After Carlo’s cool demeanour on the touchline, the twitching of an arched eyebrow often the only sign of life, it’s been refreshing to see a coach who clearly cares. Like us Villas-Boas kicks every ball, celebrated goals in a frenzied jig and looks despondent when our defence concedes. He’s came across as knowledgeable and articulate but, so far, has yet to see his side hit the giddy heights of previous reigns.
Tactically AVB clearly wants to emulate the Barcelona style with a high press. This means the defence line shifts higher up the field to squeeze space and keep the opposition in their own half to try and win the ball back earlier in play. It is a theory built around high intensity and retaining possession, this means even the goalkeeper is required to pass the ball out to split centre backs. The tactical style started very promisingly but we appear to have regressed on the idea when it became apparent the personnel didn’t quite suit and too many mistakes were costing us. The defensive line is deeper and Chelsea have often looked to sit deep and counter with pace rather than suffocate the play with possession. In the last few weeks we’ve seen less playing out from the keeper than before, possession has been gifted too easily with hasty thumps up to the big man Drogba. Hopefully, with Torres’s eager running up front and the impending addition of Cahill’s pace at the back, we might start to see more of a high defensive line and pressure from the forwards again. The brave tactical changes in search of victory (i.e. QPR, Man Utd away) have also become less prominent as the season’s gone on and we hope that the attacking, gung-ho instincts of earlier days haven’t been reined in. A tactical mistake at the JJB contributed to us dropping points, Juan Mata was causing havoc at the tip of a diamond, the second goal looked to be arriving only in a matter of time. Mata was subbed to save him for the Spurs game, our incisive passing crumbled and it allowed Wigan a foothold in a game that should have been sewn up. The lesson was that AVB’s Chelsea are much better when going for the jugular than sitting back on a lead.
It’s an experienced dressing room that the young manager has had to come into and he has laid a few markers to let the players know who’s the boss. The demotion of Anelka and Alex, popular amongst supporters and players alike, to the outskirts of Cobham was seen as harsh by many. However it’s exactly the kind of hard line stance we’ve lacked in recent years (Avram Grant, Scolari ousted by player power, Ashley Cole’s air rifle). We’re going to need a genuine leader in the dugout if the squad is going to be redeveloped and rejuvenated over the coming months and seasons. Anelka’s diminishing returns this season, one goal in nine league appearances, backs up the decision to let Nico leave but the lack of cover at centre half means Alex’s exclusion is much more questionable. Lampard’s status in the first eleven also continues to rumble on in the media. The uncomfortable truth is at 33 Lamps won’t be able to play every game in a season anymore. Added to this is the high intensity game that AVB is after, lots of midfield pressure and short interchanges of passing ,which the coach believes Meireles has been better suited to. Lampard has argued for a consistent run of games to improve his form but it’s reasonable for the coach not to afford that luxury at this stage of the player’s career and indeed the season. There have been big pluses in some of the young players that have been drafted into the first eleven. Romeu could be the technical metronome we’ve been waiting for since Makaele hung up his boots, Sturridge’s pace and goals have added teeth to our attacks and Mata’s guile and finesse have been a joy to watch. On the downside Ryan Bertrand and Romelu Lukaku must be wondering what they have to do to get more minutes, particularly given the patchy form of the players ahead of them. Cole has had an indifferent few weeks whilst even Drogba and Torres’ combined goals total is below par. Meanwhile the promise shown by Josh McEachran last season will be forgotten about if he isn’t given the opportunity to shine this term. The decision to continue keep these youngsters on the fringes simply isn’t good enough, especially given the rewards that investing in youth have already brought this season. The talent and endeavour has been ably demonstrated by other players who have been given a fair crack this season, it’s time to widen the remit.
There can be no qualms about the talent the coach has brought in so far. Oriol Romeu has been a fantastic find and the manager has been brave to thrust the player into such a pivotal role so early in his Chelsea career. Juan Mata is proving to one of the players of the season and his creativity, vision and close skills are something we’ve been crying out for for an age. Question marks remain over Lukaku, he has spent the first half of the season learning the ropes of the English game and we hope to see more of what he can do. In his cameos he has looked to have the pace and strength to make a name for himself but time will tell. Gary Cahill would make another strong addition to the squad but with Anelka leaving and Kalou on the fringes it would also make sense to add another attacking player to the roster. If the market offers no quality alternatives AVB might have to think about recalls for the loaned Benayoun or Gael Kakuta. If contractually this isn’t possible then promising youngsters such as Piazon, Phillip and Lalkovic should be considered for a promotion from the reserves. Finding a quality right back in January would be a difficult task but this might be number one priority in the summer as faith in Bosingwa has so far proven to be more misplaced than inspired.