Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez was quick to impart blame elsewhere for the Blues’ 3-2 defeat at Newcastle on Saturday, but the Spaniard should look closer to home when pointing fingers.
Benitez felt referee Howard Webb should have awarded the visitors a penalty towards the end of the first half when Fabricio Coloccini’s high boot caught Demba Ba flush in the laughing gear, but as Chelsea later went on to blow a 2-1 lead to lose, there was little amusement among the increasingly dispirited Blues faithful.
In all truth, Benitez probably had a point in that Webb would certainly have given a free-kick in any other area of the field for Coloccini’s dangerous intervention, but even still, the Yorkshire official had little to do with the Londoners’ third late surrender of a game in their last four outings.
Killing matches off when you’re in front and holding on for victgory even when you can’t extend your lead are staples of strong sides and at present, the ailing European champions look anything but.
After Frank Lampard and Juan Mata cancelled out Jonas Gutierrez’s opener, Chelsea should have seen off a side that themselves had only previously won one in their last seven but as it transpired, the Magpies came roaring back and probably deserved to pick up the points.
There was also little legislation for John Terry’s brainless lunge in the build-up to Newcastle’s equaliser, while Petr Cech will not look back to fondly on his attempts to stop the hosts’ second and third goals.
The whole performance was endemic of the instability surrounding Chelsea at the moment. Barring the contributions of the ever-inspiring Lampard and Mata, Benitez’s mob look a million miles away from the free-flowing funsters who started the campaign in style and all attention will now be on securing a top-four finish.
If you fancy wasting some money, you can still have a 100/1 punt on Chelsea to win the league, but a smarter bet would be the 2/5 that they win the league minus the Manchester clubs.
On paper at least, Chelsea have chance to string some results together over the next few weeks and that should aid their quest to finish in the top four.
Next Saturday, whipping boys Wigan Athletic will rock up to Stamford Bridge and that’s followed by a Europa League trip to Sparta Prague, an FA Cup replay against Brentford and the return leg against Sparta to complete a quartet of games Chelsea must surely win.
If they don’t, then Rafa the gaffer could be Rafa the goner, but with Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel due back from the Africa Cup of Nations to nourish a thin-looking squad, I can see the Londoners getting back on the wagon and winning a few on the bounce.
Looking a little further down the line, Chelsea’s league itinerary also paves the way for a bit of optimism and if I were you, I’d be thinking of snapping up the 2/5 for Chelsea to finish third before that price tumbles in the coming weeks.
Next up after Wigan there’s a visit to Manchester City and presentable games against West Brom (H), Fulham (A), West Ham (H), Southampton (A) and Sunderland (H) in which Chelsea should turn the screw on the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal below them.
It’s 1/4 for the last season’s Champions League winners to be part of the group stage for 2013/14 and again, that will only get shorter if Chelsea pick up probable points in their next few assignments and Benitez is sent packing to a tapas bar in Benalmadena.
For more high jinx, follow me on twitter @bainesyDiego10