Defence is still a mess, but are Chelsea finally turning the corner?

Nervously, luckily, probably undeservedly.

But sometimes it doesn't matter how you get over the line, only that you do.

And for Andre Villas-Boas, a weekend that could hardly have gone better in terms of results elsewhere gave him a reason to smile, at last.

Chelsea being Chelsea, though, it is never that simple or straightforward.

Indeed, as the Blues boss conceded the existence of a mental barrier that still exists in the minds of his players, the reality of what has happened at Chelsea this season was further crystallised.

There was a time when, if Chelsea went one up, especially at home, it was all over. The only question was the size of the victory.

That seems like a distance memory for many Blues fans of course, the supporters who turned up at Stamford Bridge in the sure and certain knowledge of the outcome for so long.

But what was once a fortress has been transformed into a citadel that has been breached far too often, far too easily.

Had any one of James McClean, Craig Gardner or Nicklas Bendtner done what they should have when fed by the intelligence of Stephane Sessegnon - illustrating exactly what Villas-Boas sanctioned the £7million to land Gary Cahill - there would have been, at least, a point heading back to Wearside.

Villas-Boas knew it, too, accepted his side had got away with one, on an afternoon that gave him two bright points of reference in the return to action of Michael Essien and the further stirrings of a resurrected Fernando Torres.

"Maybe, maybe you could say that the luck is turning for us," said the Portuguese. "There have been games at Stamford Bridge which looked to be going our way with a win and they have gone to a draw with the most unpredictable things.

"I think there is an obvious stigma around Stamford Bridge which is present for everybody to see. I think you find inspiration in different ways.

"On Saturday there were very, very good emotions to be fair during the first-half. In the second-half there was a normal tendency towards this nervous behaviour because of recent happenings.

"Our frustration is shared by our fans because they are the ones who suffer for the team more than us. That's their heart and it's normal that you have reactions like this.

"What is important is for them to always get behind the players. Saturday was really important because you know that the atmosphere was tense and tension also helps you to get concentrated. As long as they continue to feel empathy with the team they will help us get results."

With Spurs and Liverpool drawing and Arsenal going down at Swansea, the victory secured by Frank Lampard's left knee allowed Chelsea to steal a march on all their rivals for the Champions League places, even if the Manchester giants increasingly look out of reach.

As it is, Chelsea remain six points adrift of Tottenham, although with Harry Redknapp's side at City on Sunday, 24 hours or so after the Blues go to Carrow Road, Villas-Boas and his squad will feel there is a big chance of having halved the gap by this time next week.

If they have, then the battle for third will be joined and in Torres' improved show there were some positive signs.

Defensively, though, Chelsea were a mess. Ashley Cole, in particular, had an afternoon to forget, Jose Bosingwa remained... well, Jose Bosingwa, while Villas-Boas' insistence that David Luiz will become "going to be one of the greatest central defenders in the world" again looked a misplaced prediction.

Cahill's arrival does put a question over where Villas-Boas will now look to utilise Luiz, with the option of trying him out at right-back one he surely must look at in the FA Cup fourth round trip to QPR or MK Dons.

The Blues squad still appears lop-sided, Juan Mata's determination to view his initial posting on the left as little more than a starting point for wandering adding to the feeling that a genuine winger on that flank is required.

In truth, though, the one thing that makes a team look better is the confidence it gains from a run of wins. Three on the trot now, the chanced to match what would be, incredibly, their best run of the entire campaign if they can triumph in Norfolk.

Do that, though, and things will certainly start to look better.

**

Just as one striker starts to look happier at Chelsea, another begins to complain.

And while Romelu Lukaku may be better learning his trade in the Blues junior ranks than pining for playing time elsewhere, his public hints of frustration do further suggest Andre Villas-Boas doesn't quite get the art of conversation.

It may have always been the plan for Lukaku to be a bit-part player this season, even when Chelsea paid a staggering £18million to secure his services from Anderlecht.

The Belgian striker, however, has clearly not been told that was the plan - or if he was, he didn't listen.

Back on home soil in Brussels this weekend, Lukaka hinted at his sense of grievance at a lack of playing time.

Lukaku said: "If my situation at Chelsea does not evolve between now and the end of the season it may be better to be loaned out for a season.

"If this situation endures it might be better to play for another club for a year and then come back."

With Nicolas Anelka gone, Didier Droigba and Salomon Kalou on African Nations Cup duty and Daniel Sturridge recovering from injury, Lukaku is the only fit striking alternative to Fernando Torres.

Yet he has played just two minutes against Portsmouth since the end of November, simply no chance to prove himself.

He may or may not be good enough but it appears from his tone that Lukaku has not been sat down by Villas-Boas and had the future plans explained to him.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, Villas-Boas and Frank Lampard have not had a proper conversation for two months and the England midfielder has far more credit in his Chelsea bank account than an unproven teenager.

Yet maybe Villas-Boas needs to show his human side a little more, demonstrate some warmth and let his players sense some appreciation and inclusiveness.

Being aloof can get you so far in football. But no further.

Fancy winning £3,000 for FREE this month? Play Mirror Football Streak for your chance to win cash prizes! Start predicting now!

williamhill.com

Your comments

Latest columnists