Another trophy slips by for weary Chelsea

With its plans for world and European domination in ruins, weary

Chelsea is facing a crucial run of domestic games over the

Christmas period that will determine the fate of its imploding

campaign.

Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Corinthians in the Club World Cup final in

Japan came 12 days after Chelsea’s defense of the Champions League

was cut short by an unprecedented elimination at the group

stage.

Chelsea also lost 4-1 to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup

in August and was beaten 3-2 by Manchester City in the Community

Shield weeks earlier, meaning four opportunities for silverware

have already slipped by.

When the squad returns on a 12-hour, 6,000-mile flight from the

Far East, a tough-looking schedule of six matches in 17 days awaits

– starting with a League Cup quarterfinal against second-tier Leeds

on Wednesday before games in the FA Cup and Premier League.

It promises to be a defining period for the London club and its

embattled interim manager Rafael Benitez.

”We now have to go on a run of games in the league to keep

ourselves in the hunt and we have the FA Cup and League Cup as

well,” Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard said, ”so we have to keep

pushing on.”

Chelsea is already 13 points behind Premier League leader

Manchester United, so the League Cup may be Benitez’s best chance

of silverware in his brief tenure this season.

The team also has the Europa League to contest but after the

highs of winning the Champions League in Munich in May, it is some

fall from grace.

For an owner as ambitious and demanding as Russian billionaire

Roman Abramovich, this latest setback – coming in front of a global

audience – will hurt.

Chelsea became the first European champions to fail to win the

Club World Cup since 2006 after a tired performance against

Corinthians, which ended in further misery when Gary Cahill was

sent off in the last minute.

”It’s a tough moment, especially for the Chelsea fans that came

to Japan,” Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata said.

”I hope we can enjoy good moments and lift more trophies for

the club … very soon. We’re still playing to win four trophies

and we will give everything we have to success in each of

them.”

Benitez is likely to face more criticism from fans this week,

particularly if the after-effects of the draining trip to Japan

take in a surprise loss to Leeds at Elland Road.

Fernando Torres still looks like a striker lacking confidence,

despite scoring five goals in three matches before Sunday’s game,

while supporters will wonder why Lampard and Ashley Cole appear set

to leave the club in June at the end of their contracts.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Benitez.

Captain John Terry is ready to return from a knee injury that

has kept him out since Nov. 11 while the Spanish coach appears to

have stumbled upon the best way to utilize the undoubted talent of

another center back, David Luiz.

The mercurial Brazil international looked more at home in center

midfield in the 3-1 win over Monterrey in the Club World Cup

semifinal than he did in central defense in the final.

With holding midfielder John Obi Mikel set to miss the match at

Leeds and also the league game against Aston Villa on Sunday

through suspension, Luiz may have more chances to show his

adaptability in a new position.

For now, though, an inconsolable Luiz must recover from losing

Sunday’s final to a team from his native country.

”I have a heavy heart,” said Luiz, who left the field in

Yokohama in tears. ”I am disappointed but I need to look to the

future because I have many games ahead. I play for a big club and I

need to win big titles.”