Villas-Boas admits title dream over for Chelsea
Chelsea 1 Fulham 1
Given Roman Abramovich's track record of hiring and firing, it is a brave Chelsea manager who concedes the Premier League title in December, but that was exactly what Andre Villas-Boas did yesterday.
Later on in the day, Manchester City's draw at West Bromwich Albion put a different complexion on the top of the table, where Chelsea trail the leaders by 11 points, but the wider point made by the Chelsea manager stands. He said that his team needed six points from this home game and next Saturday's against Aston Villa if they were to stay in contention. It is not what Abramovich will want to hear but full marks for honesty.
This was not the kind of performance of a side capable of winning the title, and when you consider that Manchester United put five goals past Fulham without reply at Craven Cottage six days ago, the problem comes into sharper focus. If Arsenal beat Wolves at home today, they will go above Chelsea into fourth place.
Villas-Boas said there was "no big drama" about his admission and certainly he appears to be a man who has Abramovich's full backing to take his time over remoulding this Chelsea team into something more resembling a Premier League title challenger. "I think it's pretty difficult [to win the title], to be fair," Villas-Boas said. "The distance, by the end of today, will be far to the Manchester clubs for us to challenge for this Premiership.
"A good December for us would have been six points from these two home games, but bearing in mind this draw – if the leading teams do their jobs – it'll be very difficult for us to win it."
Later on in his press conference, when he returned to the subject again, he did not attempt to backtrack. "You assess things as they are. There's no big drama in terms of how we look at things. But you have to be sufficiently real. The difference between us and the top will be big. We had reduced it to seven points recently, but 13 points [it is only 11] would be new for us.
"That is the perspective we have to take at the moment: it's difficult. It's not impossible. You cannot say that. But we have to focus on our position at the moment and make a real assessment. Maybe the Premiership is over for us at the moment.
"We had targeted the December fixtures as an ideal situation to find out what would happen. We continue to do that. There is always tension for you to get results in a massive club like this one. You have to be real. You cannot live under false expectations when the gap is this big."
False expectations? If ever they were evident at Chelsea then it is in Fernando Torres, the £50m man who was given his first start in eight league games yesterday and did not get the goal that his season so desperately requires. He had a good chance saved by Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale in the first half and created Juan Mata's goal, but it was still not enough.
Villas-Boas persisted with Torres for 90 minutes, moving him out to the wing in the end to operate with a "false No 9" in Mata, and the striker faded further. When Didier Drogba came on with 20 minutes left, Torres looked like the natural candidate to come off but instead it was Daniel Sturridge who was summoned and reacted angrily, barging past assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo.
If another game without a goal was not bad enough for Torres, the club only went and made things worse by inviting Jimmy Greaves along as a guest of honour, the man who scored 132 goals in 167 games over four prolific seasons in the first team at Stamford Bridge.
The old rascal was on the pitch waving to the fans at half-time and Villas-Boas later noted that Greaves had been in the dressing room with one of his young grandsons to get autographs. Who knows whether Torres recognised him? The problem for the Chelsea striker is that his goalscoring stats at the club are as bad as Greaves' record is wondrous.
Torres has scored five goals in 11 grim months at Stamford Bridge. In terms of Premier League goals, he has scored one more this calendar year, four, for his former club Liverpool than he has for Chelsea. He left the pitch at full-time with the usual smacked-arse expression.
Fulham? They were a damn sight better organised than the rabble that allowed United to put five goals past them at the Cottage, with Danny Murphy operating behind a midfield quartet that had Clint Dempsey and Moussa Dembélé at the centre. Dempsey scored the equaliser on 56 minutes while Dembélé added to his reputation as one of the Premier League's emerging stars.
There was precious little impact from Orlando Sa, alone in attack, but there were excellent performances elsewhere. The Swiss winger Alex Frei had a good Premier League debut and Stockdale kept Fulham in it with a series of saves at the end of the game from Drogba and Florent Malouda.
Martin Jol, the Fulham manager, lost Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson to injuries in training on Friday, he said later, and it will be instructive to see whether the Achilles problem picked up by the former affects his chances of a move away next month.
Even Villas-Boas conceded that his team had been outplayed in the first half when their best chance was a Mata ball taken on Torres' chest. He could not get his shot past Stockdale. Torres set up Mata for the goal two minutes after the break which was crisply struck into the bottom left corner.
The equaliser began with Dempsey heading the ball out to Bryan Ruiz who, in his best moments, is another fine player to watch. He went past Ashley Cole, a rarity, and put in a cross that Dempsey got to just before David Luiz and Petr Cech. Shortly after that, Villas-Boas brought off Frank Lampard. To say the player looked unimpressed by the decision was putting it mildly.
But this is clearly a young manager with a licence to change Chelsea. Afterwards, Villas-Boas admitted the club were in talks over the signing of defender Gary Cahill from Bolton. "We had initial talks, but that doesn't mean a deal will be concluded," he said. He sounded like a man building for the future; not worrying about the present.
Substitutes: Chelsea Malouda 6 (Lampard, 61), Drogba (Sturridge, 70), Ferreira (Bosingwa, 81). Fulham Kasami (Sa, 82).
Booked: Chelsea Bosingwa; Fulham Dempsey.
Man of the match Stockdale.
Attempts on target Chelsea 15 Fulham 6.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).
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