Is Chelsea in danger of missing out on Champions League football?

Could Chelsea actually be relegated?
Could Chelsea actually be relegated? /

It’s been all the rage to make fun of Chelsea for their pitiful start to the Premier League season. Gaffer Jose Mourinho has provided us endless entertainment by jerking John Terry out of the lineup and forcing physio Eva Carneiro to quit her job. Wrapped in the high comedy though, one question has gone unanswered. Is Chelsea really in danger of missing out on Champions League football?

First off, let me be clear that Chelsea missing out on Champions League football would be an embarrassment for the Club but not a disaster. It’s not as if they wouldn’t still have an opportunity to compete for the Premier League title next season or to spend outrageous sums of money to sign the players they desire. High profile players would still go to Chelsea because of the wages even without the guarantee of Champions League play. It would be a blip on the radar for a rich, well run Club as opposed to some sort of long-lasting curse.

Even so, the Blues would surely love to avoid the shame and ridicule they’d face if they finish outside the top four. Are they really in such danger? In a word, yes. As a frame of reference, last year Manchester United tallied 70 points to take the fourth position. The two years prior Arsenal claimed their customary fourth position with totals of 73 and 79 points. Chelsea, seven games into the season has just eight points. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that 70 points would be enough to squeeze into fourth and secure qualification. That would mean that Chelsea would need to take 62 points from its remaining 31 games. That certainly isn’t impossible for such a talented squad, but it isn’t an outcome I’d feel all that assured of either.

Perhaps if Chelsea only needed to focus on the Premier League season they improve their form enough to average 2 points per match. My concern is that Chelsea will not be satisfied with just paying attention to the League race. They also have to worry about Champions League play this season to satisfy their ownership and fans. Currently, they sit third in the table after a demoralizing defeat against Porto this week with their only points coming against the group’s weakest member in Maccabi Tel Aviv. I still expect them to make it out of the group, but they cannot afford to take any games for granted. There will be no resting of players for the remaining group games. This has to take some sort of toll on the level of effort they can expend on making up points in the Premier League. Of course, if they do manage to advance out of the group stage they will face additional squad pressure no matter who they draw in the knockout stage(s). Champions League football will make it more difficult for Chelsea to focus on its Premier League season. In years past this hasn’t been a problem, but in years past they haven’t started so poorly.

Most fans and pundits assume that Jose Mourinho will find the right balance and get Chelsea back close to the form they showed for the first half of last season. I have my doubts about this, but even if they do, they face an uphill climb to claw out the points they’ll need to grab that fourth spot. It may very well be that in an ironic stroke, the weight of playing Champions League football this season prevents Chelsea from making up the ground needed to qualify for Champions League next season.