No, we are not going to talk about schedule congestion.
There are roughly 50* days left in the 2012/13 season and Chelsea are still alive and fighting on three fronts. In some respects, they're actually doing better than last year, although "Europa" is definitely a lower-scoring word with friends than "Champions." The situation in the league is far more advantageous however and the FA Cup is still a possibility despite a tough draw.
Faced with a similar situation twelve months ago, Roberto Di Matteo made a conscious decision to ditch the league and concentrate on the cups. It was a risky strategy, one perhaps based in the inherent short-termism of interim management, but somehow, miraculously it paid off.
There is no such dilemma right now. The priorities should be clear as the rewards for winning the Europa League range from nothing to slightly less than nothing. Whether The Interim One actually makes the correct choice in a scenario with just one choice is unfortunately up for debate, but regardless, Chelsea need to man up and grab the situation by the ball.
* Chelsea played 14 matches in 50 days to win an FA Cup and a Champions League trophy last season. All they have to do this time around is play out 12 and finish in the Top 4. A trip to the FA Cup final or the Europa League semifinals would add two each and I'd be quite happy to declare this a successful enough season considering the front office shenanigans.
Date/Time: March 30th, 15:00 GMT; 11:00 A.M. EDT; 8:30 P.M. IST
Venue: St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
TV Information: none (UK); Fox Soccer Plus (USA); Star Sports 2 (India)
Nine matches left to protect a five-point lead over Arsenal and a one-point lead over Tottenham who have played one game more. There is very little margin for error. The quest begins now.
Southampton: Ten days after Chelsea destroyed So'ton in the FA Cup, the Saints came to Stamford Bridge and found themselves on the giving end of a Rafalution special. Goals from Ricky Lambert and Jason Puncheon ensured a share of the spoils, although one that must have felt more like a victory for them having come back from a two-goal deficit.
The football gods can sure be quite cruel though, and while they've kept the Chelsea manager employed to this day, Nigel "miles of smiles" Adkins received a swift booting out of St. Mary's. His replacement, Maurico Pochettino has managed just two wins in eight and has done a stellar job of not improving the Saints' league position one bit. Somewhere, Adkins and Di Matteo are having a beer and laughing their heads off.
As it tends to happen with crap teams, both of Pochettino's wins were major headliners, especially the 3-1 shocker over Manchester City. They repeated that scoreline two weeks ago versus Liverpool, while the previous home match saw them lose 2-1 to QPR. Bizarre.
With no significant injuries to speak of - the dangerous Adam Lallana, Chelsea fan (and target?) and local lad Luke Shaw, and own goal specialist Jos Hooiveld face late fitness tests - the well rested Saints will be eyeing another giant killing.
Chelsea: The Blues also have no significant (new) injuries with all players surviving their international duties unscathed. Gary Cahill and Ramires are a bit of a doubt however, despite a two-week rest.
Following the debacle in Bucharest, in a complete and surprising turnaround, Chelsea almost looked like a proper team. The manager even made proactive changes! Eden Hazard was imperious, Frank Lampard was chasing history, both strikers scored a goal.
Now on the other side of the international break, just how much of that vibe is still around remains to be seen. I, for one, am a bit hopeful but that may just be the weather talki... oh look at that bright spring sunshine, not a cloud in sky, why am I sitting in front of a computer?!