Bridge Banter: AVB's job rests on leaky defence

First published in Football

So, a draw against Birmingham in the FA Cup and a 3-1 defeat to Napoli in the Champions League first leg.

Manager AVB is glancing over his shoulder, while the boardroom’s backing appears less than wholehearted.

Chelsea’s players look rudderless, especially at the back.

Recent success at Stamford Bridge, especially in the Mourinho years, was built on an unyielding defence. Yet these days a clean sheet in any competition seems remarkable.

The Blues return to league action this weekend when Bolton visit SW6, sensing a real chance of points against a distracted team.

Although the two-legged Champions League tie against Napoli is only at the midway point, with the home leg to come, it would take a brave fan to predict overall victory.

A lively, at times frantic, game littered with chances at both ends will see the Italians take a two-goal advantage to the Bridge on March 14.

Carelessness at the back (David Luiz looked especially fragile) has left the Blues facing serious questions. John Terry will be out for eight weeks after a knee op following a collision with a goalpost in early January. The fear is he may have aggravated the injury by trying to resume training too quickly.

Gary Cahill is an able deputy, although AVB isn’t necessarily convinced yet.

The only hope is Juan Mata – the Blues’ player of the season – who scored in Naples and still looks an inspirational creator... even if he failed to convert a penalty against Birmingham, when the Midlands choir serenaded AVB with ‘Sacked in the morning…’ He wasn’t, but the lack of endorsement from on high would be enough to bother anybody.

Frank Lampard and Michael Essien were thrown into the mix for the final quarter of an hour in Italy, in a bid to salvage something. But a single away goal remains the only small positive.

Following Chelsea remains a stress-filled occupation; the highs always blanketed in a fog of nervousness.

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