Lowly Forest frustrate Chelsea

NOTTINGHAM: Graham Potter admitted Chelsea’s disappointing 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest underlined the lack of consistency that threatens to shatter their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. Raheem Sterling put Chelsea ahead in the first half at the City Ground on Sunday. But Ivory Coast defender Serge Aurier levelled after the break and Chelsea were fortunate to escape without an embarrassing defeat after Forest dominated for long spells in the second half.

Chelsea are languishing in eighth place after failing to win for the sixth time in their last seven league games. The Blues are seven points adrift of fourth placed Manchester United in the race to qualify for the Champions League via a top four finish. Just months after replacing the sacked Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea boss Potter is starting to come under fire as the early optimism after his move from Brighton begins to fade.

Chelsea’s 2-0 win against Bournemouth on Boxing Day was supposed to offer hope of a brighter period in 2023. But while it is surely too early for Potter to be worried about losing the first high-pressure job of his career, the 47-year-old needs an uptick in results in the new year to avoid putting Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly in an awkward position.

Forest are third bottom having won just three games all season, but boss Steve Cooper will take heart from the way his team rattled Chelsea in the second half. The only dark cloud for Forest was the alleged homophobic chanting from home supporters that earned condemnation from LGBTQ groups. Brennan Johnson threatened an early goal for Forest when he sprinted clear of Marc Cucurella and Thiago Silva, but Kepa Arrizabalaga spared his team-mates’ blushes with a good save.

Meanwhile, Antonio Conte admitted Tottenham face a fight to finish in the Premier League’s top four after a costly mistake from Hugo Lloris condemned the north Londoners to a damaging 2-0 defeat against Aston Villa on Sunday. Playing for the first time since France’s World Cup final defeat against Argentina, Tottenham goalkeeper Lloris weakly spilled Douglas Luiz’s shot early in the second half and Emiliano Buendia pounced to put Villa ahead.

Lloris was left on the bench for Tottenham’s draw against Brentford on Dec 26 as he rested after France’s agonising final loss in Qatar. The 36-year-old, who conceded three times against Argentina before France lost on penalties, might have wished he had been given longer to recover after his blunder against Villa. Brazilian midfielder Luiz added Villa’s second goal in the closing stages, leaving Conte’s side to endure jeers from frustrated fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Tottenham had hoped the first Premier League match of 2023 would serve to kick-start their bid to qualify for next season’s Champions League via a top four finish. Instead, they suffered a New Year’s Day hangover as mid-table Villa punished a lethargic display. Fifth placed Tottenham have failed to win both of their matches since the World Cup break, a dip in form which has allowed fourth placed Manchester United to climb two points above them.

Adding insult to injury for Tottenham, it was former Arsenal boss Unai Emery who masterminded Villa’s success on his return to north London. Villa manager Emery, dismissed by Arsenal in 2019, has now won three of his four Premier League matches since replacing the sacked Steven Gerrard in November. No player has scored more Premier League goals on New Year’s Day than Harry Kane’s five. – AFP


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