A solid attacking display from a motivated Sunderland side brought Chelsea’s heaviest home defeat of the Abramovich era, and is the latest blimp in a season that started so brightly but now is stuttering precariously.
Despite a morning injury to captain John Terry and having Lampard, Essien and Alex injured as well, Ancelotti set out with the same familiar fluid 4-3-3 with the Malouda/Drogba/Anelka trident up front supported by Zhirkov/Mikel/Ramires in an understrength midfield. The major surprise of his line up was Portuguese right back Paulo Ferriera taking over John Terry’s centre back role alongside Ivanovic with Bosingwa and Cole on the defensive flanks.
Sunderland meanwhile kept with the traditional 4-4-2 where Manchester United loanee Danny Welbeck led the line with Ghanaian Gyan alongside him. Exciting prospect Henderson and captain Cattermole were at the heart of the Black Cats’ midfield.
Following a moment to respect Remembrance Day both sides entertained a stubborn opening twenty where both sides cancelled their respective attacking threats. The following twenty would be Chelsea’s best period of play before Onouha’s solo effort on the stroke of half time, and Gyan’s goal after the break stunned the home faithful. Ashley Cole’s misplaced back pass summed up Chelsea’s catastrophic day at the office as Welbeck added insult to injury and piled the pressure on the underperforming Blues.
So where has it gone wrong?
Chelsea were looking like they’d cruise to the title but recent results have cut their dominant lead at the top down to just two points between them and their London rivals, the Arse.
Carlo Ancelotti, always keen to point out the positives, was lost for words for Chelsea’s mettle after going behind, and the loss of key players has also hurt their cause in the title defence.
4-3-3 their downfall?
However the Italian’s determination to stick with the usually effective 4-3-3 despite the formation’s key men sidelined in the defeats at Liverpool and last night at Stamford Bridge is causing the undoing.
Zhirkov is too much of a wide player to play in the ‘Lampard position’: despite shining so brightly his real talents are being wasted when he plays too central. He had a lack of support from the underwhelming Florent Malouda and his tendency to dribble mazily at defences doesn’t work. For every player he beat on Sunday, another was there waiting. His only chance came from a combination of breathtaking individual skill and lacklustre defending.
Ramires on the other hand took over Essien’s role as the enforcer and box-to-box midfielder. But Ramires has only just arrived from the Portuguese league this summer, and his inexperience in the physical Premier League is showing. Too many times he languished on the ball and he conceded possession cheaply. It is too much on the young Brazilian to expect him to capably handle the role Michael Essien has honed over the past four years.
Malouda’s downturn in form
Malouda started brightly as the season began but now his misfiring performances are sending Chelsea downward.
Let’s compare Florent’s arguably best performance, the 4-0 demolition of Blackpool, with last night’s.
As you can see Malouda is spending much more time up in the final third rather than in the more central left side where he was splitting defences open – an astonishing 11% more passes in the top left corner against Sunderland.
This can be attributed to his need to spend more time having to convert chances because of Drogba’s downturn himself, which of course is due to his malaria. However a more sensible option rather than watch him struggle week in week out, would be to either start Kalou, who is underrated, or Zhirkov up in the attacking left winger and move Malouda back into Lampard’s position so he can focus on creation rather than scoring.
So far we have analysed Chelsea’s flaws as exposed by Sunderland, but there are many more questions that need to be asked of their title defence so far. I will continue this analysis later this week.
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