How Quickly Can Chelsea Recover?


The Chelsea manager needs a reaction from his players after their dire Champions League exit, and the manager wasted no time in telling them what he expects this weekend.

„We need to react. We have a Premier League to win. If we win the Premier League and the Capital One Cup, it will still be a fantastic season.“

Mourinho is right on both counts. Their European failure will largely be forgotten if Chelsea bring the title back to Stamford Bridge and they have a five-point cushion and a game in hand over second-placed Manchester City to start rebuilding morale.

That gap, though, could be down to two points by the time Southampton arrive in west London on Sunday and the pressure – which Mourinho admitted his players failed to deal with against PSG – could really be on if Ronald Koeman is smiling again as he leaves the Bridge, just as he was pictured doing on Wednesday night.

Mourinho spent Thursday with his players trying to get to the bottom of why they could not cope with the challenge a Zlatan-less PSG posed, and he will have made it abundantly clear that any repeat of their mental breakdown will not be tolerated.

That may have been a one-off, but the manner in which they have been conceding goals is not. The last three times Thibaut Courtois has been beaten have all come courtesy of headers direct from corner-kicks, which left Mourinho seething. It is not for a lack of physical presence, so it can only be a mental glitch which has seen Burnley and PSG use set-pieces to profit at the Bridge.

At the other end, Diego Costa has not scored in the Premier League for almost two months, while Cesc Fabregas is proving Barcelona right when they explained honestly, if not a little bizarrely, their reasons for allowing him to leave the Nou Camp: ‘For some reason, he was never as good in the second half of a season as in the first.’

Costa, Fabregas and Chelsea were neither hard to stop nor hard to beat on Wednesday. That has to change this weekend.

Radamel Falcao
The Colombian’s Manchester United career has been written off by almost everyone and the fact he was left to rot on the bench while Marouane Fellaini stumbled around like a clumsy tree for 90 minutes in the cup defeat to Arsenal suggests Louis van Gaal does not fancy the loanee much either.

But while many have scoffed at Falcao’s appearance for the Under-21s on Tuesday, it is thought that run-out was an attempt to allow the striker some game time and the chance to find even a soupcon of sharpness. His non-appearance at the Cheltenham Festival with United team-mates was, somewhat bizarrely, also seen as another sign that his time is up, but perhaps the clever Colombian did not think that a day at the races was the best way to prepare for a huge game.

With Robin van Persie injured, Van Gaal could opt to play Falcao up with Wayne Rooney – a partnership we have seen very little of. Falcao and Van Persie do not click together, but with Rooney willing to drop off and drag defenders deeper than his Dutch team-mate, then Falcao could flourish.

Jorge Mendes says if Falcao gets five games, he will score in almost every one of them. United’s next five will define their season – Tottenham, Liverpool, Villa, City and Chelsea. If Falcao can find any form, and it is not for the want of trying so far, then all might not be lost. But he needs to start – and impress – against Spurs.

Gus Poyet
Poyet has the permanent air of a man on the edge, which is exactly where he will find himself should Aston Villa win on Wearside and leapfrog Sunderland in the table on Saturday.

The Uruguayan has found a way to shift the blame for most of Sunderland’s failings this season but the manager is running out of excuses. The 8-0 humiliation at Southampton earlier this season appears to have rattled Poyet and his side are now one of the toughest to watch, especially for their own fans.

Sunderland have four times as many goalless draws (eight) as home wins this season and though the natives have generally stuck by Poyet, their patience is beginning to wear thin.

The manager’s antics at Hull in their last outing won’t have helped. Against the side directly above them, Poyet lost his cool and was removed from the touchline before half-time, with his side 1-0 down and toiling.

Poyet seems incapable of accepting responsibility, even denying an improper conduct charge after Hull, but the buck must now stop with the manager. He might accept a 15th draw of the season against Tim Sherwood’s buoyant Villa, but the Sunderland fans will not take much more of the dire fare they have been served on Wearside. Jermain Defoe wants Sunderland to „start fast, create chances and try and play a little higher up“, and with leading scorer Adam Johnson still suspended by the club, Poyet has to find a way of giving Defoe the service he needs. Starting with four central midfielders as he did at Hull is unlikely to make that happen.

Old Trafford should hold no fear for Spurs – or anyone else, really – with Mauricio Pochettino taking his side to the north-west looking to go level with fourth-placed Manchester United by repeating the triumphs of the last two seasons.

Three in a row must be target for Tottenham. Europa League and Capital One Cup misery means Pochettino’s men have only the league to focus on and back-to-back wins against Swansea and QPR have put them back in the mix for the top four.

Spurs sit in sixth, the same position they finished last season under Tim Sherwood. His replacement, Pochettino, claims the team have shown a „special connection“ and „great character“, which are certainly characteristics that were lacking last season. Those words will count for little, though, unless tangible progress can be made.

The emergence of the likes of Harry Kane and Ryan Mason has no doubt increased the feel-good factor around White Hart Lane, but only the thought of finishing in the top four will leave Daniel Levy feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Tottenham have a realistic chance of doing that, just as they do of winning at Old Trafford again. Failure to accomplish the second of those objectives will make achieving the first far more difficult.

Arsene Wenger
It has been a slow and steady climb into third place for Arsenal, but Wenger’s side could move to within a point of second place before Manchester City kick-off at Burnley on Saturday evening. As with most things Arsenal, though, the challenge of facing a fading West Ham side is not a simple one, especially when you consider the task that awaits in Monaco four days later.

Wenger said after the cup win at Old Trafford that he hoped to take morale from that into the remainder of the league campaign. The danger, however, is that confidence – often a fragile commodity at The Emirates – could be quashed again if Monaco complete the job they so ruthlessly started just over a fortnight ago.

Arsenal require two victories before the middle of next week, with the second of those surely the hardest to earn. The team Wenger picks to face West Ham will tell you much about how recoverable he believes the Monaco tie is. With Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott left on the bench at Old Trafford, this weekend might be the opportune time to give the likes of Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez a breather before the trip to the south of France.

Leicester City
If Leicester are to pull off a great escape, it has to start this weekend at home to Hull.

Despite his ‘lame duck’ status, Nigel Pearson must somehow find a way for the Foxes to at least double their current points haul in the remaining 11 games. Seven of those are at home, where there is much room for improvement – Leicester have the worst record on their own patch in the division.

The visit of 15th-placed Hull represents a good opportunity to make up some of the ground between themselves and their fellow bottom-three dwellers, Burnley and QPR. The Foxes’ run-in is far from the most difficult. Almost two-thirds of their games are at the King Power Stadium and only three of their remaining opponents are realistic contenders for Europe.

Sitting seven points from safety, a revival, if it is to come, cannot wait any longer. Leicester have to make home advantage count and a first Premier League win in over two months is a must.

Harry Kane seems almost certain to be included in the England squad when Roy Hodgson names his party on Thursday to face Lithuania and Italy at the end of the month. Given Manchester United’s slapstick brand of defending this season, the young Tottenham striker might find himself strutting into St George’s Park next week having added to his 16 Premier League goals this season.

Charlie Austin and Danny Ings have one last chance to state their cases for inclusion in the upcoming squad. Hodgson watched Kane outshine Austin in QPR’s 2-1 defeat to Spurs last week, while the manager has spoken recently of Ings being worthy of an opportunity. Kane may take Rickie Lambert’s place in the England ranks, but Ings and Austin will have to do something special against Manchester City and Crystal Palace respectively if they are to tackle Lithuania and Italy.

Behind the forward line, the left-back slots seem most hotly contested. Luke Shaw’s form and, most worryingly, fitness may see Hodgson look elsewhere. Danny Rose has done his chances no harm of late, while Ryan Bertrand is making himself very difficult to overlook. A strong showing at former club Chelsea on Sunday could see his name scrawled on Hodgson’s squad sheet come next Thursday.

Roberto Martinez
Martinez is all about positivity and optimism but Everton’s season has reached the point where even he has labelled it „unacceptable“.

After a fifth-placed finish last season, the Toffees find themselves languishing in 14th, considerably closer to the relegation zone than the top half. A second relegation in three years in unlikely for Martinez, but he needs far more than simply survival if he is to quieten some of the dissenting voices in the blue half of Merseyside.

Everton have won only once in the league this year and have been shut out in four of their last five matches. Unlike for so many other Premier League sides, Europe has been a pleasant distraction and, to his credit, Martinez has not used their continental exploits as an excuse, but they have to recover from Thursday’s clash with Dynamo Kiev in time to face a Newcastle side which would have spent the previous 11 days (some might say most of the season) taking it easy.

Newcastle are an ideal opponent for Martinez. The Magpies are 11th and meandering towards the end of the season under John Carver. They have no realistic chance of pushing for Europe and no real prospect of getting dragged into trouble. They are simply existing until the summer, when a new manager will surely come in.

The same may happen at Everton unless Martinez can inspire an improvement, starting on Sunday.

Ian Watson