- Missing Link
- The Club
As the opportunities to win trophies continue on, Chelsea travel to Wales and the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinals. The winner of the tie earns a trip to Wembley and the chance to face Bradford who overturned Aston Villa via a 4-3 scoreline on aggregate.
In order for the Blues to earn their place, they must overturn a 2-0 deficit and 2 away goals against a Swansea team that has proven themselves to be a very good and very difficult opponent. 3 goals without reply will see Chelsea through, but Swansea have been on a good run of form, having just turned over Stoke 3-1 at home. Make no mistake. This is a huge task.
The biggest difference in the two sides in the first leg was that Swansea were more clinical.
This seems like stating the obvious, but it holds very true. Swansea were presented to golden opportunities via mistakes from Branislav Ivanovic and scored them both. On the other hand, Chelsea dominated the majority of the first leg, yet failed to turn their superiority into goals with pretty much everyone taking a turn in missing the target.
It’s safe to say that there isn’t much tactically that can surprise either side, given this is the third meeting of the season, but if the Blues are to make up the deficit, they must find the target more often than they did in the first leg.
Rafa Benitez must resist the urge to start Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, and Oscar in the same side if he has that option.
I love the fact that when these three players are all clicking that they can produce some of the most breathtaking attacking movements that anyone can imagine. What I don’t like about the three of them playing together is that when they’re not in possession of the ball, teams that press to win the ball and play patient passes with an attacking mentality can dominate them because of their collective inability to track runners and win the ball back themselves.
People question how Chelsea have managed to not be able to hold leads, but a large part of that comes from the fact that you can push back our midfield if you’re willing to be brave and try. That’s what happened in the Arsenal match in the second half. When Arsenal stood off and didn’t put pressure on those three, they passed Arsenal into the ground and made them look silly. In the second half, Arsenal had nothing to lose, and they began to press forward with numbers. When they did that, effectively they could find spaces once they got beyond the Mata-Hazard-Oscar line and could attack the 6 men behind. Once that happened, they started to thread little balls in behind and began to start outnumbering Frank Lampard and Ramires in the midfield.
This is a massive concern against Swansea because they play that exact style. While I think playing Ramires on the right in the first leg helped a lot, it’s still worrying that if they start to pressure, rather than playing with a possible 5 in midfield, the defence ends up looking like a midfield of two that can be outnumbered. It will be a concern because of Swansea’s ability to pass the ball, retain shape, and retain possession.
What is Branislav Ivanovic’s real position?
This is something that I think needs to be considered with the pending return to fitness of John Terry and the continuation of the David Luiz experiment in midfield. When we first bought Ivanovic and he was finally able to get a game, I thought that he appeared to be the most natural replacement for Ricardo Carvalho.
Since that time, he’s never fully lived up to his potential for me because he ended up playing as a right back and his skills as a center back have not quite developed as well as I would like. That leads to the big problem of where to play him.
When he plays on the right, he does offer an extra cover defensively at that position while still being able to go forward. However, he also offers that any team playing us can largely ignore his attack and invite him forward, while defending the Ashley Cole flank and looking to ping counter balls in behind because of Ivanovic’s lack of recovery pace. It’s something that Manchester United have been quite adept at with Ashley Young and to an extent Nani, and something that is a concern when you come up against teams who have two good wide players.
As a center back, I think he can be a liability mostly mentally because of his stint as a right back. While I think he’s very good at playing the ball out from the back, his biggest problem at center back is not knowing exactly when to step forward to play offside and when to step back and cover the run. It’s something that fortunately was only punished once by Theo Walcott against Arsenal, but Olivier Giroud almost caught him out in the 6th minute, and subsequently wandered offside for a multitude of different reasons.
It’s something concerning because as Cesar Azpilicueta grows into the right back role and as Terry returns coupled with the form of Gary Cahill, you do wonder where Ivanovic might fit in or if he does beyond a squad player.
Rafa’s rotation policy is there, but it has no real effect.
Interestingly for me, Benitez’s famous rotation policy seems to be in effect. However, it’s only really benefitting one position at the moment. Because of injury, African Cup of Nations, and a small squad, the only position that he can rotate at the moment is striker. And, ironically, it’s the position that most feel he shouldn’t be rotating.
My belief was that Fernando Torres started against Arsenal because Demba Ba had started the last two matches and would most likely start against Swansea. My opinion won’t change until after the team sheet comes out. However, with 15 games left in the Premier League, a possible 2 games in the Capital One Cup, 5 more games in the FA Cup if we get to the final, and the possibility of a run in Europa League with its extra knockout stage, there is no possible way that one striker, or the rest of the squad for that matter, can get through all that without some level of rotation.
Again, we started this season with the potential of playing in over 60 matches if we made it to finals of all competitions. To ask a player to feature in every match is virtually impossible. Thus, I would say that if you see Fernando Torres’ name on a team sheet, we shouldn’t all start to panic. Now, if he gets another terrible haircut, then we all can panic.
On a non-Swansea related front, welcome back to Chelsea for another year, Ashley Cole.
On the day after Ashley Cole has re-signed for another season, I think it’s time that we acknowledge that he, maybe more than Lampard, is one that needed to be re-signed. As I thought about his position and considered who on earth we could get to replace him, I found myself wanting.
Realistically, left back in the world of football is probably the position with the worst depth. You can find a wealth of right backs, but for some reason (possibly the shortage of left-footed people), left backs are hard to find. The only ones that I could consider were not quite to the same standard. Marcelo can attack but has defensive questions, despite being FIFA Left Back of the Year. Philipp Lahm will never leave Bayern Munich, though I’m still convinced he’s better at right back than left back. Fabio Coentrao has been languishing on the bench at Real Madrid behind Marcelo, but has the same defensive issues. And Leighton Baines would cost two arms and a leg, and he’s still only about 3 years younger than Cole.
I think it was a no-brainer to offer him a new deal once you truly start evaluating the left back position and who might replace him. In the end, sometimes depth of position does matter.