After seven wins in a row and, only one victory away from Group stage qualification in Europe, things are looking bright in the blues camp. There was a rumour Grant was smiling after the City game. It’s more likely he was upside down and his face appeared to be smiling but you never know. Even Shevchenko has scored a couple of goals. I know, it’s hard to believe. Two goals in as many games have meant he’s probably in the best form since he joined us. The thumping of City was a brilliant performance and some fine goals meant we could dare to be optimistic regarding the season. A professional win over the pie munching Wigan boded well for a cold night in Schalke. And then the reality crept in and all the hard work of last few weeks nearly became undone in a truly dire display.
We can hope it’s a one off performance; it was tough away night in Europe and Schalke a descent side. They did very well in chasing down any midfield space and almost going man to man in midfield to stop any momentum building in the opposition’s final third. Schalke worked the ball well and used space in the flanks to penetrate the defence and create chances for themselves. A more clinical team would have finished the chances and, no mistake, we would have been left with the defeat we deserved. A draw away is great result and the players deserve some credit for not conceding but it the other factors of the game that were worrying.
It’s early under the new management team and it’s only fair that the fans will be watching them closely and scrutinising decisions. Firstly I’d like to look at the good points. There is stability in the team, the line-ups and formation are not altering drastically game to game and the tactics favour an attacking edge. Under Mourinho too often the midfield triangle would be too close together, sometimes only five yards apart. This created a clogged midfield and forward passes were made difficult. Grant seems to have made sure that there is more distance and movement between the central midfielders with Lampard given the reins to attack. The wingers often cut infield and again this makes the game more compact in the centre. Under Grant the full backs are getting forward more readily and using the space on the flanks vacated by the wingers. This is proven in the stats that show it’s actually the full backs that have provided the most crosses this season and not the wingers. The holding midfielder means we are difficult to break down and also provides security for the back four for any quick breaks. All good then? Well, not yet.
Worryingly after the Schalke game neither the manager nor captain were willing to acknowledge we were awful, instead citing football cliché number 67 – the tough European away night. They battled and fought for a stubborn draw. Unfortunately we were unable to pass the ball for much of the evening and the defence looked shakier than Ozzy Osbourne on a quad bike. These should be guaranteed from a Chelsea team and our inability to do both at times wasn’t good enough. Fair enough if the team pick the bones out of the performance behind closed doors but, as concerned fans, we need to know the management and team at least know it was a dodgy display. One or two players having an off day can be expected but the entire team needed to shaken up at half time and, judging by the second half, we can’t be sure that happened. Belletti, Cole, Alex, Drogba, Essien, Lampard – they were all off colour and the rest only marginally better.
Clearly the game plan was not working but it took a long time before the decisions were made to correct it. Belletti was having the worst game of his Chelsea career but only got subbed after an hour. Mikel immediately added more muscle and bite to the midfield and should have been introduced sooner. Also for all the talk of attacking flair and looking for goals we keep playing with one recognised striker upfront even late on in games. It’s important we don’t become predictable and a change in formation during the ninety minutes is vital and is something that we need to get back to.
Overall things are going well and slowly Avram Grant is applying his footballing philosophy on the team. But we’re not there yet and the coaches need to put as much work in as possible to make sure we stay on course for the Championship shake up. The fixture with Arsenal is looming in December and if we continue winning the games and playing good football it can be the game that changes the title race.