Before I get into the main point of this column, I have to make a disclaimer. Being from the US does not give me much access to watching Championship teams, so bear with me if this week is very Chelsea heavy. I’ve seen very little of Birmingham, outside of the Europa League, and I believe that the club is in a very pivotal point of the season.
What I do know about Birmingham is that Chris Hughton is the manager, having returned after his sacking by Newcastle United, to take over for Alex McLeish, who left for Aston Villa.
I also know that Birmingham lost a number of their skilled players from last season because of their relegation. Sebastien Larsson, Barry Ferguson, Roger Johnson, etc… have all departed for other sides.
With that being said, here are five things that I think about Birmingham and our current situation.
1. They may be a Championship side, but they play well as a unit.
Interesting thing about the Chris Hughton appointment is that it may have brought a bit more of an attacking mentality to the side, much needed in the Championship where lots of teams appear to be very close in goal differential.
So far, they boast one of the better goal returns, 46 scored, and one of the better defences, 27 conceded. They sit fourth at the moment and should be a threat to break back into the top flight this season.
2. Even though they’ve lost a lot from last season, the organization at the back is still quite good.
And that is a big worry because Everton proved what an early goal and an organized defence can do to us. Until we prove otherwise, every team that faces us should simply park four defenders in the box and force us to try to play through them. We won’t do it. We’ll pass in front of the back line, then play out wide, and cross into traffic against the box. That’s been our modus operandi all season, and it’s becoming a real problem spot. Until the midfield bucks up its ideas and starts to attempt to play the ball through the center of the park, we’ll fail to break down any good defence.
3. John Terry might be the most irreplaceable man on this Chelsea team.
And in a team of players that will probably need to be moved on, Terry might be the one player that we cannot afford to lose. While the media harps on about how his physical skills have declined, his mental skills might be as sharp as ever. Evidence is how unorganized our back line looked against United and Everton, combined with the fact that Terry missed both matches. The defence had improved since earlier in the season, but without Terry, the defence looked as if it missed a voice and a leader to organize them. Cech can do that, but I’ve always felt that the goalkeeper is the last player you want trying to organize things because he’s just not as involved in the total action.
4. Didier Drogba should not be guaranteed a starting place unless you plan on selling Torres in the summer.
I love the talismanic Ivorian. I really do. However, his presence this season has polarized what we view a striker to be. When criticizing Torres, we like to point to “strikers are paid to score goals” and the fact is that Torres isn’t scoring. However, with Drogba, we praise him because of “his presence on the pitch occupies defenders.”
It’s contradictory because if Drogba was judged on his goal return this season, he’s only marginally better than Torres. Drogba has missed the last four matches at the African Cup of Nations. However, he has only managed to find the net 6 times this season. By comparison, Torres has two fewer goals, 4 total, but has started 20 games to Drogba’s 13.
You could argue that Drogba’s goals-to-game ratio is better, but he’s still not scoring that many goals.
The question that has to be asked is if Torres is the future, should he play ahead of Drogba, and does Drogba merit a place in the side automatically because he’s Drogba?
My answer is that if you plan to go forward with Torres, he must play as statistically, he’s not that much worse than the other option.
5. Final point is that AVB might be out of his depth, but it’s senseless to sack another manager and keep looking to the past.
Fact: no manager that has had success since the departure of Jose Mourinho has been able to build upon that team with his own ideas. The successful managers have always resorted back to the “old” way of doing things. Our sacking managers every two years has stunted any youth team development and scared managers from trying to put their stamp on the team. That’s not just a problem with the management either. It’s beginning to trickle down to the support, who in some cases want to see Guus Hiddink appointed immediately.
Whether AVB is the right man to take the club forward, I don’t know. I do know that Hiddink would not come in here for a rebuilding effort, which is what the squad needs, but to bring the bandages and let the horses have a last day in the sun. At some point, these trials will have to be faced, and if we keep delaying the inevitable, we might find ourselves in worse shape.
My prediction is that we’ll draw 1-1 and have to face a replay at St. Andrews. I just can’t see this side getting a win out of anywhere at the moment. With Napoli lurking, one or two might be a bit more focused on the Trophy with Big Ears.