It seems to have become as annual an event as the winter nights drawing in and just on cue, Chelsea are undergoing their November crisis.
It is something that has affected Blues managers as far back as the days of Avram Grant and with Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas suffering the same fate, it seems more than coincidence that Chelsea’s season is going off the rails under Roberto Di Matteo at precisely the same time as it has done for the past few years.
Because make no mistake, Chelsea are in a worrying slump ahead of perhaps their most vital game of the season so far. Tuesday’s trip to Juventus is of utmost importance if the current Champions League holders are to progress from their group into the knock-out stages and avoid being the first reigning champions to fail to reach the last 16 under the new format of the European Cup.
A positive result is a must at the Juventus Stadium against the Serie A leaders, with the situation in Group E incredibly tight.
Victor Moses’ last-minute winner against Shakhtar Donetsk at Stamford Bridge kept Chelsea’s hopes of qualification alive and they trail the Ukrainian side by goal difference alone, with Juve a point further back.
It means that should Chelsea avoid defeat in Juventus, they will almost certainly qualify with their last fixture, a home tie against Danish no-hopers Nordsjaelland, a formality.
Defeat, though, would leave them with a mountainous task, needing to rely on other results to go their way in order to go through, and failure to progress would seriously undermine Di Matteo’s position further still.
Roman Abramovich will dispense of the Italian as soon as he finds a replacement he deems suitable enough, which is a situation everybody is well aware of, Di Matteo included. Winning is the only antidote to that, but Chelsea’s recent run has been poor as the former West Brom boss struggles to maintain his team’s good early form.
Just one win inside 90 minutes in the last seven is the record Chelsea take to Turin and Saturday’s defeat to West Brom at the Hawthorns – a loss that was fully merited – has left Chelsea four points off the summit in the Premier League after previously leading the table by the same amount.
But that can wait for another day: a result must be secured in Juventus and despite their dodgy form, I think they are well priced to do just that. The home side are the 83/100 favourites, with the draw at 27/10 and Chelsea at 29/10, and I think at those prices, you have to be on a combination of the latter two.
Juventus are the current Italian champions and come into the match four points clear in Serie A and in good form, even if Inter Milan ended their 49-game unbeaten league record just a couple of weeks ago.
But I don’t think this vintage of the Old Lady can hold a light to their previous teams, despite that superb unbeaten domestic run.
The standard of Serie A, not at all helped by the constant controversy and scandals that have engulfed it over recent years, is not what it used to be and I always think that the Italian sides are worth opposing so at 9/10, I’ll be doing just that by backing Chelsea to avoid defeat.
Juve have some fine players and are in confident mood: the evergreen Gigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo lead the team expertly, while Paul Pogba, stolen from under the noses of Manchester United, is blossoming into a top player.
Fabio Quagliarella has found his shooting boots this season, too, with six league goals already. But their European performances haven’t been great, with draws at home to Shakhtar and away to Nordsjaelland both disappointing results and I think Chelsea can use their European experience to get what they need.
Di Matteo said in the aftermath of the West Brom defeat that he may sacrifice some of his side’s attacking play to become a more defensive solid unit and that is exactly how he will approach this match.
Keeping a clean sheet will be Chelsea’s first priority, as it was in many of their games en route to their Champions League win last season, and I think they can repeat that trick by getting a result, even if it c0uld prove a pretty boring watch.
It isn’t often you are getting just under evens for Chelsea to avoid defeat and I’ll be on the 9/10 that the Blues put one foot into the last 16 in Turin.