Interim Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink has admitted that the threat of relegation this year is real as the Blues sit in 14th place in the Barclays Premier League.
With just 24 points accumulated so far this season, last year’s champions have been well off the pace this season and find themselves twelve points behind fourth-placed Tottenham and that coveted Champions League place.
They sit just four spots above the relegation zone, and with a difficult five fixtures ahead, Hiddink’s fears could turn into reality.
Looking at those five fixtures to come, we analyse Chelsea’s chances.
Saturday 16th January – Everton (H)
Everton’s form has been hit and miss this season and they find themselves mid-table, just four points ahead of Chelsea.
Last time around, Everton won 3-1 at Goodison Park, thanks to a Steven Naismith hat-trick and some woeful defending from Chelsea’s back four. The same back four will undoubtedly not be playing, with Kurt Zouma finally cementing his place in the starting line-up.
Moreover, no matter the back four they start tomorrow, they will have to deal with one of the most in-form strikers in England, Romelu Lukaku.
The former Chelsea man has scored 19 goals in all competitions for the Toffees this year and will be a threat to any defence; especially if his suppliers perform the way they have been of late, with Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu tied at seven assists each this season.
However, with Diego Costa’s goalscoring form continuing to improve, it will not be an easy game for the away side by any means. It could prove a vital match for Chelsea if they are to climb the table as Hiddink wants.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-2 Everton
Sunday 24th January – Arsenal (A)
The last thing you want when you’re floating above the relegation zone is to come against the league leaders with an in-form strike force.
The two London sides are tied at one a piece in fixtures this year; Arsenal beating the Blues in the FA Community Shield and Chelsea winning 2-0 later in the year at Stamford Bridge.
This game could prove vital for both teams as Arsenal aim to accelerate their push for first place. However, unfortunately for Chelsea fans, this game could prove too much for them given Arsenal’s rate of form.
Their main threats come from German maestro Mesut Ozil and Frenchman Olivier Giroud. Ozil leads the way in assists this year with a total of 16 (four shy of Thierry Henry’s all-time top flight record) and Giroud has tallied up 20 goals for Arsenal this season, finally proving his worth to Arsene Wenger.
The defensive frailties of the past seem to have also disappeared, with the Gunners only conceding 21 goals. Given the sturdiness in defence and firepower up front, this will be a mountain too high for Hiddink’s side.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea
Wednesday 3rd February – Watford (A)
Perhaps one of the surprises of the season, the newly-promoted side have gone against all odds and find themselves securely sat in tenth place.
This is mostly down to strike due Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney, who have 20 goals between them. Ighalo, who has bagged 13 of them, has also won the Player of the Month award for December.
In previous years, this would have been regarded as a small London derby, which Chelsea would walk easily, the opposite is true this year. Having shared the points in the previous fixture, Hiddink’s side may have trouble getting anything more than that this time around.
Should Chelsea’s attacking players show up, they should have enough power to surpass the mid-table side.
Prediction: Watford 1-2 Chelsea
Sunday 7th February – Manchester United (H)
This game is, by far, the hardest to predict with both sides struggling for form. Louis van Gaal may not be the Old Trafford side’s boss by the time this fixture comes around.
However, if he is, it is sure to be a dull encounter. Both sides have been struggling for goals and have shown to be defensively weak in recent weeks.
This could be make or break for Hiddink’s side; if they come out on top it could save them from a relegation battle, however if they lose they could find themselves in and amongst the bottom three.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
Saturday 14th February – Newcastle United (H)
This is Chelsea’s best chance to pick up three points, with the Tyneside club struggling to string any sort of form together this year.
Steve McClaren’s side find themselves second bottom of the Premier League and don’t look like shifting any time soon. With Newcastle conceding a miserable 38 goals so far this season, this should be a game Chelsea should win, and win easily.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle United
Out of those five game Chelsea will want to win seven or eight points at a minimum if they are to be in with a chance of climbing away from safety for sure. One thing that can be said, is that Mourinho was right about one thing; fourth place is most definitely out of reach.
Enda Coll, Pundit Arena