A month that might end with new owners could hardly have started any worse. Who’d have thought Chelsea would be in this position after Antonio Rudiger’s 35-yard screamer on Saturday?
Stamford Bridge erupted as Rudiger wheeled away in celebration towards head coach Thomas Tuchel. That was in the 48th minute against Brentford, and somehow what has followed since then is seven goals conceded in Chelsea’s next 90 minutes of football.
After the weekend’s 4-1 loss, by the 46th minute against Real Madrid on Wednesday night they were 3-1 down – it ended that way, too – with Rudiger playing a minor role but Edouard Mendy predominantly to blame when Karim Benzema rolled in the simplest of hat-trick goals.
Two sublime Benzema headers had already steered the Champions League tie in Real’s direction, and though Kai Havertz gave Chelsea hope, there is no denying the Blues have a mountain to climb in Madrid next week.
Of course, anything is possible, but worrying signs are surfacing for Chelsea at just the wrong time.
Before next week’s second leg, they head to Southampton in the Premier League, and with Arsenal and Tottenham on their heels in the race for the top four, they can hardly afford to take their foot off the gas in the league.
April 2: Chelsea 1-4 Brentford – PL
April 6: Chelsea 1-3 Real Madrid – UCL
April 9: Southampton v Chelsea – PL
April 12: Real Madrid v Chelsea – UCL
April 17: Chelsea v Crystal Palace – FA Cup
April 20: Chelsea v Arsenal – PL
April 24: Chelsea v West Ham – PL
After the second leg, there’s an FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, and as if their April could be any more stacked, it ends with league games against Arsenal and West Ham – both at home.
By the end of April we will know where Chelsea stand. They could be comfortably third, FA Cup finalists, and even halfway through a Champions League semi-final, but right now that does not seem realistic.
Reaching the FA Cup final is perhaps their best bet of success, but with Manchester City and Liverpool streets ahead in the Premier League, defending their European crown had emerged as their biggest goal – one that is now hanging by a thread.
All the while, prospective new owners are taking in the sights and sounds of Stamford Bridge. Representatives from the Ricketts family attended Saturday’s match with Brentford, while Todd Boehly, who leads another consortium hoping to buy Chelsea, was pictured arriving for Wednesday’s Champions League encounter. A penny for their thoughts.
Two defeats will not exactly have them thinking twice, but it will at least alert them to the fact that taking over the European champions is no guarantee of further success, and that it will take graft to not only maintain this club’s position but elevate it further.
That is on Tuchel too, who has behaved admirably amid Chelsea’s off-field distractions, handling media questions with remarkable composure and candidness, but must now zero in on their on-field struggles.
It is far from a disaster, more of a mini-blip, but Tuchel now faces arguably the biggest test of his coaching career, which is ensuring this month does not go from bad to worse.