HOME AND AWAY

By Daniel Rankine
Nov 24th, 2008

For once all the excitement this weekend was to be found outside of England’s top flight.

With the top four teams all failing to score in a round of games for the first time in Premier League history it resulted in a particularly yawn some Match Of The Day. Bar the implosion of Arsenal there wasn’t much to cheer about.

A few more goals of the Glen Johnson, onion-bag-busting, variety would have lit up a dull and disappointing Saturday. Instead the big match action was to found over in Italy where our two former managers did battle for the first time in Serie A.

The Special One versus The Tinkerman. The battle of the former Blues bosses ended in a relatively predictable way. One nil to Mourinho. How we would have taken that score line at the weekend eh?

For all the superlatives (deservedly) heading Scolari’s way there are still question marks about his team that a dogged Newcastle further underlined. Mourinho’s Chelsea were a machine, efficient and methodically maybe, but when the chips were down the three points would be ground out, much akin to his win over Ranieri’s Juve. So far this season our home form has been ropey at best, and in contrast the away form has been simply awesome. The warning signs of our indifferent home form were there to see first against Spurs, then United. Newcastle simply followed the blueprint of parking the team bus in front of the goal and hoping they can scrape a point. Away from home, so the theory goes, that teams attack us more and there’s more space on the counter. At home it’s a different story. With so many bodies packing the centre of the pitch the outlet tends to be from crosses into the box from the full backs. With Drogba and Ballack absent the success from crosses hasn’t been exactly resounding. Big Phil was quick to realise this but the team have yet to put his plans into action.

Earlier in the season Scolari wanted more dribbling from his attacking players to commit tackles and leave space for others. More free kicks and shots outside of the area would result in more goal attempts and to keep the cool passing going rather than pump the ball long in a panic to breach the goal. I think this is the right approach, if we continue to keep hold of the ball, nine times out of ten we can cause damage. The performance of all the top four wasn’t great on Saturday, maybe the after effects of a pointless midweek friendly, but we still should have had enough for three points. It might be when teams come to the Bridge now it’s time Big Phil sacrificed the anchor role from kick-off and instead used another attacking player in the final third. Mikel has been superb this season and is great not only at breaking up play but being the engine of the side. However when the away team shows no ambition to even trouble Cech then it’s a waste of a position and player. The centre backs can deal with limited threats with ease and instead Ballack or Kalou, attacking from the centre of the pitch, would cause yet more problems for the visiting teams.

It has become a nagging problem now and the obvious answer is one that has been rarely afforded to Scolari so far this season. If the game looks as though it’s going to be one-way traffic then putting the Drog and Anelka up front together would be a mouth-watering prospect. It’s something I’m sure the coaching staff will be working tirelessly on over the next few weeks as it’s imperative that we don’t drop many more points from home again this season. When teams come for a draw we need to find the breakthrough. Even dead ball situations, anything to break the deadlock, means the away team will have to attack and leave more spaces for us to exploit.

In contrast to our league form, the away performances in Europe have been poor. A lacklustre showing in Romania was followed by some comedy, schoolboy defending in Rome. This week provides us with an ideal opportunity to give a decent performance and book our place in the second round of the Champions League. Then at the weekend the circus comes to town and Wenger will be hoping to get his both his team and his title ambitions back on track. We can expect them not to pack bodies behind the ball (the team bus will be left safely in the car park) and we need to attack from the start and put Arsenal to the sword. Our home record needs improving, this season’s record against the top four needs improving and the team needs to prove we can hack the big games. A few weeks ago Arsenal rallied against the adversity and played excellently to defeat Man Utd. Chelsea need to be prepared to fight for the first goal which could pivotal in the game and our season as a whole.

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