Paul Parker

League still the priority for Chelsea

Paul Parker

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Chelsea may have a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona to look forward to but their top priority should be the bitter battle they face to qualify for the competition again next season.

The most important thing is the Premier League and ensuring they finish fourth to reach Europe's top competition. It is all very well getting a glamour draw and then, after their inevitable defeat, saying they bravely fought against Barcelona, but they have to look at their league position above anything else.

In their current situation - five points behind both Arsenal and Tottenham in fifth with seven games remaining - there is no way they are capable of challenging for the Premier League title and are instead scrapping it out for fourth. For a team that has recently won the Premier League that is embarrassing and they have gone backwards dramatically.

There might be a chance of catching either of the North London sides but Chelsea need to raise their game quickly because at the moment they are just nicking results and you can't rely on that.

They have got to hope that one of their rivals slip up now as they are not capable of doing it themselves. Arsenal are probably the more likely to revert to their previous form this season, especially after losing to QPR. Spurs got back on track with a win over Swansea and Gareth Bale is back at left wing so they look strong.

It is crucial for Chelsea to get into the Champions League. Yes, the owner might have a bottomless pit of money but he wants that replenished and wants something coming in. The Champions League is crucial in that respect. He also likes the bright lights and glamour and you won't get that in the Europa League.

If Chelsea do fail to secure a place in the top four for the first time since Roman Abramovich's arrival in 2003 then you have to start looking at the role the owner has played in their decline.

The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas at the start of the season did not work out by any measure, and while he may have been the right manager in theory he was not given the required support to undertake the transformation of the playing staff that was clearly necessary.

Replacing him with Roberto Di Matteo was also a questionable decision. Di Matteo does not have a great amount of experience as a manager yet now he is being asked to plot a course past Barcelona and finish in the top four. It is too much too soon.

He proved that ultimately he wasn't ready for West Bromwich Albion, despite securing promotion to the Premier League. He is not really calling the shots at Chelsea. He is only there as a figurehead. It certainly doesn't make any sense at all for Chelsea to give him the job on a long-term basis at the end of the season. As great a player as he was and as nice a man as he is, it is not the right choice for Chelsea at this point in time.

He doesn't have the experience to manage a club of the size of Chelsea. Is he the big name that the club, the fans and the owner want? No. The supporters liked him as a player but do they see him as a manager? No.

You also have to question Abramovich's relationship with his players and how they have apparently become his friends. They have been allowed to wield too much influence off the field and that is arguably the biggest problem at the club.

Chelsea have only gone backwards because of Roman Abramovich. He has cost them, and Chelsea must rebuild properly now in the summer.

They need to focus on bringing through new players because their main focus has always been on buying new players, rather than developing their own and building a structure underneath. That has contributed to their downfall.

If they don't qualify for the Champions League then the writing has to be on the wall for Chelsea's senior players, who also have the unenviable task of keeping Messi and company quiet in Europe.

This Chelsea team do not have any chance against Barcelona, let's get that straight. Salomon Kalou has come out and said that Chelsea "expect" to win, which is ridiculous. They can't even expect to be in the Champions League next season, let alone beat the best team on the planet. It was stupid to come out and say something like that.

Chelsea will have to win the game at Stamford Bridge and take away at least a two-goal lead. That is the only chance they have got. As far as I am concerned, Barcelona playing the second leg at home is a major advantage.

It looks like being a difficult end to the season for Chelsea on both the domestic and European fronts.

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