x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A bridge too far for Andre Villas-Boas

Chelsea manager all but concedes Premier League challenge is over.

Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, right, had another frustrating day at Stamford Bridge against Fulham.
Chelsea striker Fernando Torres, right, had another frustrating day at Stamford Bridge against Fulham.

London // Andre Villas-Boas all but conceded the Premier League title yesterday after watching Chelsea drop another two points in the west London derby.

Since buying the club, Roman Abramovich has dismissed every manager who failed to win a championship, but Villas-Boas shrugged off the potential implications of writing off his side's title challenge before the halfway point of the season.

After beating Manchester City two weeks ago to haul themselves back into the title race, Chelsea completed a hat-trick of 1-1 draws to leave them 11 points off the pace.

Juan Mata had put the hosts in front at the start of the second half, but Clint Dempsey found space in the Chelsea penalty area to equalise just before the hour.

Villas-Boas said: "With City and United continuing to get points, it'll be difficult.

"That is the perspective we have to make at the moment: it's difficult. It's not impossible. You cannot say that.

"But we have to focus on our position at the moment and make a real assessment. Maybe the Premier League is over for us at the moment.

"We'd targeted the December fixtures as an ideal situation to find out what would happen in the Premier League. We continue to do that."

Villas-Boas dismissed suggestions that it was dangerous to acknowledge failure in the league race.

"There is always tension for you to get results in a massive club like this one," he said.

"You have to be real. You cannot live under false expectations when the gap is this big."

Chelsea had been on course for victory at Stamford Bridge when Mata fired them ahead two minutes after half time but Dempsey, the American midfielder, equalised nine minutes later. Thereafter, the Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale kept Chelsea at bay.

Villas-Boas said: "We weren't good enough to get the three points, that was pretty clear." Fernando Torres, the Spanish striker, was given his first league start for almost two months, and the £50 million (Dh287.2m) man again failed to deliver.

Villas-Boas refused to criticise Torres. "He worked well for the team, assisted Mata for his goal, and showed the level of commitment he has shown in training.

"We don't judge our strikers on the score. What is important is that they make an impact. That is what we expect from them."

Martin Jol, the Fulham coach, conceded he gambled on his team selection after the strikers Bobby Zamora (Achilles) and Andy Johnson (groin) both pulled out injured. They were replaced by Bryan Ruiz and Orlando Sa.

"Sometimes you have to take a gamble, and that is what we did," Jol said.

"Our two main strikers dropped out so we had to come up with something else. I think it paid off."