Even if David Moyes has his Toffees fifth (despite mounting obstacles), Steve Clarke has been the outstanding manager of the young Premier League season. The former Newcastle, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool assistant was handed his first permanent managerial post in June, replacing Roy Hodgson at West Brom. The 49-year-old Scot’s responded by taking the Baggies to fourth place, a three-game winning streak putting the West Midlands club within a point of Chelsea after upsetting the Blues 2-1 at The Hawthorns on Saturday.
For Chelsea, the result continues a fall swoon we’ve been talking about since their struggles against Shakhtar and Liverpool. After a hot start convinced us they were legitimate title contenders, Chelsea has looked more like a team that finished sixth than a side ready to challenge Manchester City. The Blues haven’t put together a good performance since winning at White Hart Lane on Oct. 20. Since, they’ve won two of seven, giving up 15 goals along the way.
The swoon is reminiscent of last year’s stretch that cost André Villas-Boas his job. Starting with a Oct. 23, 2011’s 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers, Chelsea won only seven of their next 19 league matches. When Villas-Boas was fired on March 4, Chelsea were in fifth place. Their 46 points from 27 games left them 20 points behind Manchester City.
The year before that, under Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea also stumbled in fall. Beginning with a Nov. 7, 2010 loss at Liverpool (0-2), Chelsea won only two of 11 games, falling from first (where they had sat since round two) to fifth. The team ended the year third but parted ways with Ancelotti, notifying the manager of his dismissal after the team lost at Everton on the season’s final day.
Today in West Brom, two familiar names were at the heart of Chelsea’s disappointment. David Luiz is an immensely talented player (and treated unfairly by the English press), but his penchant for mistakes means he has a long way to go as a defender. His poor marking of Shane Long on West Brom’s opener will draw warranted criticism.
At the other end of the formation, Fernando Torres had another bad game, eventually suffering the indignity of being brought off while his team was chasing a tying goal. The Spaniard has been subpar for so long, there’s little reason to expect he’ll ever be the player he was at Liverpool.
There’s also little reason to believe he’ll ever meet Chelsea’s now tempered expectations. The Blues desperately need a new striker in January if they want to retain their title hopes.
In the interim, they may need to try Daniel Sturridge as their No. 9, as unlikely as that is to work.