Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Cracks at Chelsea

When Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) was declared the new Chelsea manager in July of last year following on from his triumphant treble-winning season at Porto, he must have hoped it would have gone a lot smoother in West London.

A bigger club with huge expectations he nevertheless was a young - still novice - manager at his first job abroad but walking into an experienced dressing room. All with the ambition to win back the Premier League title that they have not won in three seasons, since Jose Mourinho left.

Yet it has not been plain sailing. A dressing room revoltion led by old heads John Terry and Frank Lampard. A public falling out by the latter when dropped from the starting line-up, normally Mr.Lampard is only removed from the line up when suspended (rare) and injured (even rarer).

Lampard answered his critics when he scored a winning penalty in the victory over Manchester City; and he has remained around the side since then. In defence, AVB has had to contend with an unusual double act in the centre of a young enthusiatic David Luiz and an ageing and distracted John Terry.

Luiz undoubtedly is a talented footballer, comfortable on the ball when it is in his possession, not so when trying to win it back - at times he has looked out of his depth and has not learnt from Terry's experience. Terry meanwhile forever courts controversy, he is currently pleading not guilty to shouting racial abuse at Anton Ferdinand during a League game in October, and his body is slowly showing the signs of too many injuries and not looking after himself. He rarely sits out unless the game is a League cup or is concussed, his style is one of reckless abandon yet full of gung ho temperament. Yet as Terry gets older, the strikers are getting quicker and just as physical.

Even Petr Cech is playing like a goalkeeper who has had one too many knocks to the head, he looks a bit slower between the sticks and understandably less confident of the defensive pair in front of him which has never been a consistent selection based on form, injury or falling out. (Alex has been sold in the transfer window.)

Up front, AVB has unfortunately inherited a front-line of maligned talent. Nicolas Anelka had a falling out and has been sold to a Chinese side. Didier Drogba remains the talisman but is likely to be sold in the summer, Fernando Torres' slump in form continues since his £50m transfer from Liverpool which looks more and more like a mistake. Whilst Drogba is on African Cup of Nations duty, Torres has had an unbroken run in the side yet no goals. A natural talent would buy any goal. Luckily, Daniel Sturridge has been a bright spark for the season, his season long loan at Bolton paying dividends. He looks strong, runs at people with the ball and has an eye for goal. He looked most likely to score at Swansea last night.

The cracks that I refer to in the title have been apparent all season, yet they became all the more apparent during last night's fixture at Swansea, which ended 1-1 with Chelsea equalizing late in injury time through an unfortunate own goal by Neil Taylor who deflected a Jose Boswinga shot come cross to deny the Welsh side a deserved three points.

Swansea, have an impressive home form this season losing only once to Manchester United and defeating Arsenal last time out in a five goal thriller. Swansea are a team who man for man are comfortable on the ball, they play in a Barcelona style format of passing from defence to the front. The difference is that whilst Barca may be happy to maintain possession pass sideways, create triangles and bide their time - Swansea play with a typically Premier League vein of quick counter-attacking sometimes bypassing an opposition's midfield turning a phase of trouble into a goal-scoring chance in the space of four passes and 15 seconds.

This tactic renders the opposition midfield - in this case Malouda, Oriel Romeu and Raul Meireles - at times useless and rash in challenges. Malouda was at fault for a late challenge on Leon Britton on the stroke of half time. Swansea's dominance led to frustration from the Londoners, as Scott Sinclair (ironically once of Chelsea) struck on 39 minutes with a fine volley.

The second half led to much of the same, although Chelsea did slowly come back into the game thanks to a substitution of Michael Essien for the non-effective Romeu, Essien nearly struck a startling equalizer from distance.

Chelsea's frustration become more apparent as the previously cautioned Ashley Cole, needlessly and stupidly commited a rash challenge on Nathan Dyer nowhere near to winning the ball. Cole walked before shown his red card by Andre Marriner.

Yet I feel AVB missed a trick by playing Luiz and Ivanovic at the centre of defence instead of new signing Gary Cahill who has still not played for his new club. Cahill's experience of playing in the Premier League at away venues would have been of benefit next to the cavalier Luiz, whilst Ivanovic was played out of position. Luiz is too easily caught out of position - a mistake against the pace of Sinclair, Dyer and Danny Graham - and was also guilty of not making a challenge when it needed one.

The cracks are there at Chelsea, a point away at Swansea matches the result Tottenham got there but Chelsea remain seven points behind their London rivals in the battle for third spot and automatic Champions League qualification. In this season of six sides trying to fit into four, two sides with huge aspirations are going to be disappointed.

At least Chelsea's problems are not as bad Arsenal's yet they should be aware of a resurgent Liverpool who are only four points behind and completed a great week by winning convincingly 3-0 at Wolves with Andy Carroll scoring a goal. How much more on top of the £50m already paid would Chelsea give to get a goal from Torres.

No comments:

Post a Comment