Jose Mourinho faces crucial battle for Champions League place against former club

Brazilian midfielder Willian scored a brace when the teams last met in December.

THE battle for Champions League places is heating up after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat to Man Utd last Monday. It leaves fourth spot – the last ticket to the Champions League – wide open with only a single point separating fourth-placed Chelsea on 41 points and fifth-placed Tottenham on 40 points.

It is time for Chelsea to face the facts after blowing away the huge advantage that they had in fourth spot. That cushion is now just down to one point and their hopes for Champions League football next season is hanging by a thread following a poor run of results.

Chelsea’s home form continues to worry fans as they have now lost on five occasions at a place that was once feared by visiting teams.

It is astonishing to think that Frank Lampard’s side have only managed to get three points at Stamford Bridge against five bottom half teams: Brighton, Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Burnley.

The performance in their defeat against Man Utd was actually decent and they even managed to put the ball in the back of the net on two occasions before both were ruled out courtesy of Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

Lampard’s side created chances but the killer touch in front of goal eluded the Blues. This has unfortunately been the story of Chelsea’s season.

Lampard also faces an injury crisis with key players Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson Odoi, Andreas Christensen, N’golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham all sidelined.

It is worth noting that Lampard kept the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, on the bench yet again, putting his trust on the 38-year-old Willy Caballero for two consecutive matches.

It is a crucial time for Lampard as there are doubts about his leadership qualities. The Englishman has a tough task to come up with solutions as he copes with the mounting injury crisis and goalkeeping dilemma in the fight to save the Blues’ season.

His counterpart in today’s early match, Jose Mourinho, who is also Chelsea’s most successful manager in the club’s history, will be returning to Stamford Bridge aiming to add more misery to his former employer.

However, Tottenham’s midweek Champions League clash against RB Leipzig saw them being outplayed as they lost by a solitary goal to their German opponents. The margin of defeat could have been bigger if not for French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who made some great saves to prevent further embarrassment for the North London club.

Mourinho’s side looked toothless in front of goal without Son Heung Min, who joined star striker Harry Kane on the treatment table after suffering a broken arm during last Sunday’s league win over Aston Villa.

The absence of both Son and Kane will be hugely felt in the coming months as Tottenham struggle in front of goal.

Mourinho’s side have won three league games in a row coming into today’s derby, which indicates the momentum is leaning towards them.

The previous meeting between these teams in December saw Willian’s brace give the Blues bragging rights. Today’s fixture promises to be just as exciting with plenty at stake.

With Man City slapped with a two-year ban from European competitions, the next few months will be interesting for the Premier League especially for teams chasing the final Champions League spot with Man Utd, Tottenham, Wolves, Sheffield United, Everton and Arsenal all in the mix to compete.

If Man City fail in their appeal against UEFA’s ban, then there’s a strong possibility that finishing fifth could be enough to book a place in the Champions League, which would be music to the ears for these teams.

Chelsea will be desperate to turn their form around. Another defeat at home against Tottenham could see the Blues drop down to seventh spot if the likes of Sheffield United, Man Utd and Wolves get maximum points from their fixtures this week.

The absence of Kane and Son might prove too much for Mourinho’s team as proven in their midweek reverse against RB Leipzig.

Hence, I think if Chelsea get their act together, they might have the edge to overcome and complete the double over their neighbours today.

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