BACK ON TRACK
As yet another of this season’s seemingly endless international breaks kicks off (there’s even more next month) – it arrives with suitably rubbish timing. If you listen carefully you can still hear the collective sigh of relief from the fans reverberate.
Two must-win games won? Tick. Goals, actually scored by us, with a ball and everything? Tick. A two-week break for all our abundance of globetrotting internationals to get jetlag and niggling injuries though is not a great prospect. It would have been nice to have had one more midweek game and see if we could continue the winning ways. As far as this season goes, two wins on the bounce is something of a purple patch in form. But, like Chris Tarrant told the wife in the divorce courts – you can’t have everything.
The two performances had echoes of the classic Mourinho game plan. Jose may not have left most of his backroom staff or some scouting reports but it looks like he left his tactics book. For two very different but very difficult away games the formation changed to play with one recognised striker upfront. The two wide players have supported the forward when in possession of the ball and work back to help out the midfield when they don’t. The team held on to the ball very nicely for long periods and the defence with Maka patrolling in front looked very difficult to break down. Sound familiar?
Of course the golden rule of the tactic book is to defend and defend with your life. Special praise must go to the defensive players for these two matches who have been brilliant. Firstly it’s no coincidence we look defensively solid again with Ricky ‘he had a golf ball on his head’ Carvalho back and Ben Haim safe in the stands. Great aerially, always in a good position, quick and able to surge forward with telling passes he has been greatly missed.
Then Terry returning only days after having surgery on a depressed check bone is, frankly, nuts. But this is why the fans love him, he gives everything for this club and his never-say-die attitude has surely been the inspiration for the turnaround. If every player put as much in as JT we’d be back at the top in no time. Although we take it as granted when he throws his body on the line and goes up for each header, sometimes you just feel relieved he’s on your side.
Cech, as always, is flawless. Ashley Cole was tremendous against Bolton and did an excellent job on the subdued Joaquin. He will have to stay on his game to keep out a returning Bridge. Belletti impresses me at right back, offering terrific support going forward and strength and presence at the back. It’s no wonder that he is the player who has supplied the most crosses this season despite not playing as many matches as others. Maka has been exceptional in both games and will be vital in some big games this season.
Although the two results mean that things are back on track for both competitions there is still a lot of work to be done. So far Grant has been unable to impose the goals and excitement Roman’s after and hopefully he will use these results as the basis to be more adventurous. Things had to start by getting the defence right; it is the foundation for the rest of the team. If we can defend well the attacking players can have the freedom to cause some damage. Both games saw us play great stuff in one half and then show some stubborn defending in the other. If we get two halves of great football then a team is due a thumping pretty soon. Although the champagne football is not quite flowing yet the appointment of Ten Cate should mean any qualms of outdated coaching are nipped in the bud. Ajax and Barcelona are renowned for the style of football and if Cate can bring that experience to the players then we could be laughing.
The formation is certainly part of how attacking we should be and although the 4-3-3 (4-5-1) formation is ideal in Europe we will need to be more adventurous in the league. Europe is often about possession, keeping the ball and waiting for the right opportunity and the formation also suits a quick break away. However teams who play Chelsea in the league tend to stick ten men and sometimes the team bus behind the ball.
The more attacking players we have on the pitch the more likely we’ll break them down. Still its early days; for the fans, the players and the coach – we’re slowly starting to get used to each other. It’s vital that the last two results are the catalyst for the season and if we can build up a run of wins when the season recommences in ten days time, then everything is more than possible.