It hasn’t been the best holiday period as far as results are concerned. Three wins, if you include the Watford FA Cup game, a draw away at Southampton and the aberration that was the Tottenham game on New Year’s day. If the headmaster had issued his half term report on Boxing Day it would have read “Brilliant. Destined to do well.” If he had delayed his report till the evening of January 1st it is more likely to have read “Good start but seems to be slacking of late. Still has to work hard to achieve minimum expectations for this year.”
Compare the very average haul of seven points from four games to 2004/05. After the draw against Arsenal on the 12th December, it was five wins out of five, with ten goals scored and none conceded. The winning run extended into February by which time they could have practically handed us the Premiership trophy.
2005/06 was even better. Not only did we win all five holiday season games, these games came in the middle of a ten match winning streak in the Premiership. Like the previous season the league was practically won when spring was still a fair way away on the horizon. In 2006/07 we dropped six points in three consecutive draws over the period and finished … six points behind United in the final reckoning. In these three seasons Jose’ used 16 (04/05), 18 (05/06 and 06/07) different players in his starting line up.
Season 2009/10, our last Premiership winning season, was a strange one as far as holiday fixtures were concerned. Between the 17th December and 15th January, Chelsea played only three league games, winning one and drawing two. In that period the only other fixture was a 5- 0 win in the FA Cup against Watford. Still Ancelotti rotated his side with Drogba , Lampard and Terry the only outfield players to start all three games out of a total of 18 players who started in those three games.
This season in the four games played over the festive period Jose used just 14 players, of whom Schurrle played only the first half and seven outfield players started all four games.
I have bombarded you with these stats because I thought that yesterday the team , again showing very few changes from what we now consider to be the standard line up, looked jaded in the first half, as did some of the same players who played in the FA Cup tie against Watford. Could it be that Jose’ has burnt out the players by overusing them in the five fixtures played between the 22nd December and the 4th January?
No doubt that Jose’ has the best battery of sports scientists available in business, capable of giving him every sort of physiological data imaginable, probably even how many times each individual player blinks during the course of the game. But it is my feeling that one thing that all the sports science in the world cannot measure or calculate is mental tiredness. In the last three games in particular an inordinate number of very simple passes went astray and wrong decisions regarding positioning and choice of pass were made. The fact that yesterday the players came good in the second half indicates that it is more a mental thing than a physical one.
In the three weeks between now and the decisive Man City game Chelsea have to play four games – including a two-legged semifinal against Liverpool and a tricky away game at Swansea in the league. During the same period City have only two games, and both at home – Arsenal in the league and Middlesboro in the FA Cup, for which Pellegrini will field his lame Andean farmer cousin if necessary.
Having established what his best eleven is Jose’ now seems reluctant to change and the way he is handling the situation is transmitting the impression that he feels that some players are just not up to it. The irony is that he has signed all the players he seems to lack faith in – Felipe Luis, Schurrle, Salah and Remy. These four players, bought at a total cost of around sixty million pounds, have started only two games between them in the four league matches over the Christmas period. I would have added Kurt Zouma to the list, who also did not start a single one of those four games, but having started the Newcastle game when Cahill was also available makes me come to the conclusion that young Kurt is maybe forcing his way into Jose’s thinking.
When I looked at the holiday fixtures I thought we would do well to come out of it still top, which we did albeit only because the great Augustus Mears decided to build our stadium where it is today rather than a few miles down the road in Wimbledon. The next two league fixtures will have a huge bearing as to where the league title will go this season. Thankfully there is a clear week in the run up to the Swansea game but after that I would wrap up Hazard, Fabregas, Matic and Costa in cotton wool. We beat Liverpool with a second string side last year and I am sure that without going to such extremes we can beat them again with a few key players rested over two legs.
So come on Jose, have faith in the lads and in your tactical acumen. If need be go back to parking the bus to get a result. Beating Liverpool the way we did last season somehow felt even more satisfying. And if things are not going well there is always … Steven Gerrard.