Two weeks ago, we noted that Chelsea looked to have finally stabilized under Rafa Benítez. Their 3-0 win that day over a floundering Fulham may have lacked a level of difficulty, but with a road draw at Liverpool and today’s 2-0 over Swansea, the narrative’s rounding out. Chelsea have gotten their bearings just in time to hold on to a top-four spot.
This weekend’s results may prove particularly important in that chase. Tottenham stumbled in Wigan and were lucky to get away with a point, a result that will still see them lose two points on the Blues. From Chelsea’s point of view, all they have to do is beat out Spurs or Arsenal to reclaim a top-four spot, and with Tottenham sitting three points back, Chelsea now have some room for error.
In the coming weeks, Chelsea go to Manchester United before hosting Spurs. That’s not to mention a Europa League match on Wednesday and a season-ender with Everton. The only easy match in their run-in is a May 11 visit to Aston Villa, but with their opponents likely to be battling for their Premier League lives when the Blues arrive in Birmingham, not even that game can be taken for granted. The three-point gap may prove vital.
That Chelsea built that lead with a win over Swans was another sign of progress. No doubt, Swans aren’t the threat they were earlier this year. They haven’t won since March 2, possibly letting up after winning the League Cup. But that League Cup run came at Chelsea’s expense, with Michael Laudrup’s side eliminating the Blues in the semifinals.
This time, goals from Oscar and Frank Lampard just short of halftime eliminated all doubt. On the road, down two, with little to play for, Swansea where always unlikely to find their January form, allowing the Blues to site one point clear of fourth place Arsenal.
Now, as they approach the four-match stretch which will determine the top-four fate, Chelsea is playing better than at any other time under Benítez. Or at least, they’ve stabilized in a good place. And thanks to their three-point gap on Spurs, Chelsea can afford a stumble against Manchester United or Tottenham while maintaining their Champions League hopes.
Lukaku rejects big comparisons: “I can’t say I’m in my prime”
“I’m 24 years of age, I cannot say I am the complete package, I can’t say I’m in my prime.
“There is still a lot of work to be done and I am delighted there is still a lot of work to be done. That means I can become even better than I am now.”
Lukaku most needs consistency in his game. Even in his massive campaign last season, he twice went four matches without a goal. While it’s possible to have fine performances but not find finish, Everton went 1W-3D-4L in those combined stretches and five of those matches were against bottom half sides.
PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.
Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.
PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?
Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”
PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?
Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”
PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?
Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”
PST: What would it mean?
Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”
PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.
Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”
PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt.
Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”
PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”
PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?
Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”
Sigurdsson, 27, scored nine goals last season and teamed with Fernando Llorente to form a potent duo. He first made his PL impression with seven goals during a half-season loan from Hoffenheim, and moved to Spurs for a tumultuous two seasons.
He’s since recorded seven-, 11-, and 9-goal seasons for Swans.
Everton has spent big this summer and look set to have the depth to compete in both the Premier League and UEFA Europa League.
Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez is back in the Premier League, and will debut for his new club at the home of his old club.
The league schedulers didn’t know the Mexican striker would be a member of West Ham United on Opening Day, but nonetheless have the first weekend ending with an 11 a.m. ET kickoff between the Irons and Red Devils of Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Combine a new home with an old haunt, and you’ve got one fired up Little Pea:
“A little bit more than my teammates probably, of course to be back to Old Trafford to start this adventure this season with my new team. It’s gonna be a very important one and I’m going to be very happy to be there.”