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Can Chelsea emerge triumphant at the end of this week?

Chelsea Liverpool Atletico

This season was supposed to be one where Chelsea, after performing admirably in Europe in the last couple of seasons, mount a challenge for, and win the Premier League. The most successful manager in the history of the club, Jose Mourinho, was signed up, and many talented players were recruited and added to the ranks. Chelsea truly looked like a force to contend with at the start of the season. Things went to plan as well, until around March, when Chelsea had the chance to go 9 points clear at the top going into a game at Villa Park, and that’s when things started going awry for the Blue Brigade.

The defeat at Villa Park was followed by a defeat at Selhurst Park, seriously denting the team’s title hopes. Things looked quite bleak for Chelsea at this point, with a 3-1 defeat in Paris seemingly ending their European journey. But a minor miracle took place, and Chelsea managed to scrape through into the semi finals. This win was followed by a tough game at Swansea, and the heartbreaking defeat to Sunderland, which ended Jose’s unbeaten run at the Bridge as Chelsea manager. At the current point in time, it looks as if Chelsea have crashed out of the title race, and are up against the form side of Europe, Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

The bookmakers have Chelsea as second-favourites for both competitions but one would be foolish to bet against them, especially while they’re led by the wily old fox that is Jose Mourinho. If you’re looking for more betting insights, our review of free bets will give you a better idea about how the upcoming series of games are likely to go. Chelsea are more than capable of winning, but there’s such a fine line, that losing all three seems to be a probability too. However, Mourinho is the one man that thrives in such situations.

BIG GAME FORM

Chelsea look like they’re off the pace in the race for the Premier League, and if they do end up empty handed in this competition, it will be because of their performances against the likes of Crystal Palace, West Brom, Newcastle, Sunderland, and Aston Villa. In the big games, Jose has led his side brilliantly, mastering a counter attacking style that is based on solid defending, and speedy attacking raids. Away from home, the Blues have earned draws at Old Trafford, and the Emirates, and even managed to beat City in their own backyard.

At home, the Blues were imperious prior to the defeat to Sunderland, vanquishing the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal (6-0), Manchester United and City. In the Champions League too, their group stage defeats came to Basel, but they managed to beat Schalke with ease. PSG too, were eventually dispatched after a terrific home performance. Encouragingly for all Chelsea fans, the next week or so will feature only big games. Two legs of the Champions League semi final, and a trip to what is surely the most intimidating ground in England now, Anfield.

These are the games that Jose relishes, and the team too, won’t need much motivation to perform on such a huge stage. A lot of people are of the opinion that Liverpool and Atletico have built up too much momentum, and will be hard to stop, but then City in  February too, were on a fantastic run before they were felled by Chelsea.

THE RETURN OF HAZARD

The second leg victory over PSG was rightly celebrated as a huge win for the club. Not only did it help Chelsea move into the semis, it also aided the confidence and belief of the team. The fact that they were able to achieve such a good win against a team as strong as PSG must have done wonders for their confidence. However, one negative that Chelsea took away from that game was Eden Hazard. The Belgian wizard is the star player and he drives the team on. Without him, Chelsea have looked bereft of creativity in the final third, scoring only 2 in the 2 subsequent games at Swansea and against Sunderland.

Oscar has looked a bit tired, and Willian, Schurrle and Salah haven’t been able to impose themselves against tough defences like the one offered by Sunderland. Chelsea have missed the pace and dribbling ability that Hazard brings to the table, and his return will boost not only the playing XI, but also the confidence of the other 10. Moreover, tactically speaking, Atletico are a side that defend well, and defend in numbers. The weakness in their team is in the wide areas, which they tend to expose with the narrow midfield. Hazard operates in such areas, and his skill will be very important to break down the tough Atletico defence.

Against Liverpool, Chelsea are likely to set up to play on the break, and that’s where his pace becomes important, as the need to take advantage of a leaky back-line arises. The injury has allowed Chelsea’s talisman a little bit of rest, and a fresh and hungry Hazard can only spell danger for the opposition.

NERVOUS OPPONENTS

Both Liverpool and Atletico have been terrific this season, and certainly have built up a head of steam coming into this week. But these two teams haven’t lifted major silverware in a long time, and their teams and managers aren’t too experienced either, especially on a stage like this, and a point in the season like this. Both teams could win silverware, but both have shown flashes of nervousness that could be costly. Atletico struggled to break down Elche on Friday evening, eventually finding the goals. When Chelsea visit the Calderon tomorrow, the weight of the expectations of the home crowd might weigh them down, and this leaves Chelsea with an opportunity.

Aside from this as well, some off field drama with regard to Thiabut Courtois might have affected the keeper, or so Chelsea fans will hope ahead of this big clash. The nerves have been far more apparent on Merseyside though. Last week the Reds managed to throw away a 2 goal lead against City at home, but eventually capitalised on a mistake to take the points. This weekend too, they beat Norwich, but after a shaky performance which saw them conceding twice to the relegation threatened Canaries. Mourinho is by now, very experienced when it comes to such situations, and will, presumably, have the right words for his players. Surely, he can also sense the nervousness in the opposition camps, and will be looking to take advantage of this.

The point is that Chelsea may have suffered setbacks, but are far from out of the running. A good week now will put Chelsea back in the hunt for the title, and the final of the UEFA Champions League. The team will want to build on the successes of the last 2 years, and surely don’t want to see a trophyless season, as that would definitely spell failure.

Vishal Patel

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