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Chelsea, you have a problem

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There are a lot of teams in England that would love to trade places with Chelsea.

The team is in the thick of the Premiership title race, owns a spot in the knockout round of the Champions League and has advanced to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

However, as Saturday's last-gasp win over lowly Stoke City at Stamford Bridge illustrated, this is not the Chelsea team that we have become accustomed to.

The old Chelsea would have clinically taken apart the Potters with a surgeon's precision, while this year's edition needed two goals in the dying minutes to scrape by a team that is destined to battle relegation this season.

Frank Lampard's goal four minutes into stoppage time provided a thrilling ending to the match, and the star midfielder is hoping the game will provide a turning point in Chelsea's season.

"There are pivotal moments in seasons where you think 'Will this change something?' Today could be a turning point as long as we follow through with it and be a bit more ruthless in front of goal," Lampard said after his team's win on Saturday.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad isn't the Chelsea squad that we have become accustomed to.
While it's true that these kinds of wins have a way of turning around a team's fortunes, this is a club that will not be one of them.

The win on Saturday was Chelsea's second in six games in the league, and the team has too many other issues to deal with to mount a serious title charge over the remaining four months.

Last season, the club took a step back by failing to win a single trophy, and this year it will be more of the same.

The manager is always the first to take the blame for a team's shortcomings, and in this case, Luiz Felipe Scolari is no exception.

The Brazilian took over for Avram Grant after last season, and he promised a more attractive, attacking side.

After an impressive 4-0 win over Portsmouth it looked like he was going to deliver, but nothing has come easily for Scolari since that time.

He watched the club's 86-game home unbeaten streak in league play come to a halt in October with a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool, while the team was bounced from the Carling Cup by Burnley on penalties in November.

A second home defeat to London rivals Arsenal followed, while the club was hammered 3-0 at Old Trafford by Manchester United and needed a replay to get past League One side Southend in the FA Cup.

Rumors surfaced about a possible firing if the team failed to beat Southend in that replay, and although the coach may have survived, his seat has certainly not cooled with Saturday's performance.

Chelsea has suffered a few key injuries this season that haven't helped, mainly the loss of midfielder Michael Essien in early September with a knee injury. Missed time by Didier Drogba and Joe Cole also hasn't benefited the squad.

Essien's rugged play in the middle of the field has been missed to be sure, while Drogba hasn't gotten going since missing a large part of the early season due to injury and suspension.

Cole went down for the remainder of the year in the win over Southend with a knee problem of his own, which leads to another of Chelsea's issues - a lack of quality depth.

Franco Di Santo and Miroslav Stoch may both become first-team regulars for the club, but when they are being asked to come off the bench and rescue a game in the late stages, it seems like a bit of a stretch.

Both played well on Saturday, marking the first time a Scolari substitution has had an impact all season, but if they are asked to play an important role in the team's current campaign, there will be no new additions to the trophy case.

Deco was signed from Barcelona over the summer and played well in his first month, but he has been a non-factor since.

Others that need to pick up their play include Salomon Kalou, Florent Malouda and Michael Ballack, while the team's strike partnership of Drogba and Nicolas Anelka is another story.

Anelka is currently leading the league with 14 goals, but Drogba has been the team's top strike option for the past couple of seasons.

The Frenchman has become a player known for failing to score when it matters most. Meanwhile, Drogba's play on the field has been disappointing, and his conduct off it has been rumored to be just as bad.

Scolari has refused to pair the two up top, preferring to go with one striker, and at this point, it might be wise for that striker to be Anelka.

Drogba was not even named in the team for Chelsea's last two games, and for the right price, you have to think Chelsea would be willing to part ways with a player that has just one goal in 10 league appearances this season.

Even the one thing that has been a constant at the club in recent years - the money of billionaire owner Roman Abramovich - is taking a hit.

Abramovich, the richest man in English football over the past couple of years, slipped to third in an annual list published by FourFourTwo magazine.

The Chelsea owner has lost a reported $4 billion in the economic downturn, and he is now worth less than half of what Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan is worth.

In years past Abramovich would have thrown some money at the problem and brought in reinforcements, but now (like the rest of us) he is watching his spending a bit closer.

It would appear that the only way Chelsea will make a new signing is by selling off one of their own first, but what ever happened to the $17 million that City paid for defender Wayne Bridge?

The reluctance of Abramovich to spend, combined with Chelsea's current form, adds up to another year without silverware.

And for Chelsea, that is a big problem.



Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
Contact Brian Westfall at bwestfall@sportsnetwork.com

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