Lacklustre Chelsea pay the price for complacency

Posted by Phil Lythell

Shaun Wright-Phillips reacts after putting QPR in front against ChelseaGettyImagesFormer Blue SWP reacts after putting QPR in front against Chelsea

If the victory at Everton was the undoubted highlight of Chelsea's festive period, the 1-0 home defeat to Queens Park Rangers was certainly a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's show'.

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A performance that lacked precision, energy and invention was punished by a diligent QPR team that featured the one bright spark on the pitch - Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan showed that 90 minutes spent fighting for possession and then using the ball with care and intelligence can be the difference in a tight game. An example from which the Chelsea attack would do well to learn from.

Rafael Benitez made a host of changes for the fixture following a draining schedule over the last two months and inevitably much focus has been trained on the team selection especially with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard starting the game on the substitutes' bench. Although those too talents have been excellent in recent weeks for the Blues I don't think anybody would claim that the side that began the game was not more than capable of beating the club that still props up the Premier League irrespective of their surprise win.

Mata has been a virtual ever-present when available this season and with a January that sees Chelsea play seven times in the month it appeared to be a sensible enough time to give the magical Spaniard a night off. The same can be said of Hazard, who will be called upon regularly in the weeks ahead. Ramires' trademark enthusiasm was certainly missed but without a Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar combination to deal with on the right flank, it was also perfectly reasonable to see him watching from the sidelines.

And let's not forget that all three did make their entrance in the second half and none contributed anything of note to proceedings, although their truncated time on the pitch is clearly a factor in that.

Perhaps it was complacency that was Chelsea's biggest enemy. Having come off the back of a tremendous result at Goodison Park which was preceded by a win at Norwich and the thumpings of Leeds and Aston Villa, maybe the team thought that all they had to do was to turn up and the three points would be theirs. But passes still have to be completed, the right decisions made and the ball stuck in the back of the net before any result is confirmed.

Although defensively sound, both Frank Lampard and David Luiz had their poorest games for quite some time. Distribution from the pair was either errant or predictable although they were not helped by the paucity of movement from the four players in front of them. Fernando Torres appeared as if he was playing in concrete boots so sluggish were his efforts, his night crystallised by shooting straight at Julio Cesar when a striker with more confidence and finesse might have spotted the wide expanse of open goal to the goalkeeper's right.

Many have clamoured for Marko Marin to make his first Premier League start and while it was good to see the young German get some valuable game time, he hardly covered himself in glory. He was lucky not to have been sent off in the opening moments of the match when his crude lunge on Stephane M'Bia was punished only with a yellow card. That seemed to affect his performance and while he showed a lovely quickness of feet to create a sharp chance for Victor Moses, it was only a matter of time until he was brought off to make way for a more established name.

Oscar was, perhaps, more disappointing given the vast reserves of guile and touch at his disposal. Too many times the ball bounced away from him and he found it hard to take a grip on the game despite playing in his favoured number ten role. He was crowded out more often than not and was only able to find any space to create when he found himself in wide positions.

The defeat to a lowly local rival will be hard to swallow for Chelsea fans though at least it will put to bed any misguided thoughts of a challenge for the Premier League title. The team need to be concerned with the clubs in their immediate vicinity rather than look too far ahead with a potential third-place finish an adequate return from what has already been a turbulent season.

It is taken as read that this result will be used by some to beat Benitez with though hindsight is always 20:20. The team selection did not pay off on Wednesday but all the decisions made sense. It goes without saying that neither the manager nor the players can afford too many more of these nights but just as one swallow does not make a summer, one result does not instantly turn a good team into a bad one. At least, I hope not.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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