Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Liverpool at the weekend dealt a blow to their Premier League title hopes this season, with the Blues slipping down to third behind Manchester City after dropping two points they really shouldn't have. Roberto Di Matteo's side started the season in brilliant form, but the Manchester clubs have moved omniously ahead and the Blues face a fight to keep pace before the January transfer window. talkSPORT explain why the odds could be stacked against Chelsea if they hope to hold on and be part of the post-Christmas title race...
The Terry factor
Chelsea have struggled to cope with the absence of their captain through suspension this season, and his injury against Liverpool means that could be something they have to deal with once again in the near future. Terry has played seven games for Chelsea in the 2012/13 Premier League, with the Blues winning on five occasions and drawing twice. Crucially, he was absent for Chelsea's only league loss in the 2012/13 campaign to date, their 3-2 defeat against Manchester United. He also left the field of play early into Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Liverpool, at which point the Blues were winning the game through a Terry goal, only for his team to go on to concede and drop two points. It doesn't bode well ahead of Chelsea's face off with Manchester City on 25 November.
The lack of a goalscorer
Despite being given all the time in the world to regain his confidence, it's painstakingly clear that Fernando Torres is not going to rediscover the form that saw him score 24 league goals in a season at Liverpool. With the misfiring Spaniard as their main striker this season, Chelsea have needed goals from all over the pitch to ensure they stay competitive. Juan Mata is joint top scorer with Torres in the league, having scored four, including vital strikes against Arsenal and Spurs, as well as netting in the match with Man United. While Mata has performed admirably in front of goal, history suggests he won't hit the heady heights of 20 plus league goals that Chelsea will realistically need from an attacker if they hope to challenge for the title. Mata's career best in the top flight is 11 with Valencia in 2009/09, so expecting him to add at least nine if not more strikes to that tally this season is a big ask even for someone of the Spaniard's ability. Oscar and Eden Hazard will both chip in with goals, but neither are yet prolific in the league, while Daniel Sturridge is a sporadic selection and Frank Lampard is out of favour. Can Torres score 20 in the league? Unless Chelsea can find a suitable marksman in the winter market, the stats suggest they simply won't be able to keep up with City and United, both of whom are bursting with goal scorers.
The winter fixture list
Chelsea have a new challenge to navigate with this season, with the Blues competing in the Club World Cup in mid-December, and that means sending their squad all the way to Japan at a crucial point of the domestic season. Roman Abramovich is keen to further Chelsea's global appeal and will no doubt insist on Roberto Di Matteo taking the competition seriously, which the coach appears to agree with, but that comes with a huge risk factor for the Blues. Barcelona, for example, lost David Villa to a leg break last season in their winning run in the tournament, an injury which would prove costly for them both domestically and in Europe, with the forward missing the remainder of the 2011/12 campaign. To make matters more worrying, Barcelona's woes came despite having a winter break in their own domestic competition, a luxury Chelsea don't have, so an injury to a player of similar importance could have brutal consequences for the Blues, and it isn't unlikely. With Roberto Di Matteo publicly complaining about the Premier League's refusal to postpone Chelsea's league tie against Sunderland that precedes their journey to Japan, the Chelsea coach is clearly feeling the pressure over the congested fixture list and its potential consequences.
Roberto Di Matteo pulled off an admirable feat by turning a Chelsea side seemingly destined for failure into Champions League winners last season, but the next few months present an entirely new set of challenges for the Italian. Di Matteo has to juggle the loss of John Terry, lack of a reliable goal scorer and congested fixture list along with the weight of expectation that attempting to defend a Champions League title brings. To balance all of those challenges with producing a real challenge for the Premier League title is a daunting task. If the Blues can get a positive result at home to Man City at the end of November, they should be able to keep within touching distance of top spot going into the New Year, but they face a real struggle to hang on in there before John Terry returns and reinforcements can be brought in during the January window.
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