Chelsea need to keep the faith with AVB
So it would seem everyone’s agreed then? Andre Villas-Boas should be first sacked, second dragged through along the Kings Road by horse and cart and then fired from a cannon, at a wall, from a very short distance. Of course the British media are never ones to under-react to the slightest whiff of crisis, but the only way the young Chelsea manager is going to put these irksome stories to bed – particularly with club and Abramovich favourite, Guus Hiddink’s recent availability – with some victories and points.
Back to back home defeats, losses against their perceived main competitors, a blunt edge at the business end of their supposed attacking formation; all of these things have led to the departure of, amongst others, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti in recent seasons. So what can the Portuguese do to arrest his side’s slump?
Firstly, the club and manager’s immediate priorities need to change. They are now 12 points and 23 goals behind high-spending/flying Manchester City – effectively making it 13 points – so the main focus at Stamford Bridge as it is in North London at the Emirates stadium, should be to qualify for the Champions League and to do as well in that and the domestic cups as possible. Right now, they can’t be expected to compete with City, who have been building to this point for well over two years with young talent and players whose best days are generally ahead of them, not behind them. They can’t even compete with the stuttering Manchester United who, despite struggling to a number of one goal victories in recent weeks, have secured points when playing below par. With Tottenham soaring as well, and with the impending return to pitch side of Harry Redknapp sure to give the Spurs players a further boost, Chelsea need to work very hard to keep their grip on the top four spots, let alone anything further.
The thing is, the same cracks appeared during Ancelotti’s final season, and clearly have not been repaired. Villas-Boas inherited the vast majority of his current first team squad and it would seem that more than anyone, it is the older, more established heads who are the players who are misfiring. Lampard has proven in the past weeks that he is certainly not the spent force people were making him out to be, but Didier Drogba on the other hand may well be. One goal and one assist is a poor return for a striker of his calibre, but his lacklustre displays are even more worrying. Through injury and suspension he’s only made five starts this season (one of which, he was sent off in after only 40mins), but he is clearly not the player he was two seasons ago. That first season under Ancelotti The Drog was unplayable for any defender. Now he merely appears unplayable for his own manager.
Alex Ferguson has often spoken about great teams going in cycles and is rightly hailed for his ability to rebuild time and time again. Chelsea are in a period of transition with established players ageing and young players slowly being brought into the fold, so Villas-Boas needs to be given full backing in the next two transfer windows, otherwise the team will continue to stagnate and eventually decay. In January he should look to bring some players in early on, not even necessarily to do things straight away, but more with an eye on next season. Ferguson did this to great effect when signing the likes of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic who were brought in but didn’t feature too heavily until the following season. This summer, Chelsea should be in a position to put the finishing pieces together for their first team squad, in time to be really competitive in 2012/13.
Another burning concern for Villas-Boas must be the malaise and constant errors of the Chelsea and England captain, John Terry. At his very best, he looked a player with very limited pace but who could compensate for it with his lionheart, never say die attitude; heading ability, his ability to lead by example (on the pitch at least), his organisation and communication, as well as a fairly decent positional sense. Currently, he is being exposed more often than the sons of Gaddafi. With the right players around him, he could certainly still do the job effectively and his limitations would be less pronounced. Having two attacking fullbacks and Mikel in front of him as ‘protection’ is only serving to highlight his flaws more than ever.
One criticism of Villas-Boas that must be made is that, at times, his selections have been flawed. He needs a far steadier back line and right now, David Luiz alongside Terry just doesn’t work. They need a strong and steady back four such as Cole-Terry-Alex-Ivanovic, or even trying Luiz at right-back. He may well thrive there. If you play Ivanovic inside him at centre-back, at least he’ll have the positional sense to cover the Brazilian’s surges forward. With the players available in defence, the manager’s stated preference for the high defensive line should be rethought. A high line, playing offside and cramping the space in which opposition forwards can operate is all well and good, but unless the players at his disposal have the pace or outstanding positional sense to deal with balls over the top – neither of Terry’s strong points – the defence will spend more time running toward their own goal than facing the play in front of them.
Mikel is so laboured in possession it beggars belief at times. He’s a good passer of the ball and does a lot of work for the team, but he doesn’t suit the way Villas-Boas wants to play. Stamford Bridge is crying out for a player who can be the metronome of the team, keeping things moving as well as being able to play the odd killer ball, turning defence into attack. Of course everyone will rightly mention Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets as the benchmark for this position. What Busquets possesses is the key attribute for the anchor-man in this system; that when your full-backs bomb forward, he can seamlessly drop into a back three and provide extra cover for any possible counter. The type of player Chelsea need is one who can also mix things up and play quick one touch football, as well as having the poise and technique to invite pressure, hold the player off, then pass and remove his opponent from the game. Mikel tries this often, but regularly gets caught in possession, or puts a teammate under pressure because of a wayward pass. I’d like to see him just going for the quick, energetic option. People make out Chelsea need Essien to come back here but he’s not the right player for this position anyway. I’d like to see Oriol Romeu given more minutes as he would seem to be the blueprint of exactly what the Blues need.
In midfield, as we’ve already touched on, Lampard certainly isn’t over the hill. He does however need some help in the engine room. He has been scoring, but hasn’t been dominating the midfield and spraying the ball about at will as he often as he can, perhaps by having to drop deeper to assist the struggling Mikel. Ramires looks good and quite exciting, but as a midfield three, Mikel, Lampard and Ramires don’t offer the right balance. They need both more bite and better passers, which they have in abundance with both Romeu and Raul Meireles. Meireles should certainly be getting a run in the team. One of the players of the second half of last season, the Portuguese offers a goal threat in addition to Lampard’s, and passing ability to help provide ammunition for Chelsea’s misfiring front men.
And so we get to Torres. What a dilemma this is for Villas-Boas. With the one signing he’s made who has actually looked half decent in Juan Mata, you need a pacey, imaginative striker to run onto the intricate through balls the 23 year old Spaniard plays. Torres fits the bill perfectly for this and indeed, would appear to make Mata far more effective when he is on the field, than Drogba can. The problem with Fernando is that his confidence still seems so fragile, despite the public sentiments and excuses being espoused. Before his sending off against Swansea, Torres had really seemed on the road to recovery. Following his suspension however, he looks straight back to square one. Can Villas-Boas trust a man so out of form yet of more benefit to his system than the equally out of form target man Drogba? Indeed, with Daniel Sturridge consistently scoring, or even as a plan B, Florent Malouda who was the liveliest player in Blue yesterday, there is an argument that neither of the big name strikers should be in the team.
It should also be noted that Chelsea have competed well in every game this season. Competing alone doesn’t win Championships though. In the recent losses against Liverpool and Arsenal, as well as the loss to United earlier in the season, they have generally matched them in most parts of the pitch and things could have very easily have gone the other way if it weren’t for individual mistakes. That’s not to excuse the losses, but in order to win trophies and especially a league as competitive as the Premier League, you need to dominate and beat the best teams.
The fact is however, their record at the moment looks pretty dire. The question subsequently becomes less, ‘What can Andre Villas-Boas do?” and more “What will Roman Abramovich do?”
Here’s hoping the Russian’s trigger finger isn’t itching too much just yet.
Posted on 21/11/2011, in 1. Latest and tagged abramovich, Andre Villas-Boas, AVB, Chelsea, Drogba, Ivanovic, Lampard, Luiz, Meireles, Mikel, Ramires, Romeu, Terry, Torres. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.