It may not have been the perfect start to the season for Chelsea fans, but new manager Andre Villas-Boas has shown a quality that has scarcely been seen since the Mourinho golden era: the ability to adapt to different situations as they come. The young manager had a rocky start with a goalless away draw against Stoke, but his team bounced back from 1-0 down to win against West Brom at Stamford Bridge – and it was because of his quick thinking and tactical changes.
The Chelsea team has stuck to a rigid mould for too long. A succession of managers have passed through in recent years, and the tactics have barely changed. When the Blues hit a rocky patch in the middle of last season, it was Carlo Ancelotti’s inability to adapt to the situation that led to a trophiless season and ultimately his departure. Fans may have been hoping for six points from the opening two games, but Andre Villas-Boas has shown an ingenuity that could save the Londoners many more points in difficult situations.
At the Britannia Stadium, Stoke were quick to surround the ball when Chelsea broke past the halfway line. This led to some low quality passing when players attempted to slide balls through impossible spaces, and this made it difficult for the Blues to get anywhere near the Potters’ goal. Villas-Boas noticed this difficulty, and by midweek that Chelsea squad were on the training ground at Cobham practicing passing in confined spaces, working the ball around defenders. This was shown to have paid off in the West Brom game, when little flicks set up the first Blues goal and a second chance for Anelka – Malouda almost slotted in the rebound.
Chelsea’s new manager also showed his tactical prowess in the first half of the West Brom match, when the Londoners were looking vulnerable to the Baggies’ attacks, and were showing little in the way of creativity up front. A simple switch, bringing Salomon Kalou off and introducing Florent Malouda, allowed Chelsea to adjust to a 4-4-2 diamond, pushing Anelka further forward. The move immediately looked threatening, and it paid off with a much more positive second half and two goals that brought the Blues’ first win of the season.
Villas-Boas may have been part of Jose Mourinho’s managerial team, but it takes any manager a little time to get used to being at the helm in a new league, and the Portuguese manager has already shown that he can make changes to win games, and provide training to improve Chelsea’s football based on problems in previous matches. This is something that has seemingly been missed at Stamford Bridge in recent years, and the early substitution of Kalou in the West Brom game was certainly Mourinho-esque. Hopefully Villas-Boas will continue to emulate his former boss with some silverware come the end of the season.