Saturday 4 March, 3pm
Chelsea @ 8/13
Leeds @ 9/2
Draw @ 3/1
There is an old meteorological idiom which asserts that March ‘comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb’. A statement reportedly based on the season-straddling nature of the month – the often tumultuous transition from cruel winter into tranquil spring takes place within its 31 days.
As they head towards the first round of March’s Premier League fixtures; Chelsea, conversely, couldn’t be more lamblike. Alarmingly meek and timorous on the attack – a paltry four goals in all competitions have been filed by The Blues since the turn of the year.
Irresolute and unthreatening in midfield – they appear, at times, like a bunch of players that have been dropped carelessly onto the pitch from a great height; like someone emptying an expensive 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle out onto the kitchen table.
When completed, this intricate Chelsea tessellation does have the potential to resemble Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco, The Last Judgement. But not having had sufficient assembly time, in its current form, the image laid-out before us looks more like a vast, garish, headache-inducing Where’s Wally? cartoon.
If only Chelsea had a player on their roster with, say, over 300 career goals. A veteran striker who could clinically prod a few across the line to help keep things ticking over, while the correct pieces are interlocked behind him. Someone, for example, like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and…oh. Right.
Despite a pre-Christmas injury to Armando Broja, Chelsea opted not to pump a heap of cash into a recognised striker; even though Aubameyang was already being edged out of favour.
The Gabonese hitman has also been deemed surplus to requirements for Chelsea’s Champions League squad, so he won’t even be an option in their crucial match against Borussia Dortmund next Tuesday.
Well, it’s not like he would suddenly find the motivation to play against them, his old club, now would he…oh. Right. He might.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that this Chelsea squad still, technically, includes another striker with hundreds of career goals to his name who has ultimately been deemed not-needed: Romelu Lukaku.
To lose the services of two proven goal-scorers in a time of need, as Oscar Wilde would never have said, looks rather like carelessness.
Chelsea host Leeds at 3pm on Saturday in their first fixture of March, and will be hoping that the Yorkshire club – who have just installed a new manager, Javi Gracia – find themselves in greater state of disarray than The Blues.
Because these are perilous times for Graham Potter, and he must beware the (former) sides of Marsch. And, simultaneously, encourage his team to‘rise and rise again, until (his) lambs become lions.’
This weekend’s action is bookended by two clubs still involved in the march for the title. Leading the pursuit of Arsenal’s table-topping young lions, Manchester City entertain recently-defeated Carabao Cup finalists Newcastle in the midday kick-off on Saturday.
A far from ideal fixture for The Magpies, who are seeking to end a dispiriting run of results; a streak that has also led to them getting nudged out of the coveted top four echelon. Hope exists in the fact that Manchester City have leaked goals in their last five Premier League games. Scoring more than the Sky Blues – bagging the lion’s share – however, may be a task that is beyond them.
More symptoms of early-onset March Madness will be on show when a resurgent Liverpool welcome a relentless Manchester United to Anfield for a 4:30pm encounter on Sunday.
The sheer number of main-event matches played by both teams over the last few weeks (finals, derbies, clashes with Real Madrid and Barcelona) ought to result in the pair – out of profound exhaustion – marching towards the centre-circle pre-whistle, shaking hands, declaring the game a draw, before quietly going their separate ways.
But that surely won’t happen with these lions – there’s too much pride.
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