When Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea went the first 14 games of the Premier League season undefeated, the masses cried out that the season was already decided, and that everyone else was merely fighting for a spot in the top four. That same sentiment returned in recent weeks when the Blues cruised to a seven-point lead over Manchester City, the reigning champions; and many were happy to place the trophy prematurely in Mourinho’s lap.
However, the past weekend has thrown a spanner into the workings of this parade, with the Blues’ matchup against Burnley at the mighty Stamford Bridge throwing up a number of flashpoints. There were two penalty shouts turned down by referee Martin Atkinson, with animated Chelsea players up in arms. They would have been arguably soft decisions if awarded, but don’t tell Jose Mourinho that. He’d just been handed two large logs to put on his “Campaign against Chelsea” fire, and he was about to get another one.
Personally, I think that Ashley Barnes’ tackle wasn’t as much a tackle as it was a follow through from his pass, but he may well have left his leg out too long. It’s impossible to state just how much damage it may have done to Nemanja Matic, seeing his leg bow under the pressure of it on replay. From that point, Matic’s reaction is understandable, but still unprofessional and very rash. And that’s where Chelsea’s problems began. After Atkinson dished out a red card to the Serbian, Chelsea were down to 10 men for the last 20 minutes, with Ramires replacing Oscar moments later to provide cover for the defence.
In the 81 st minute, the lack of Matic was clearly exposed as Ramires lost Ben Mee in the box, and the former Manchester City academy player slotted home the equalizer, reinforcing just how important Matic is to Chelsea. Of the 3 games that Chelsea have lost across competitions this season, Matic has been missing for two of them, only being present for the once-in-a-lifetime 5-3 loss to Tottenham Hotspur.
In a Daily Mail comparison between Chelsea with Matic, and Chelsea without Matic, the average goals conceded by Mourinho’s side rose by 1.2.
The beauty of Matic’s style of play is his ability to contribute to attacks by building from the back, while rarely being caught out of position when the opposition rebound. Ramires lacks that positional sense, often bounding forward in a more pressing midfield role, meaning he can be caught out on quick counter-attacks.
Matic is scheduled to miss this weekend’s Capital One Cup final against the aforementioned Spurs, as well as league matches against Leicester City and West Ham in the following weeks. While Leicester will not strike fear through the hearts of many Chelsea fans, the Hammers certainly have the ability to trouble Chelsea’s midfield with their physical playing style and direct running.
Coming into this key stage of the season, Mourinho would probably pick any other player to be out if he had to, and Matic’s absence could be crucial. If he returns against Southampton with the rustiness that Diego Costa showed post-ban, than this title race may become very interesting; albeit Manchester City must continue to bag results, otherwise this whole article may just be in vain.