Blog by: Soccer Souls
With two wins and two losses, out the four games played this month by Chelsea, the club faces the difficult task of traveling to Tottenham and getting points to close, or at least hold, the early gap with the league’s leaders. After consecutive losses, Mourinho’s team had the good fortune of playing Fulham at home and Swindon Town away. Both opponents followed the script, giving no real problem to Chelsea. Hence, allowing the Portuguese manager to exploit his squad’s deep bench and giving us a chance to analyze Chelsea’s team better.
First, with the wounds left by Basel still fresh, Stamford Bridge needed a balsamic win to restore faith in the Mourinho’s project. So, entered Fulham, the middle of the pack team that hasn’t won at the Bridge since Sir Bobby Robson played (1964), and whose only hope for goal, with Bervatov’s absence, resided in the underperforming Darren Bent. With that in mind, the match was one way traffic and a win for Chelsea. Still, there was no rhythm or fluidity about Chelsea’s game.
With Oscar at the helm in midfield, the team concentrated itself in trying to break Fulham’s defence through the middle, which played perfectly into an awaiting opposition who stood firm on its side of the pitch and looked for quick counterattacks in response. Such a waiting tactic by the visitors was almost fruitful early on in the first half, when Bent received the ball with nothing but the goal in front of him. Thankfully, for the hosts, Cech saved Bent’s low shot and kept his sheet clean. That early chance exemplified the reason behind my recurrent call for Ivanovic to be moved back to centre back.
The space he left behind generated from his lack of positional awareness while playing right back, allowed Bent to run free on top of both centre backs on the aforementioned play. At the end, it was Fulham’s deep positioning on its own side of the pitch that conceded Ivanovic a worry-free day in defence. Plus, the Serbian’s contributions in attack through the flanks remain timid at best, again made less noticeable by Fulham’s deep stand, and Schurrle’s constant traffic through the right flank.
Furthermore, about the midfield, Oscar and Hazard were constantly bringing Chelsea’s attacks through the middle resulting in easy clearings by Fulham’s middle and defensive line. Only Schurrle tried to extend the plays on the sides. And thanks to his runs on the flanks, came Chelsea’s first goal. Therefore, if Oscar is going to start instead on Mata as a central midfielder, Schurrle needs to play beside him in order for Chelsea to have success, because Oscar refuses to play the ball wide, he is in love with the centre of the pitch, or big centre backs maybe?
Oscar’s tactical inclinations were self evident throughout the match, but were highlighted with the introduction of Fernando Torres in the second half. More than three times, Torres made the proper rotation to extend the play and receive the ball close to the sidelines when Oscar had it at his feet, but the ball went back to the central zone and the number 9 was left standing with plenty of space to run forward, and frustrated with the Brazilian’s poor choices.
Expanding on Torres, his presence on the field was felt immensely compared to Eto’o’s. The Spaniard constant movement and accurate runs made Chelsea’s attack dangerous, even producing the corner kick for the second goal after a great header. Yet, overall, the team was rigid but played better in the second half.
On the other hand, Swindon Town, Chelsea’s second opponent in those two wins, was the perfect confidence bust for a team struggling to get rhythm. Beyond isolated long distant shots, there wasn’t much to worry about for Cech. With Azpilicueta playing exactly where he should be, as a starting right-back, Chelsea’s forward movement was more fluid. The Spanish right-back was very solid both in defence and attack, even finding Torres on the edge of the box with his first cross. That constant threat down the sidelines is absent every time he is relegated to the bench. His connection with Mata, which expertly extends plays through the flanks thanks to his heritage from La Furia Roja, was very productive.
Moreover, Mata made a constant effort to contribute more in defence as requested by the coach, and his lack of timing in some instances of the game, both defensively and offensively, are just the reflection of being benched for Mourinho’s absurd reasons. Also, it was a night for the Spanish contingent to shine, Torres played very well, scoring once and assisting Ramirez with a defence splitting pass for the second goal.
If anything, Torres confirmed that he is a level above Eto’o and Ba for the starting striker role, with his only flaw, on both this and the sub appearance vs. Fulham, being that he was too unselfish passing the ball to a better positioned teammate instead of taking the shot himself. Besides, while the attack functioned better after the inclusion of Torres (in both games), it is also worth mentioning that due to Ramirez’ injury during the first half, John Terry played the second half, forcing David Luiz to the midfield; that move worked just as I advertised.
In the midfield, Luiz, always comfortable going forward, redeemed himself after playing poorly on defence. He made some good connections in forward plays, and made his presence felt in the middle of the pitch. All that, after he almost cost Chelsea a goal while playing as a central defender when he had the brilliant idea of performing a back-heel pass on the edge of Chelsea’s box with Swindon’s striker on top of him. Luckily for Chelsea, the ball bounced back Luiz’ way. Therefore, a great game for the Spaniards, and once again, Ivanovic should be Terry or Cahill’s partner in the centre, not Luiz.
So, after four out of the seven matches before the International break (October 7th) already played, and the two wins coming only from the “easy” games, it is clear that the visit to Tottenham is the deciding test about Mourinho’s starting line up choices for the last month. If he decides to play the usual suspects – Ivanovic, Luiz out of position plus Eto’o as a striker – and does not play the pieces that are performing better, Chelsea will suffer to get a result. Thus, it may be time to realize that Mourinho is only pleasing himself at the expense of the team.
PS: Yes, we all know that he is a megalomaniac that cares only about him looking good, but when that doesn’t translate into winning football and blurs his better coaching judgement, Chelsea needs to start looking for a different kind of dictator.