Carling Cup hangover could hamper Chelsea at Eastlands
Do Chelsea have any weaknesses? It is a question many will have answered in the negative during an imperious five-match winning streak at the start of their Premier League campaign.
But last season there was at least one major fault line in Carlo Ancelotti’s team and it is one that may be exposed again on Saturday when they visit Manchester City.
The trip to Eastlands is the first major test of the season for Chelsea and it might be more difficult than the odds indicate – the league leaders 2.22 in the early betting and City 3.75.
City won 2-1 in this fixture last season – a reverse that was just one in a string of poor away results for Chelsea against the teams just outside the elite.
Ancelotti’s players were able to raise themselves for the biggest away games last seasonÃ¢â‚¬â€winning at Manchester United, Arsenal and LiverpoolÃ¢â‚¬â€but it was their opponents who seemingly found the extra motivation when Chelsea visited the teams that filled places four to ten in the final league table.
In that category, Chelsea had just one win (the late-season 2-0 victory at Liverpool) out of seven. They lost four (at City, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Everton) and drew two (at Birmingham and Blackburn).
Chelsea’s wide-margin wins in their first two away games have been against early strugglersÃ¢â‚¬â€6-0 at Wigan and 3-1 at West HamÃ¢â‚¬â€and have told us nothing new.
Clearly they have the ability to win anywhere, as last season’s results at United and Arsenal proved, but for now they are something of an enigma in the tougher away games against teams such as City.
For once, all the negative headlines might just have a point this week. When the critics jump on the nine Premier League teams that were knocked out of the Carling Cup, with claims such as ‘Crisis deepens’ and ‘Poor start to season continues’, it could be worth taking note.
At the same stage of the Carling Cup last season, six Premier League teams were knocked out and all six went on to lose the following weekend in the league.
Another striking statistic is that, of the seven Premier League teams who were out of the Carling Cup by this stage last season, five went on to finish in the bottom six.
So much for the Carling Cup being a competition of little significance, because as a barometer of early-season form among Premier League clubs, it appears to be very significant indeed, even allowing for all the squad rotation.
In the three seasons since the Carling Cup calendar was rearranged to the current schedule, midweek cup losers have lost 15 out of 21 in the Premier League the following weekend, with just four winners – only two of which were against teams that were coming off a midweek cup win.
And in each season at least four of the bottom six had been knocked out of the Carling Cup by this stage – a good indicator of the probable strugglers.
If the pattern continues, Manchester United are bankers at Bolton on Sunday, while West Ham could spring an upset at home to midweek cup losers Tottenham. And don’t be surprised if Blackburn are beaten at Blackpool, who did not play in midweek.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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