Blog by: The Rational Pie
Since the match against Aston Villa back in August, Chelsea became a club in crisis and were back on track in a span of 3 weeks according to some extraordinary news outlets in Britain.
The run of 4 games without a win early in the season became a feast for modern day journalists, throwing light on the sanctity of their profession. It is flabbergasting at times, but one has to live with it, thanks to the ever changing trends in fan culture and social media.
The whitewash result at the Etihad Stadium last Sunday, shifted the focus from Chelsea to Manchester United to some extent, but whatever maybe the problem for these big clubs at the start of the season, they always end up performing well as the months pass by.
The amount of concocted stories the media is churning out has reached alarming levels. The latest development at Chelsea that has been getting a lot of media attention is the situation of Juan Mata.
Jose Mourinho is renowned as a press favourite, for his direct and stern approach. His open challenges towards some of the players have unsettled a large section of Chelsea fans, bringing about a wide magnitude of speculation on the futures of these players. While it might be farcical to assume anything this early in the season, the amount of baseless, concocted stories coming out from various news outlets are making a significant impact on the thinking of the fans worldwide.
This applies not only to Chelsea, but for every club and their fan base. The situation involving Mata is nowhere close to that of Iker Casillas last season and it would be too early to read between the lines this time around.
Keeping our focus on Chelsea, those four no-win games have been the result of Mourinho experimenting to find the perfect starting XI, capable of dominating games in a ruthless fashion. The scorelines in the eight games Chelsea have played till now suggest one interesting thing; not more than two goals were scored by the Blues in any game.
This can attributed to the persistence of Mourinho to start Samuel Eto’o ahead of Fernando Torres in the league.
Statistics from Squawka.com show that Eto’o has been much more intelligent in his off-the-ball movement than Torres, but the Spaniard has more goals and has been sidelined after the arrival of Eto’o. In three starts, Torres scored two goals while Eto’o hasn’t opened his Chelsea account in three starts.
The loaning of Romelu Lukaku to Everton might have been a surprising, irritating development for the fans, but Mourinho usually tends to think ahead and knows his trade well.
The striking duo must fire in goals, else they might be shipped out at the end of the season.
After the four game barren spell, the subsequent wins against Fulham and Swindon have set the tone for the next set of matches, away to Spurs, Bucharest and Norwich before the international break kicks in.
The squad though has been considerably thinned in the midfield section after Marco van Ginkel and Ramires got injured during the game against Swindon. It has been confirmed that van Ginkel suffered a cruciate ligament injury and might not be featuring for Chelsea until next July. It is cruel, but that’s what League Cup games do to you – hollow up the squads.
Mourinho had grand plans for the Dutchman. Touted as the replacement for Frank Lampard in the box-to-box role, this was the year for van Ginkel to gradually phase himself into the team. This unexpected development leaves Chelsea with four midfielders vying for either two or three starting spots, with David Luiz and Kevin de Bruyne capable of a rare shift in the mid.
The key feature of Chelsea in almost all of the eight games, has been the intensity with which they played. Most teams opted to use a low block and defended cohesively against Chelsea, narrowing the gap between lines. It became even more difficult with the strikers not performing at the expected levels.
Such high intensity in attack was the reason for a balance offset while defending a counter against Basel in Champions League, which led to the shock defeat.
Chelsea themselves played cautiously against Manchester United and Bayern Munich, choosing to hit on the counter, a feature which needs a lot of sharpening from the Blues. Still in the early days of his second tenure, Mourinho is searching for that right balance in order to showcase a new entity for this Chelsea team.
In all the teams he has managed, Mourinho created a brand image for the style of football they were playing. Right from the collective team effort at Porto, the rigid structure and direct play at Chelsea, the technical and intricate side at Inter and a ruthless counter-attacking team at Madrid, the Portuguese has evolved to the needs of the league and country he has managed in.
After Jose’s departure in 2007, Chelsea retained the roots of organized defending and direct play until the Champions League win in Munich, after which the owner desired a more exciting brand of football.
The shift hasn’t been that easy, but some inspired performances from the likes of Juan Mata and David Luiz helped the Blues to maintain their status as a top-4 team. Chelsea lost its football identity while trying to creating a new one under Roberto Di Matteo and later on Rafa Benitez.
Mourinho now is trying to create that unique identity which, from the games played till date, suggestively revolves around high intensity attacking football and swift transitions.
Can two brilliant wizards co-exist in one team?
This is where is the compatibility issues in the squad surfaced. Oscar was favoured over Juan Mata for the No.10 role, as the Brazilian offered much better tactical discipline and immaculate vision in tight spaces.
Looking at the chances Mata was given, he didn’t look comfortable in his new role. The challenge for Mata to step up and adapt his game to the new blueprint brings to light the way Mourinho brings the best out of world class talent. In the current scenario, Juan Mata needs to play a lot of games in order to stand a chance for the World Cup in Brazil next summer. The club, under no circumstance will let go of Mata permanently, It would look naive on the club’s part if such a thing happened. But, a loan move in January for more regular football cannot be ruled out.
David Luiz is another player under scrutiny, with his positional discipline and rash decisions being the talking points. Mourinho prefers a stable and solid defensive duo when his teams spend more time in attack. David Luiz falls short in the stability column as his frequent escapades into attack zones compromises the whole theory behind the image that is being worked upon.
Mourinho is known to work on the principles of conflicting ideals which spurn the players and bring out the best in them on the pitch. The squad he has is capable of winning any competition, provided he dons the role of the X-factor. It will be a big challenge for Mourinho to drive this Chelsea side towards success, as it is he who is adjusting to the squad and not the other way round, which has been the case in his past. Many questions will be asked about his policy on youth players, the very basement on which Chelsea’s rebuilding theory through extensive scouting networks stands.
Manchester City’s recent thrashing of their neighbors is no stop-gap feat. Pellegrini has been drilling his team to suit his system and a minor customization to an established style proved fruitful last weekend against United. City will grow in form as games come in hot, and beating them in the title race would be a mighty challenge.
The present Chelsea team is still a work in progress, lacking a focal point in attack. Mourinho is trying to compensate for the lack of that focus with a new and different footballing style. We can get a hang of it with a decent sample size, maybe after few more weeks of football. But the cards remain on the table for now, with City, Chelsea and Arsenal in strong contention to lead the race for the Premier League crown.