Thursday, April 25, 2024

Chelsea 0-1 Nottingham Forest: Talking points as billion-pound squad fumble again

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Things are not looking good for Chelsea at the moment. With only four Premier League games played, they recorded their second defeat of the season on Saturday, and a rather unexpected one as they lost at Stamford Bridge to Nottingham Forest. As it turned out in the end, a mistake in the middle of the park early in the second half was all that it took for Anthony Elanga, who only just joined Forest from Manchester United, to settle the game.

The game

Chelsea’s plan in a game like this, obviously cannot be faulted. They dominated possession with ease (77%) and created a number of moments when they really should’ve scored. But there something seriously wrong when a team as full of talented players as the Blues are, hit just two shots on target in over 90 minutes, out of 21 attempts.

Sterling had a great chance to break the deadlock with just one minute gone, but a fantastic last-ditch tackle from former Chelsea man, Ola Aina thwarted him at six yards. Sterling continued causing problems for the Forest defence, Conor Gallagher and Enzo Fernandez had a pair of close attempts from outside the box.

Nicolas Jackson had several good chances. There was a good one in the 56th minute when Fernandez set him up, only for Willy Boly to save the visitors’ skin. But were none as good as the one in the 83rd minute when Sterling teed him up inside the six yards. The former Villarreal striker chose to use his right foot despite the ball going onto his left, and he lost balance in the shifting and lobbed it over the bar.

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Mostly content with sitting back and keeping their net intact, Forest looked very resilient and determined to keep the hosts out. They hit back only occasionally.

Apart from scoring the decisive goal, Elanga could’ve added a second late on when he caused havoc for the Chelsea defence on the counterattack and whacked one from a very tight angle on the left, hitting the post. Striker Taiwo Awoniyi also had a decent opportunity after a set-piece scramble got the ball to him with his back to the goal and Thiago Silva in between, but his overhead attempt went wide of the target.

But Steve Cooper’s men obviously won’t dwell on those chances, given the final scoreline.

Another Caicedo disaster

Much was said about the poor performance Moises Caicedo put in for Chelsea in the 3-1 defeat to West Ham, when he played just over half an hour and still managed to give possession away eight times, topping it all off with conceding a late penalty which put the game completely beyond the reach of his team.

This was another game the most expensive player in the Premier League won’t be too keen to remember. He wasn’t quite as bad as at the London Stadium, but in the 48th minute, he miscontrolled a very simple pass in the middle of the park, possibly hindered slightly by Gallagher who let it pass through his legs on its way to Caicedo. The result was disaster as two Forest players pounced to win possession and poke the ball towards Awoniyi in space between the lines. Elanga made his run timely and was eventually found by the Nigerian striker, who sent the pass through Thiago Silva’s legs. The former Manchester United winger was extremely cool as he slotted past Robert Sanchez into the bottom corner.

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Overall, Chelsea have spent more than a billion pounds on incoming transfers since Todd Boehly’s consortium took charge of the club in the spring of 2022. This summer, they spent a combined total of £170 million just on two players, Caicedo and Romeo Lavia. And while Lavia is yet to make the matchday squad, Caicedo obviously isn’t living up to the expectations which accompany a £115m price tag. Liverpool, whom Chelsea beat in the race for both players, probably feel grateful for it at the moment.

Spurned players proving themselves at Forest

Leaving Chelsea’s struggles aside for a moment, there are a few things that should be said about the inform Forest attackers.

Awoniyi has been particularly catching the eye. The 26-year-old attacker didn’t score in this game and his brilliant streak has been interrupted, but he played very well against high-quality defenders and capped his performance off with an assist.

At the age of 18, Awoniyi was brought to England by Liverpool, but work permit issues prevented him from representing the Merseysiders at any level for a very long time. Liverpool were thus forced to keep sending him on one loan abroad after another, and he played for FSV Frankfurt, NEC Nijmegen, Mouscron, Gent, Mouscron again, Mainz, and Union Berlin, which he eventually joined on a permanent deal in 2021. Forest signed him a year later and he’s now finally playing in England, causing all sorts of problems for defenders across the Premier League. In 2023/24, he’s so far scored three goals in four league matches.

Meanwhile, Elanga passed through the youth ranks at Manchester United at the same time when Awoniyi joined Liverpool, and had things turned out differently, they could’ve been fierce rivals now. As it is, they’ve both come to Forest with a point to prove.

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Elanga reached the first-team squad only last year when Erik ten Hag arrived at Old Trafford, but with expensive signings like Jadon Sancho and Antony (just under £200m combined) to compete against, he never really stood a chance of getting regular game-time. Forest jumped at the chance and paid around £16m to secure his services this summer.

The 21-year-old winger is yet to start a Premier League game for his new club, but he made substitute appearances in all four played so far, recording an assist against Arsenal at the Emirates, and now a goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

It Awoniyi and Elanga continue playing the way they are now for the rest of the season, Forest will likely find keeping hold of them a difficult task next summer.

Table rankings

With this unexpected victory, Forest have moved ahead of Chelsea in the Premier League table, which is obviously something both Boehly and manager Mauricio Pochettino will be worried about. Pochettino was brought in to stabilize an ailing team, but if this goes on for much longer, the prospect of getting sacked will start hanging over his head very soon.

With Sunday’s matches still to be played, Forest are ninth in the table, a apart of the cluster of four clubs (along with Brentford, Aston Villa and Manchester United) with a tally of six points. Having completed a successful day at work, they’ll now turn their attention to Burnley, who are scheduled to come to the City Ground after the international break.

The break might do Chelsea some good, giving Pochettino some time to reflect on what’s been going wrong and to seek for adequate solutions. Going away to face Bournemouth could be the right opportunity to take a step in the right direction, but they can’t afford to waste chances like this at the Vitality, or they will be punished again.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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