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The Stamford Bridge fear factor isn’t gone, just the wrong team has it

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Home discomforts

Chelsea FC v Southampton FC - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

At the halfway point of the season, Chelsea are on track to accomplish something that has happened only three times before in club history. The Blues have collected more points away from home (18) than at the only home we’ve ever known, Stamford Bridge (14) — despite playing more games at home, 10, than away, 9.

It’s something that never happened in the first 100 years* of the club’s existence.

It’s certainly a far cry from the 86-match unbeaten run that stretched across four years, from 2004 to 2008, which firmly established the idea of Fortress Stamford Bridge.

But its towers that have stood since before the formation of the club, have crumbled, its walls torn down and blown up, its moats filled in the years since. The fear factor is gone, as Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl explained after his side consigned Chelsea to back-to-back home defeats in the Premier League for the first time in eight years, since the days of another young buck in charge, André Villas-Boas.

“Yeah, sure. When you see that two teams win here then why shouldn’t you also?

“This is more of losing the fear, don’t be afraid. Come here, be brave. I spoke before about how we want to win here.”

-Ralph Hasenhüttl; source: Football.London

That idea is even more damning when we consider that both Southampton and Bournemouth were sitting just above the relegation zone at the time, and the same could be said for West Ham, who had won here four matches ago. (Chelsea beat Aston Villa in the meantime, to restore some semblance of normalcy.) Chelsea’s fourth home loss in the league was to Liverpool way back in September, and at least that one we could excuse considering the Reds are nigh unstoppable these days — not to mention, Chelsea put in tremendous effort that day, which earned practically a standing ovation at the final whistle, much to the media’s amazement.

But Frank Lampard’s youth revolution honeymoon is ending. If he finishes with fewer points at home than away, he will be the first Chelsea manager to do so without winning a title. José Mourinho’s first season in 2004-05 saw Chelsea win one more point away (15-3-1; 48pts) than at home (14-5-0, 47pts), though we were basically perfect everywhere. José Mourinho’s last ever season in 2015-16 saw us (though not him) repeat that feat, to much less applause (5-9-5; 24pts at home vs. 7-5-7; 29pts away). The only other season we accomplished this statistical oddity was 2008-09 (11-6-2; 39pts at home vs. 14-2-3; 44pts away), which also saw a mid-season sacking and a subsequent stint from Guus Hiddink.

That all three of these seasons have occurred in the last two decades perhaps speaks to the increasing quality of the Premier League, where even mid-table teams have world class players. Or perhaps it speaks to the evolution of tactics. Or how most games are decided by the tiniest of margins, accumulating into somewhat bigger margins that are then overanalyzed and overemphasized. But untangling all that is a story for another day, and for someone with far more time to examine trends across (English) football.

*(In 1974-75, a relegated Chelsea finished with just 4 wins and 9 draws at home and 5 wins and 6 draws away. In those days, wins were only worth 2 points, so Chelsea finished with 17 points at home and 16 points away — by today’s accounting, we’d have 21 points both home and away. This, as far as I can tell with not quite thorough research, was the closest Chelsea came until 2005 to actually finishing with more points away than at home.)

So, how do we restore the fear factor? Since Joe Rogan is busy with other things these days, our only option is to start winning.

“If we want to stay [in the top four] we have to move onwards and upwards. Rather than look backwards we clearly need to win more than we have won recently at home.”

“If you are on the run we are on at home, obviously there is more pressure because everyone talks about it. We feel it, what you do want to do is perform well in front of your home fans and give them something to be happy about.

”When they all turn up on mass to see you at home, it needs to become some form of a fortress [but teams] are coming here and respecting us as Chelsea because they are setting up in that way, but we are not playing like the Chelsea that can break that down.”

“What we want to do is think about can we win the next game here? That’s the only thing that’s going to turn this. This mini-run of bad form at home will be turned by a win. And then we’ll try and get another one.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London

On the plus side, our next game is away.