Kuala Lumpur Post


Chelsea still trying to end chronic goal drought

LONDON — At the final whistle of Chelsea’s 1-0 home defeat by Aston Villa yesterday — marking the big-spending Blues’ worst start to a season since 1978 — the boos from some angry fans were quickly replaced by applause from many others in Stamford Bridge.

The surprising display of encouragement from the stands reflected how Chelsea once again played well for much of the game before a 58th-minute straight red card for defender Malo Gusto shifted the momentum decisively to Villa.

Fifteen minutes later, the visitors made their numerical advantage count when Ollie Watkins scored the game’s only goal, firing an angled shot between the legs of goalkeeper Robert Sanchez and in off the far post.

Chelsea’s failure to show similar ruthlessness in front of goal is a painful hangover from the 2022/23 season when coaches Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter were both fired and the Blues finished in 12th place in the league, their lowest since 1994.

Mauricio Pochettino has created more structure in his new-look team. But the 2021 Champions League winners now sit 14th in the table and he too is struggling to find a way to get his players scoring, even if yesterday they were denied a goal only by a string of fine saves by Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

Pochettino told reporters his players needed to stay calm and not allow their confidence to drop.

“The performance is good. I don’t want to say it is excellent but we are missing to be clinical in front of the goal,” the Argentine said. “We need to keep going, keep working.”

Chelsea, whose US owners have spent close to one billion pounds (US$1.2 billion) on new players since acquiring the club last year, have failed to find the net in any of their last three league games. Their 13 blanks in the Premier League since the start of 2023 are more than any other side.

Pochettino will have to shake up his attack for Chelsea’s trip to West London neighbours Fulham on October 2 after striker Nicolas Jackson was booked for the fifth time this season, earning himself a suspension after just six games.

That will give an opportunity for Armando Broja, who came on as a substitute yesterday, to start in the side for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury in 2022.

“It was good to see Broja after nine, 10 months,” Pochettino said. “But he needs to build his confidence also.”

The defeat — the third in six games for the Blues — left Chelsea four points above Sheffield United, Luton and Burnley in the relegation slots. — Reuters