Napoli in March 2012 on the way to winning the Champions League.
Although an important tie at the time, the turnaround in the second leg at Stamford Bridge became increasingly significant the further Chelsea progressed in the competition. Situations also mean that clubs know the importance of games before they are even played, an example of this type of game would be Chelsea’s next two fixtures, firstly against Liverpool on Sunday and then the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Atletico Madrid next Wednesday. These type of games need no reminder of the role they play in the outcome of Chelsea’s season.
Not only are Chelsea facing a critical part of their season but they also have a depleted squad to work with. Mourinho’s post match comments after the first leg against Atletico suggested he may look to heavily rotate his squad in the crunch Premier League clash this weekend and reports coming out of the club yesterday imply Chelsea are likely to prioritise the Champions League second leg next Wednesday by giving the green light for Mourinho to field a team at Liverpool that reflects the importance of the game just 3 days later. We decided to take a look at some Chelsea stats to see if this is the right decision.
Anfield an Unhappy Hunting Ground
The side that face high flying Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday is still likely to include Schurrle and Ba in attacking positions as well as Matic and Salah returning to offer freshness, but it is Chelsea’s form at Anfield over the past 5 seasons that may be of more concern to Chelsea fans.
Chelsea have won just once in their last 5 visit to Anfield in the Premier League and that victory came back in 2010 when goals from Didier Drogba and Lampard secured a 2-0 win. After masterminding Chelsea’s 1-0 win against fellow free scoring Manchester City back in February, fans have a right to be quietly optimistic ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Anfield but in general Mourinho’s men have struggled away from home this season losing 5 times on the road already this campaign.
Compare this with Liverpool’s home form where they have lost just once and dropped only 4 points in total and you can see why Mourinho may be keen to prioritise the Champions League.
What Does The Champions League Form Suggest?
After last week’s goalless draw at the Vicente Calderon, Chelsea were the more pleased of the two sides. Only Barcelona had stopped Atletico scoring at home this season before Chelsea’s impressive defensive display and although the threat of a crucial away goal remains for the Spanish side Mourinho will no doubt be confident of his team’s chances of progressing. Last time the clubs met at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea ran out 4-0 winners back in 2009, but the La Liga leaders are now a much tougher proposition.
Chelsea’s biggest advantage in the second leg next Wednesday may be the Champions League experience of Jose Mourinho. There is no doubting the impressive job Diego Simeone has performed at Atletico Madrid during his spell as manager, but Chelsea have a man in charge who has been involved in the Semi Final stages of the last four Champions League campaigns, and there are few who use the two legged structure of the competition to their advantage as much as the Portuguese boss.
What to Expect Next?
This season has already delivered more than its fair share of twists and turns. No one would have expected Liverpool to be in the position they are at the start of the season. As much as Mourinho has done his best to defuse any talk of the title arriving at Stamford Bridge, the fact his side are still in contention so late in the season speaks volumes of their chances. However, with his squad already stretched to almost breaking point with the causalities of Petr Cech and John Terry, you would have to say Mourinho is right if he is to go ahead and focus on just one competition. With Liverpool now 5 points clear and just 9 left to play for, we hope we have made the case that if Chelsea do decide to rotate at Anfield it could be the right decision.
Chelsea only need to look across town to London neighbours Arsenal to see the devastating effect a cluster of injuries can have on a squad fighting on different fronts and as a team that have never done things easy the situation may even suit the Blues. If anyone can deliver one last twist to the Premier League this season it is Mourinho, even if his focus may be elsewhere.