Football: Chelsea go from riches to ragged

Steve Tongue fears Vialli is now facing long-term difficulties; Lustre fades at the Bridge as the millionaires' club suddenly takes on a threadbare look

THERE WAS a poignant moment before Chelsea's Premiership game at home to Leicester City last Sunday, when a spontaneous ovation greeted an appearance on the pitch by Pierluigi Casiraghi, the striker seriously injured at West Ham in November after starting only 13 games since his pounds 5.4m transfer from Lazio.

Casiraghi, who has been undergoing rehabilitation treatment in Italy for six hours every day, will not play again until well into next season, by which time there is likely to be at least one more Italian striker rivalling him for a place. Indeed, it is possible that the failure to replace him as soon as the extent of his knee injury became known lies behind the near-collapse of a season that promised so much.

With eight minutes of the Leicester game remaining, there was everything to play for. Chelsea had confounded the gloomy prognostications of their player-manager Gianluca Vialli by recovering from an unexpected home defeat against West Ham to steal back on to the shoulder of Manchester United and Arsenal. Beyond that lay the second leg of the European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final in which Chelsea had been favourites all season to come through a poor field and meet Casiraghi's old club in the favourable environment of a Villa Park final.

Suddenly, however, the weariness that Franck Leboeuf and Marcel Desailly, the World Cup winning centre-backs had felt intermittently ever since their exploits last June caught up with them and, aided by Vialli's self- confessed tactical error in persisting with an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, Leicester were able to pull back two goals and change the look of the Premiership chase.

In Palma four days later, the prospect of retaining the Cup- Winners' Cup vanished largely because - despite all the untiring excellence of Gustavo Poyet, whose knee injury on Boxing Day permitted a much quicker recovery than Casiraghi's - Chelsea had run out of genuine goal scorers. From 22 shots (to Real Mallorca's eight) they could not hit the net.

As an impressively - almost extravagantly - large first-team squad posed for the official pre-season photograph last summer, such a possibility seemed impossible to contemplate. The question then was how Vialli, determined to play a leading role himself, could possibly keep all his other strikers happy, even over a demanding eight months. There alongside him in the front row were his compatriots Gianfranco Zola and Casiraghi; behind them stood Tore Andre Flo and another expensive new recruit, Brian Laudrup. Goals, it was assumed, would not be a problem.

Compare that picture to one of the Chelsea substitutes bench on Thursday as Mallorca's famed defence repelled the best that Flo and Zola could throw at them. Just when an extra striker was required to step from the dug-out, there was Vialli sitting in his civvies ("I could have risked myself but decided not to. I'm not the sort of player who can come on and turn a match") alongside a crop of defenders and midfield players.

Casiraghi was at home, no replacement had been signed, and Laudrup was long gone. His last contribution to the Cup-Winners' Cup run having been to ensure a place in the quarter-final by scoring the goal that knocked out FC Copenhagen, the club he was about to join.

The disappearance of his pace - an increasingly important quality in the modern game - has shown up Chelsea's deficiencies in that area. It is something they need to address as a priority in planning the changes that must follow if the season is to become part of what Vialli sees as a progression towards real success. "We've improved in the League, which was our most important target this season," he said. "To see an improvement is the most important thing for a manager."

Keen as he is to keep playing, the 34-year-old's acknowledge-ment that he can't do so for ever is a reminder of the squad's advancing years. Astonishingly, the average age of Thursday's team was 30, with Flo the only player under 28. As Chelsea set out to retrieve a Champions' League place from last week's wreckage, beginning at Sheffield Wednesday this afternoon, that is hardly a base for any sort of long-term success.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells