What seemed like a dramatic late winner from Terry was cancelled out by Ciaran Clark’s header in the dying moments in a game that really summed up a horrid run of form for Chelsea.
Just the one win from eight Premier League games has been the real cause for alarm amongst the faithful, and whilst luck has deserted us in some quarters there has also been some real below par performances from the Blues.
The return of icon Frank Lampard has stemmed the blood flow somewhat, but there’s still issues with our on field play, as we head into the second half of an exciting edition of the Premier League.
Lack of attack
Malouda may have blamed our poor run on mishaps in defence but it’s been a real lack of firepower that’s costing Chelsea. Before the Aston Villa game, there had been just six goals in seven games, and nine goals conceded in those seven (however, we still have the best defensive record in the league). That’s not bad for a defence that’s been struck by injuries and suspensions, compared to a front-line that’s been relatively problem-free.
When Chelsea were at their all-conquering best, it was quite sensational to see how many players got into the box when we launched an attack.
This is against Zilina in the Champions League, and for this game Lampard was injured but Benayoun was there to fill his role as an attacking midfielder. When Chelsea has a natural playmaker playing in that left hand side of the triangle, the team becomes a lot more effective in the transition between defence and attack. Players like Essien feel more comfortable pushing forward and getting into the box, as demonstrated above. Essien goes on to score here.
With Lampard’s return we have the team halfway there on the way to this key principle – getting players in the box. In fact, this may even be the key behind Chelsea’s early success. Having so many talented finishers, as Chelsea does across the park, we have a physical and psychological advantage over our opponents – it would be hard not to fear such imminent threats to conceding. When Lampard was injured, the 5 million signing from the summer, Yossi Benayoun, was set to prove his worth. But unfortunately the footballing gods conspired to strike his Achilles. Was Benayoun’s injury the most damaging injury loss of the decade? It certainly was the one with the most hidden repercussions.
Even against Arsenal, with Lampard back in the team, we struggled to create numbers in the box. This is because that was Lampard’s first full ninety after returning from injury, and was still working his way back into the ebb and flow of football.
The off-the-ball movement has let Chelsea down.
How are the players with possession supposed to create when the players are not moving into space?
Against Arsenal we were really lacking for movement, which was in nature to Arsenal’s pressing. When teams place us under stress, closing down space and restrict passes, they do well against us. Arsenal were the best at it.
The chalkboard shows that the majority of Arsenal’s tackles were high up the pitch in our half, meaning they gained possession and were able to convert that into easy possession and goal scoring opportunities – which they took with aplomb.
In stark contrast Chelsea remains deeper, with tackles spread a lot more across the pitch and a lot more in our half .
A long run of games has taken it’s toll on the players and it’s starting to show. Our bright start may have been a curse in disguise as it tired our players quickly to play at that tempo, especially when many are on the wrong side of 30. It’s not to say the players are unfit, it’s just that the team needs to be rotated when necessary, rather than have players like Anelka playing week in, week out and becoming increasingly tired. Instead, why not be flexible and change shape to accommodate Sturridge in a starting line up?
In short, we’d face a lot of trouble if we came up against a possession-based team in our current form.
The curse of the Chelsea has returned for the third time. It appeared for the first time when Scolari was in charge and then again when Ancelotti introduced the diamond.
Chelsea’s natural game is to spread the ball wide by using the two full backs, as a 4-3-3 and 4-1-2-1-2 require, due to the congested nature of the midfield. It’s also because the midfielders are not naturally “hug touchline” characteristically inclined – more “thrust and power” through the middle as the cliché goes: think Essien, Mikel, and Ballack.
To rectify this problem Scolari bought Bosingwa for 16.2 million euros, bringing the outlay on rightbacks under Roman Abramovich to 59.1 million euros. Jose and Ashley Cole added dynamic width to the 4-3-3, but then Scolari’s poor fitness management cost him dearly and the wing backs were not able to keep up the level of running and maintain the tempo. And so Roman bid Scolari adieu.
After the Heroic Hiddink, Ancelotti came to West London with the sparkling diamond. As the diamond was relatively unfounded in Premier League history, teams struggled to cope with the new philosophy and Chelsea looked to be running away with the title – sound familiar? They scored 37 goals to a measly eight against in the first twelve matches of the season – sound familiar? – and the ghosts of Mourinho were banished.
With Drogba and Anelka as a strike partnership, you have two forwards not keen on drifting wide, and you also have only one true winger, Malouda, who doesn’t have the same effectiveness when in that left side diamond position.
So Ashley Cole and Bosingwa were turned to provide width. This time, because Ancelotti was a little more ‘wise-guy’ they were able to maintain the high standards they set. But then disaster struck when firstly Bosingwa was ruled out for a year, meaning the less roaming Ivanovic was drafted in to start, and then near-catastrophe struck when Manchester United came to Stamford Bridge.
Ferguson recognised the weakness in United’s play, and by balancing his midfield with a high right-midfield and deep left-midfield, he was able to stop A.Cole being so marauding and force Chelsea to gain width through Ivanovic.
This set up became a common theme for teams setting up against Chelsea, and it became a big enough problem that Ancelotti had to switch to 4-3-3.
In truth, we were lucky that we got away with 4-3-3 for so long. This time, Sunderland caught us out. Simply by man-marking Ashley Cole, they eliminated his threat, and so now it has been commonplace to completely take Cole out of the game. Even in the example photo, A. Cole has dropped into a striker position – but Richardson was still marking him.
Now that teams have the shackle on Ashley, Ancelotti needs to move to a new shape that gives the midfield more natural width. The issue there is who can play right midfield. As I mentioned in this article, Ramires is fully adept at scrapping to the byline and whipping in crosses. Even as a temporary measure until Ancelotti can sort out a new signing, a switch to 4-4-2 would mean we can match our opponents for shape and formation, and with the higher quality of our players, perhaps a return to form could be sooner rather than later.