Chelsea’s assault on second place in the Premier League table never looked or sounded particularly convincing and was duly nipped in the bud following a 2-0 defeat at Manchester City last weekend.
Things could have been different had Frank Lampard converted his 52nd-minute penalty but once Yaya Toure put the hosts ahead, Chelsea laboured to force a way back in and were finished off by Carlos Tevez’s superb late long-range strike.
Gareth Bale FC’s win at West Ham on Monday night meant they skipped above the Blues into third and the sum total means the European champions are now staring perilously over their shoulder at Arsenal in fifth.
In the aftermath of the weekend defeat, it has been reported that Rafa Benitez instigated a training ground showdown with his under-performing players – which in itself seems strange given the Spaniard has seemed incapable of instigating anything during his time at the club.
Another loss has also seen the Blues’ odds of a top-four finish slide, although they are still as short as 1/4 to qualify for next season’s Champions League and a tempting 3/5 they will finish third.
Where Chelsea eventually finish may be dictated by how many points they pick up in their next half a dozen games.
Fixtures against West Brom, West Ham and Sunderland at home, and Fulham and Southampton away, lead into the hosting of Bale FC at Stamford Bridge and if the Blues can pick up four or five wins from that sequence – including beating Bale – then I’d still fancy them to sew up a top-four finish and indeed secure third spot.
However, more unnecessary dropped points would mean Chelsea are set for an anxious finale to the season with unpalatable trips to Old Trafford and Anfield coming in the last few weeks.
The Londoners have an immediate chance to bounce back from the City disappointment as they travel to Middlesbrough for their delayed FA Cup fifth-round clash and I reckon the cup holders will get the job done there at 2/5.
After that it’s West Brom at the Bridge on Saturday, with Chelsea 9/25 for three points and the 9/10 FA Cup and Premier League double in the next few days could be worth a look.
The other avenue of success left open to Benitez’s men is the Europa League and with others around them dropping like flies, the 2012 European Cup winners continue to have their price trimmed to claim the Europa and are now well clear as 15/4 favourites.
Nobody really knows what will happen as the club continues to be cocooned in a interminable state of farce, but I’d be pretty confident in backing this week’s double at the very least as the Blues aim to keep their season afloat.