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Premier League Weekly: Chelsea’s remarkable inconsistency, success for promoted clubs and some love for Peter Crouch

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte (Adam Davy/PA Wire)
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte (Adam Davy/PA Wire)

THE end of the season is in sight. The title is already assured but the other Champions League spots and the relegation places are as yet not decided.

In this PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY, we congratulate the three promoted clubs, try to analyse Chelsea and focus on a veteran trying to prolong his Premier League career.

 

Which is the real Chelsea?

AS the table presently stands, Chelsea’s last four seasons would read first, tenth, first and fifth. It is remarkable for its sheer inconsistency. Having last year won 30 of their 38 games to finish with 93 points, they currently trail Champions Manchester City by a whopping 27 points.

Chelsea’s own title defence was almost over before it even began with three defeats in their opening eight games. In fact, the writing was on the wall when they fell 3-0 behind at half-time at home to Burnley on the opening day back in August. Manager Antonio Conte has been moaning virtually all season and it has not looked a happy camp for large parts of the season. In fact, the Italian’s demeanour has contrasted starkly with the positive ball of energy that he was on the touchline last season.

Of course, with no European distractions last season, Chelsea had a free run at the Premier League. They used that to their advantage superbly and were far too consistent for the rest. But when they returned to the Champions League, they couldn’t get the balance right themselves. For their most recent Premier League game at Burnley, nine of the 18 players involved were not at the club last season. That is a huge change in a short space of time given the success the team enjoyed last year.

John Terry has been missed at Chelsea (Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

To break up a title-winning team so quickly, as has happened at Chelsea, is a very dangerous thing to do. John Terry’s presence has been missed in and around the dressing room. Diego Costa was bundled out of the door too soon and David Luiz has been ostracised from the team, too. Throw in dips in form from star man Eden Hazard and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and it’s easy to see how things have taken a significant downward turn, just as they did for Jose Mourinho in the autumn of 2015.

The Londoners have reached the FA Cup final and are still in with a shout of pipping Tottenham to the final Champions League spot for next season, but they are very frank that it has been a bad season. But it will be asking a lot to expect them to be Champions again in 12 months and resume their feast-or-famine lifestyle. No one expects Antonio Conte to still be around and with the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool looking very strong, breaking that Northern powerhouse at the top of the Premier League will be a tall order for whoever is in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Mohamed Salah wasn’t ready mentally or physically during time at Chelsea, says Jose Mourinho

Why have the three promoted clubs fared so well in the Premier League?

THERE are only three matches to go and it looks likely the three clubs promoted from the Championship 12 months ago – Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield – are all going to stay up. Newcastle are as good as safe, while one more positive result should be enough for the other two. And that is if Stoke and Southampton start to show any semblance of winning form, which seems unlikely on current form.

It would be six years since this last happened, so what has been the secret to this success? Certainly for Brighton and Huddersfield, as new clubs in the Premier League, there was a sense of adventure about the season. Both started well, buoyed by that optimism and each had four wins on the board by early November. In many ways, that cushion has benefited them throughout the season as neither club has dropped into the bottom three since then.

Chris Hughton, Manager of Brighton and Hove Albion applauds (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

As for the two managers, both have been very good in their own different ways. Chris Hughton at Brighton is a solid football man. He is neither too high with a win nor too low with a defeat. The Seagulls have not taken too many beatings and in Pascal Gross and Davy Propper, they picked up a pair of quality acquisitions.

Up in West Yorkshire, David Wagner has played the emotional card, very similar in keeping to the tactic his close friend, Jurgen Klopp, employs at Liverpool. There is a sense of unity from top to bottom at Huddersfield and that spirit has seen them pick up valuable wins whenever they have really needed it. Wagner admits that he does not have the most talented squad, but drawing on those unquantifiable factors like togetherness and a never-say-die attitude could be the difference between survival and relegation.

At Newcastle, the plaudits need to go to Rafa Benitez, with his team currently in a top-half spot. Just before Christmas, they were in the bottom three after a run of one win in 13 matches, but since then they have only lost to Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton. A couple of clever acquisitions in January in Kenedy, on loan from Chelsea, and goalkeeper Martin Dubravka have made a real difference, but it’s Benitez who is pulling the strings. He has the total respect of the players and the adoration of the supporters and that is a great combination. The fans have remained loyal in their support of the team all season and the players have given everything. It is largely the same squad that won the Championship, but the likes of captain Jamaal Lascelles and Jonjo Shelvey have really stepped up a level for them.

Rafael Benitez (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

However, for promoted clubs to succeed, established Premier League clubs have to fail. That is where West Brom, Stoke and Southampton come into the equation. A quick look at the statistics gives it away. West Brom – two wins in 33 games. Stoke – one win in 16. Southampton – one win in 21. That is chronic form and points as to why they are all in the bottom three and barring something spectacular will be playing Championship football come August.

 

Player of the Day

PETER CROUCH has been scoring Premier League goals for over 16 years now. He grabbed his first for Aston Villa on 2 April 2002 and the 107th and most recent came 11 days ago for Stoke at West Ham. During that time, Crouch has been one of the most likeable players in the top flight, popular at all six clubs he has scored goals for, and certainly one of the most distinguishable players by appearance.

Now 37, Crouch could be facing his last few weeks as a Premier League player. He is now in his seventh season at Stoke but the Potters face an almighty battle to preserve their top-flight status. With only three games remaining, they are four points adrift of safety and with a much inferior goal difference to Swansea, the team in 17th. Stoke probably need a minimum of seven points to stand a realistic chance of survival and games against Crystal Palace and Swansea offer hope, but it’s the one tomorrow that is the biggest challenge.

Stoke City’s Peter Crouch (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

Even in between their two-legged Champions League semi-final against Roma, going to Liverpool is still a daunting task. But you feel that Stoke have to come away with something. Since Paul Lambert came in as manager in January, he has made the team harder to break down, but they are very short of goals with only nine in 12 matches and only once have they scored more than once in a game in that period.

Someone has to produce a bit of magic or a goal for them at Anfield. Crouch has scored in the World Cup and on big stages in the Champions League, but any goal with survival on the line would be just as significant for his current club. With other strikers Jese and Saido Berahino not considered for selection and Mame Biram Diouf looking bereft of confidence, it will fall to Crouch to take the responsibility of leading the attack. It’s not ideal to be pinning your hopes on a 37-year-old, but the beanpole striker has often defied the odds and needs to do so again for his and Stoke’s sake.

 

Stat of the Day

22 – IF the current top three of Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool remains the same, it will be the first time for 22 years that no London club has appeared in the top three. In 1996, the highest placed team from the capital were Arsenal, who finished fifth.

 

Adam’s Saturday Scores

Liverpool 3 Stoke 1

Burnley 2 Brighton 0

Crystal Palace 2 Leicester 2

Huddersfield 1 Everton 1

Newcastle 2 West Brom 1

Southampton 2 Bournemouth 1

Swansea 1 Chelsea 2