It is one thing to lose a match, and an altogether different matter to surrender without a fight. Last evening, it was indeed the latter. Sunderland humiliated Chelsea 0-3 at their home – at their fortress, at Stamford Bridge. A team that hadn’t conceded a league goal at home this season and had equaled the club record for consecutive clean-sheets, let in three to suffer their worst defeat in eight years.

Chelsea has endured an extremely tough week – both on field and off it too. It started off at Anfield, where a Torres-inspired Liverpool were the deserving winners. Then came the West London derby, and the Blues somehow managed to register a narrow win over local rivals Fulham. Amidst such tough times on the field, the management dropped a bombshell, sacking assistant coach Ray Wilkins. Against Sunderland, the horror-struck fans booed the team and left the Bridge early.

Carlo Ancelotti spoke after the match and was expectedly disappointed; he admitted that this loss was the worst of his Chelsea career thus far.

Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti (R) talks to his assistant coach Paul Clement during their English Premier League soccer match against Sunderland at Stamford Bridge in London, November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh  (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE ++44 (0)

“We never lost with this result at home. Our performance was poor today, but we have to know that in football it can happen if you don’t use your best mentality. But we are able to come back if we stay focused on our job, and it will be just one day poor. One month ago I said the difficulty would arrive. The difficulty has arrived and now, we have to come back in our training sessions to stay more in focus, play better than today. It is difficult now, we have to look in the next days and have a meeting about this, to look at what happened today. Sometimes we had some players out in the past, some important players, and the team played well. Today was different. We were not able to play our football. It is strong enough. We are top of the table, not happy obviously for today and we have to play with a different mentality.”

He is the manager – there’s only so much he can say publicly. With an endeavor to call a spade a spade, let us begin analyzing what has gone wrong at the Bridge, after a bombastic start to the season.

The curse of injuries

Let’s look at the midfield first, as it is the worst hit area on the pitch. Frank Lampard, who has been known for his endurance abilities over the years, has not played a game for the Blues since August. Each time he approaches a return,  he suffers another setback. As it stands, he is still at least three weeks out, after breaking down in training yet again before the Sunderland game. Ancelotti’s utility buy Yossi Benayoun is out for the season. Michael Essien missed the Liverpool game, but returned for the midweek derby only to be sent off for a baffling two-footed tackle. Presently, he is serving his three-match suspension.

With an eye on the balance-sheet, the club had offloaded many midfield veterans hoping that Lampard, Benayoun, Mikel, Essien, Ramires, and Zhirkov would be good enough to marshal the midfield. As it stands, Ancelotti just has Mikel, Ramires and Zhirkov at his disposal to pull the strings.

Coming to the defence, Alex has had his fitness issues. However, it didn’t hurt Chelsea much,  as Bosingwa’s return allowed Carlo to use Ivanovic to partner Terry in the heart of the defence. But when Terry pulled out of tonight’s fixture, Ferreira was summoned to replace the captain ; the writing was on the wall from there on. Paulo is a dependable squad player and is a team-man to the core, but that’s when he plays at his preferred position on the pitch, not at centre-back.

Didier Drogba was struck by a bout of malaria and was forced to miss a few games last week. According to the manager, he has recovered now but is not able to train. Still, in the absence of other influential players, Ancelotti has fielded the half-fit Drogba. Understandably, the striker has been a shadow of his former self.

The wrath of the injury-crisis  has been so severe, that the manager’s pre-season plans have been thrown out of the window. Carlo Ancelotti may have planned to gradually include Ramires into the thick of things, but due to a plethora of injuries, the manager and the player could not enjoy that luxury. To be fair to the Brazilian, the Premiership is a tough place for a foreigner to get accustomed to, especially if you are a midfielder. Ramires has found it hard to settle down in this tough-tacking no-nonsense league. The manager had plans to promote youth to the first team this season, but having only youngsters to come on from the bench to change the outcome of an evenly fought game was not something that he had hoped for.

Disappointment on the pitch

Chelsea, thus far in the season, has already suffered three losses – away at Manchester City, away at Liverpool and at home to Sunderland. In the first loss at the City of Manchester Stadium, the trio of Mikel-Essien-Ramires was pitted against the most physical midfield in the league in the form of Toure-De Jong-Barry. Toure and De Jong saw the chinks in Chelsea’s armour, and rattled the new signing with a few tough tackles and dispossessed him at will. It was a game that could have gone either way, but a solitary Carlos Tevez goal after Chelsea had lost possession turned the scale in City’s favour.

Then came the much talked about trip to Anfield.  Before the match, the talk of the town was Liverpool’s resurgence, as they had won three games in a row after an year, and the Reds did not disappoint. In front of a vociferous support at Anfield, Liverpool out-played Chelsea on the back of a Torres master-class. Such was the beauty of his twin-strikes that even the most critical of Chelsea fans could not point fingers towards the defence. However, fingers could indeed be pointed at the visitors’ feeble midfield combination.

Mikel was partnered by Zhirkov and Ramires in the centre of the pitch. Gerrard, Meireles and Lucas had their numbers all night. In the absence of an outlet to release the ball down the middle, Mikel had just two options – either to find the attackers with a long ball or pass it on to the fullbacks so that they could exploit the flanks. Ergo, Chelsea channelized its attacks through the flanks not out of choice but out of limitation, and failed.

Chelsea's Ramires (L) challenges Sunderland's Lee Cattermole during their English Premier League soccer match at Stamford Bridge in London, November 14, 2010.  REUTERS/Eddie Keogh  (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO ONLINE/INTERNET USAGE WITHOUT A LICENCE FROM THE FOOTBALL DATA CO LTD. FOR LICENCE ENQUIRIES PLEASE TELEPHONE ++44 (0)Ramires, English football is tough. Buckle up.

Sunday, however, was an altogether different proposition. The makeshift defence failed miserably to cope with an in-from Sunderland attack-line. The midfield was yet again run over by the opposition, and the strikers didn’t show any intent of getting the team back into the contest. It was a collective failure of a magnitude that has not been witnessed at the Bridge ever since Manchester United defeated Chelsea 0-3 in the 2001-02 season. In a match where the champions had to come from behind and show their mettle, the forwards managed just 3 shots on goal in the entire game. Some fans left the stadium early, and a fraction of those that didn’t decided to boo the team off the pitch; these were some unimaginable scenes at the Bridge. It was saddening to witness such a toothless performance from the home team, but it was unfortunate to witness such behavior from the fans.

Off-field Distractions

If the Earls Court distraction wasn’t enough to rub the fans the wrong way, the club management decided to bring Ray Wilkins’ 37-year association with Chelsea to a sudden and abrupt end. Wilkins, a fan favourite, was appointed to primarily aid Scolari cope with the English media and with the language barrier. Such was his reassuring presence during the turbulent time under Scolari that when Hiddink and then Ancelotti took over the reins at the Bridge, the management decided to persist with the Englishman.

“Ray is a real blue-blood, Chelsea flows in his veins. Without him, we couldn’t have won a thing.”Carlo Ancelotti

Chelsea Football Club, under Roman Abramovich, has been known for its ruthless decision-making streaks. The club had fired Mourinho, Grant and Scolari in the past when it had to. Now that Ancelotti has settled in the league and has overcome his language barrier, Wilkins may have become surplus to requirements. The kind of financial restraint that has been seen at Chelsea over the years may have resulted in his removal.

However, the manner and timing of the assistant coach’s ouster are befuddling, to say the least. If the media reports are true and Wilkins was indeed fired midway through a reserve-team match, then it is disappointing as Ray certainly deserved a better treatment. This announcement came at a time the team was not doing well on the pitch and Wilkins was known to be close to at least the English bunch. This news would have affected the players, howsoever professional they are. Ancelotti had ensured that this was not the case and that the players are focused. After witnessing the disillusioned display on Sunday, one wouldn’t be too wrong to think otherwise.

However, look at the table – it doesn’t lie

Despite various problems, both on and off the pitch, Chelsea are still at the top of the table. The defending champions still have a two-point lead over their nearest rivals. This team has been known to bounce back in resounding fashion after suffering major set-backs in the past. The manager has a tactical acumen and strong enough character to overcome adversity. The players have it in them to rally behind each other, forget about the off-field issues and concentrate on the field. The fans are strong enough to back their team during these challenging times and support them through thick and thin. All Chelsea needs is one inspirational performance from one of its sons to galvanize its league campaign.

The team may have lost one battle, but a war is still there to be won. The season ends only in May.

16 Responses to “Chelsea’s Corner: What Could Be Wrong At The Bridge?”

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  1. Vishwas says:

    Nice write up Karan…the problems with Chelsea is not Wilkins or Ancelotti….It is Lampard and only Lampard….Although i am a United fan, i gotta give credit to Frank the way he carries Chelsea’s midfield…Ramires isn’t a replacement/alternative to Lampard….The faster Lamps is back to the core, the better for Chelsea.

  2. Kaushal says:

    Brilliant article,Karan.It was absolute pleasure to read it.Superb analysis.Very soothing after yesterday’s defeat.Would love more such from you.

  3. BlueFan says:

    nice write up Karan….the most imp. thing u highlighted was the “However, look at the table – it doesn’t lie” part….yes we r at the top of table…but 2 loses in last 3 games has really made us look ordinary…the midfield 3 of Ramires–Mikel–Yury just doesnt` give us any hope…m really disappointed…
    All the talks of a very good youth structure looks like CRAP…when u have Bruma(a proper CB) ehy do u play Paulo…some of CA`s tactis are really puzzling….bring back Matic & Mancienne…we need somebody physical in the middle…play Ramires in the reserves…give him time to settle….his performance`s are not doing any good for him…he really looks nervous in the field…
    Another point…no wonder our downfall is coming at a time when Drogba is having a barren patch…he is not yet fully fit…hope we respond in style against Brum…but looking at our MF (w/out Ess & Lamps) doesn`t give me any hope… :(

    KTBFFH.

  4. sounak says:

    I am 200% in agreement with Vishwas.
    Lampard has to be back. He is the creative head of the team, without him the middle of the park, Chelsea lack a lot of creativity. And even goals come from Frank’s boots, so it’s a double-plus missing!

  5. Sitaram says:

    Spot on. Brilliant analysis. Inspite of the injury problems, I did not see this result coming. It was a pathetic performance from the men in blue. It is always a tough ask to expect Chelsea to put in a performance week in and week out, more so when you are playing without Lampard, Essien, JT, Alex and an unfit Drogba. But what worried me most was that there was no passion in the way they played even after going 2 goals down. They looked flat and there was no sense of urgency at all even after going 2 goals down.

    When the teamsheet was announced, I was terrified to see Ferreira’s name alongside Ivanovic in central defense. Ferreira is a good team player but he is neither physically strong nor particularly good in the air to play in central defense. I don’t understand Ancelotti’s reluctance in playing youngsters like Bruma and Kakuta. I don’t understand the point in offering J Bruma a new contract and then putting him on the bench when both JT and Alex are injured. Agreed he is young but if you dont trust the player to be a good third/fourth choice defender then why draft him into the first team at all? If none of the 4-5 young players are good enough to start for Chelsea even when the senior players are out injured, then realistically we are only playing with a squad of 19 players. Oh my! (Out of which Lamps is struggling with a mysterious injury, Benayoun is out until Feb-March & Ramires is still struggling to find his feet in the league).

    I feel its high time Ancelotti gave McEachran a start. Chelsea have been struggling in midfield for more than 4 matches now. They struggled against Wolves, went a goal down against Blackburn and somehow managed to win that one, looked clueless against Liverpool, and got comprehensively beaten by Sunderland at home. Looks like problem with our midfield is possession. Ramires does not look to be in control when he has the ball and always ends up losing it. McEachran might be young but from whatever we have seen of him so far, he seems to be gifted with quick feet and a brilliant touch. I feel he can be trusted to keep the ball and help Obi Mikel in keeping possession of the ball. Also if Drogba is not fully fit I don’t see a point in forcing him to play every match. Are Kalou and Sturridge so bad that they cannot even be trusted to fill in for a clearly unfit Drogba? If that’s the case, then I am not sure why Ancelotti feels he has a good enough squad at his disposal to challenge on all fronts.

    Also can someone please come out and give a proper diagnosis of the problem being faced by Lampard. Ancelotti has been anything but clear in his press conferences to the media about Lamps. I somehow have a bad feeling about this injury. I hope Lamps recovers quickly and makes it back to the squad. We need a fully fit Lampard for our matches against United, Everton, Spurs and Arsenal in December.

  6. Thanks for the positive response guys. This is a time we need to stand together and support our team.

  7. Anustup says:

    One match won’t throw you out of the Title race. The team is in a good position to win a second league. Yes Lamps is an important figure in the Chelsea midfield, maybe like Xavi of Barcelona or Cesc of Arsenal. So I suggest let the man recover properly, instead of playing with niggling injuries and try and promote youngsters. In the process, if you guys drop a few points, lose a few matches, it’s okay…
    Why is everybody praising Sunderland? Because they all know how strong the Blues are.
    Losing is okay, because if you do not lose, you don’t actually realize what’s wrong.

  8. sounak says:

    @Anustup: You had to see the match before making that statement ‘Why is everybody praising Sunderland?’.

    I have NEVER seen any team come to Bridge and attack like THAT in the Abramovich era! Twas unbelievable!

  9. Anustup says:

    @Sounak: Chelsea v Sunderland… I didn’t miss the match… You gave the answer in the second line itself. Chelsea is a very strong team. And that makes Sunderland’s achievements all the more appreciable. That is exactly what I meant. 😀

  10. BlueFan says:

    defenive crisis worsens…Alex out for 2 months…JT likely to b out for a month….
    Bossy–Bane–Bruma–Cole is now new back 4… 😐

  11. Kunal says:

    I consider myself a big chelsea fan and its biggest critic. Will try to search for faults in 6-0 win and will rend them apart when they lose.Its the latter case here I guess.
    Whats most disgusting is how lightly our players took the match. It was as if they were waiting for the 90minutes to get over. You are playing for chelsea FC so how you can do that…
    I hate manchester united but I adore their fighting spirit. They rescue a point or snatch a win from the jaws of defeat with their fighting spirit.
    Where is our fighting spirit?
    Believe it or not we did had some easy fixtures in the beginning and we were never challenged, so our players took the league very easy. How many times have we even rescued a point when we have gone 1 down ,(yes against blackburn you would say but we were lucky, they missed 2 good chances). A better resilient team will not let us come back and thats what happened against city,liverpool,sunderland.
    The fans have the right to express their anger coz they are paying fromt heir own pockets not to see a disspirited team play but a wounded tiger taking a revenge. And same is for fans like us in India , who may not be spending their money but still live,breate chelsea and football.We also eagerly await our every chelsea match.
    I am sorry for displaying such maudlin concern but then I am a football fan , what do you expect?

  12. Reed Cracknell says:

    It’s too early for an article like this. Chelsea will come back strong.

  13. How are you? Just had to let you be informated how fabulous this article is. Please keep up the valuable work.

  14. Stepheniv says:

    CHELSEA without FRANK LAMPARD is LIFELESS! Coz he s d man dat carries on d team! With Drogba and d rest would be better! It starts from him! He s d creator! 1st line defender! passer and scorer!