International breaks are terrible and boring. International breaks following a tough loss are even worse. While the break does come at a good time to get Álvaro Morata’s hamstring back into proper working order, get Danny Drinkwater finally healthy, and give the squad in general a breather after playing seven games in three weeks, having to stew over the disappointing result and performance against Manchester City for the next two weeks does not sound fun at all.
On the plus side, the fans aren’t the only ones who seem angry and disappointed and the players, or at least those talking to the media, are all saying the right things. Here’s captain Gary Cahill to rally the troops.
“We proved last season we’ve got enough to win the league, but we realise it’s very difficult. We’ve done it twice since I’ve been here and both times it’s been extremely difficult. Look at the strength of the teams around us, but it’s just important that we fight to the end.”
Chelsea are six points adrift at the moment of both City and United, though with 31 games still to go, that’s hardly an insurmountable advantage for the two Manchester teams. This time last season Chelsea were even further behind, and while we can’t reliably count on another 13-match winning streak to propel us to the title, we can probably count on Chelsea having a better home record the rest of the way than so far this season (just 1 win from 4).
For Cahill, it’s a matter of rediscovering a bit of home comfort and confidence.
“Of course it’s disappointing. I thought we’d play much better, especially at home so overall it was a disappointing afternoon for us. Obviously we have lost points but also I don’t think the performance was up to our usual standard.
“We didn’t play as well as we can do or as well as we have been doing, but credit to them, they made it very difficult for us. It was a tough fixture for us to play, especially after coming back at four o’clock in the morning on Thursday. It’s not an excuse but it’s a factor. We worked very hard for each other but we were a fraction off it and they were very, very good. Last season we were very confident playing at home so we will look to get back to that.”
Cahill also pointed to Morata’s injury as a key factor and highlighted one of the main issues with Antonio Conte’s response to it. Conte himself talked about trying to City on the break as the reason for bringing on Willian, but as we saw on Saturday and as Cahill talks about here, that was not working out nearly as well as Conte may have imagined it would.
“You look at the way he has started his career at Chelsea and it was a huge blow for us to lose him early in the game. It affected elements of the game for us. His hold-up play as well as his finishing has been fantastic. Tactically we were frustrating them early on. We defended well and we’d win the ball at the back but by doing that we had a lot of men in our own third so it was difficult to break out.
“We’re used to breaking out very fast so when we did turn the ball over we had a lot of numbers in our own half. They made it tough for us and we did a lot of running. Obviously Willian and Eden are unbelievable on the ball, but size-wise they are small so it’s difficult to play high balls up to them. There’s no doubt losing Alvaro was a big blow.”
So hopefully Morata will be back before long and so will the wins and points at Stamford Bridge. It’s a long season, and there are undoubtedly many more twists and turns ahead.
“They are setting the pace at the top of the league at the moment, as are Manchester United. They’re both getting very good results and scoring a lot of goals, but let’s see. We’re in September, so let’s get to Christmas, January time - hopefully we’ll be in and around the top and then we’ll see from there.”
-Gary Cahill; source: Chelsea FC