An international break is like intermission midway through a movie, which on most occasions draws out two kind of responses from the audience. If it’s a farcical, unpardonable excuse of a movie, the break brings relief; it offers the audience a chance to concentrate on better things – even things such as waiting in a unbelievably long queue to get a bag of popcorn! However, if the movie is a decent one with the plot rapidly thickening and the suspense gradually building up, the break couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Similarly, an international break can come at either a right time or a wrong one for any club. When fans of a club, stuck in the quagmire of mediocrity and spiraling downwards, yearn for the madness to end the international break appears to offer some respite. The second case is of a club which has gradually been taking short but assured steps towards reestablishing itself as a force to be reckoned with, and the break halts the progress.

Luckily, for the fans of Chelsea Football Club, even though the break came at the wrong time, even better things are expected of the team once normal order resumes. Four months into life as a Chelsea manager, Andre Villas-Boas has surely made an impact.

Tactics and Formations

After quite a few experiments, both in terms of tactics and formations, wherein the manager studied the players he had at his disposal, Villas-Boas has established his preferred system at Chelsea. The formation, 4-3-3, is not alien to the club, but the style of play is.

Key tactical changes witnessed thus far in the season –

  1. Chelsea tend to play a remarkably high back-line, while in possession. This squeezes the area on the pitch to Chelsea’s advantage, with the opposition pushed back in their own half, but the team remains vulnerable to situations like the one against West Brom when Shane Long out-muscled Alex and had only Hilario to beat, which he did.
  2. The players, collectively, defend from the front by not letting the opposition settle with the ball. The goal is to win back the ball at the earliest. This has resulted in greater share of possession for Chelsea.
  3. Chelsea’s midfield has performed at its fluent best without a designated defensive midfielder in the starting line-up. Even though Meireles starts from just in-front of the back four, the three midfielders keep switching positions and trying to out-pass the opponents.
  4. Despite the presence of Lampard in the line-up, Ramires is often the farthest forward midfielder, as Chelsea has looked to capitalize on his pace and stamina to out-run one and all in the midfield. HisAi??mesmerizing runs have seen him earn penalties for Chelsea, if not goals for himself. Despite his enhanced offensive presence, his industry allows him to track back and thwart the opposition’s attack, every time.
  5. In Juan Mata, Chelsea now have a dynamic player in the final third of the pitch. He can stay wide on the left and cross, or cut inside the box to score, or Ai??drop deep in central midfield toAi??orchestrate play and set-up Torres with an inch-perfect forward lob like the once against Swansea, or he can switch flanks and attack from the right. His presence on the field allows Villas-Boas to change the formation, altogether, with little or no help from the bench.

Player Ratings

After 7 wins, 2 draws and a solitary loss in the 10 games in all competitions, it’s a fair time to look at what all the players have done under Andre Villas-Boas thus far in the season.

The Starting Eleven:Ai??

Petr Cech – 8/10

Even though clean-sheets are hard to come by, Petr Cech remains the epitome of consistency at the back for Chelsea. The lack of clean-sheets has more to do with the change in tactics than any frailty between the posts. With 7 saves in 5 games, the 29-year of goal-keeper has begun the season well.

Jose Bosingwa– 6.5/10

After losing an year to injury, Bosingwa was extremely inconsistent last season. In his absence, Ivanovic had successfully taken over as the first choice right-back for the club, and it was expected that Chelsea would sign another right-back in the summer. However, Villas-Boas had other ideas. He restored his compatriot as the first choice full-back for Chelsea, and Jose began the season in bombastic fashion, marauding down the right flank, spraying in quality balls, and scoring a wonderful goal against Norwich City. Since then, his performance has gone down a couple ofAi??notches, but stills holds on to his position, and justifiably so.

Branislav Ivanovic – 7/10

Despite playing the last two seasons mainly as a right-back, Villas-Boas has never tried Ivanovic in that role. Rather, he has been John Terry’s first choice partner in the league.

John Terry– 7/10

Terry is not the fastest of center-backs around, and with Ivanovic partnering him, who is also not known for his speed, the Chelsea central defense remainsAi??susceptible to pace, especially while playing a high back-line. However, the captain has been performing his duties in a satisfying manner. An awfully good finish, as the one against Sunderland, doesn’t hurt either.

Ashley Cole – 6/10

Age is slowly starting to take a toll on Cole’s ability to keep his flank tight, while himself spending a considerable time in the opposition half, as certain chinks in his armor are beginning to appear. It’s been two matches in a row that his performance at Old Trafford left a lot to be desired. He remains solid and effective enough, but below the illustrious standards that he has set for himself over the years.

Raul Meireles – 7.5/10

Raul hasAi??seamlessly fit into the Chelsea starting line-up, and is already looking like a very astute purchase by the club.

Ramires – 8.5/10

Ramires – running the show!

Arguably the player of the season for Chelsea thus far, Ramires has hardly put a foot wrong in this campaign. The 24-year old Brazilian took his time to settle into English football, which was understandable, but the signs of things to come were there to be seen even under Ancelotti.

Frank Lampard – 7/10

At first, Lampard was struggling with the quick passing, possession-based game, which Villas-Boas wanted his team to play. With questions being raised over his diminishing role at Chelsea, he did was he has done throughout his career – worked hard and banged in goals to shut his critics up. It’s perfectly alright for Villas-Boas to use his most experienced midfielder wisely, and give him the occasional rest. Moreover, if Lampard wants to prolong his career like Giggs has at United, he can’t really go on and play 90 minutes week-in week-out. Frank, who is already a legend at Stamford Bridge, has a lot to offer still – but for the good of the club and himself, he will have to share the workload with others and groom the younger players.

Juan Mata – 8/10

He is everything which the terraces of Stamford Bridge hadn’t witnessed for a long, long time – creative, dynamic, intelligent, humble, and a breath of fresh air.

Daniel Sturridge – 6.5/10

When Villas-Boas saw Danny play, he saw in him the answer to Chelsea’s right wing woes – and, Sturridge has done reasonably well ever since his suspension got over. Between the audaciously taken back-heeled goal at Sunderland and the twin strikes at Bolton, the 21-year old Englishman delivered an uninspiring show in the game that mattered the most – at Old Trafford. His pace and left foot are his most potent weapons but to consistently do well at Chelsea as a wide forward, he will have to work on his weaker right foot. He needs to add a cross, even a simple square pass, to his arsenal.

Fernando Torres – 7/10

El Nino appears to be on the verge of putting the worst year of his career behind him. He has looked his former dangerously sharp self ever since the opening Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen. Against United, he scored a brilliant goal and did everything right before that late open goal miss. Then he got himself sent off against Swansea, but not before skillfully controlling Mata’s pass on his chest, laying it down, before turning and shooting past the keeper. At Valencia, it took an inspired goalkeeper to deny him not once but twice. This turn in form also has its roots in the change in style of play at Chelsea. He is far from justifying the 50m price-tag he has on his head, but it’s not the players who decide the money people pay for them. Chelsea fans, at least, can afford to smile seeing their striker show intent on the field.

The Bench:

David Luiz – 7.5/10


A cult figure at Stamford Bridge!

Out of all the center-backs at Chelsea, Luiz is the best suited for playing in a high back-line, attacking system at Chelsea. He is naturally gifted, technically polished and genuinely fast. He does suffer from occasional lapses in concentration and commits needless fouls, but considering he has just turned 24,Ai??disciplineAi??will come with experience. He is good with the ball at his feet, can build attacks from the back, and occasionally finish the moves as well – as he did against Leverkusen in the Champions League. After returning from injury, David has been solid at the back.

John Obi Mikel – 6.5/10

In important games, 3 out of Meireles, Ramires, Lampard and Mikel will feature in the Chelsea midfield. Under previous managers, Mikel’s position was made a static one, wherein he was expected to sit in front of the defense. However, Andre does not like any of his players to appear static on the field – a shift which has seen even Mikel play a bit more forward. The games in which David Luiz plays, Mikel may become the obvious choice in midfield. Passing the ball, and retaining possession has never been a problem for the Nigerian. However, he may have to work on his movement on the pitch.

Didier Drogba – 5.5/10

In the opening 10 games this season, Drogba hasn’t featured much because of both Torres and the injury he sustained in the game against Norwich. Now with Fernando serving his suspension, Drogba has a couple of league games to make the choice difficult for the manager once the Spaniard becomes eligibleAi??to play.

Nicolas Anelka – 7/10

Although Anelka hasn’t set the scoring charts on fire, he has played decently well whenever he has been called upon by the manager. This season, his assist to Torres in the game against Man United has been his most memorable contribution.

Florent Malouda – 5/10

Once Mata was signed, it was clear that Malouda would lose his starting berth on the team. However, as the signing of Zhirkov had seen the Frenchman play with renewed vigor, he was expected to play better than he has thus far. Even if he doesn’t start, there would always be the possibility of Mata being moved to the center and Villas-Boas deploying Malouda on the left. But, for this to consistently happen, he has to perform.

Salomon Kalou – 4/10

The scenario doesn’t look good for the former super-sub for Chelsea. Life under Villas-Boas had begun well for Kalou withAi??consecutive starts in the league. It all started to go downhill when he was substituted after just 30 minutes on the clock against West Brom, with Chelsea performing poorly. Since then, he has seen very little game-time. Unless his fortunes improve, he could be on his way out as early as in January.

————–

Once this break ends, and the audience has settled into their seats, the riveting plot will begin to unravel again. Chelsea are three points behind the leaders from Manchester, and United are due at Anfield next, before taking on City in the Manchester Derby. The next two rounds of fixtures will be very important – if Chelsea can get the desired results against Everton and Queens Park Rangers, the two-horse race for the Premiership title may just see a third horse enter into the fray!

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7 Responses to “Chelsea FC – Early Impressions: Tactics, Player Ratings And Team Performance”

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  1. Rob says:

    Thanks for the article Karan; I enjoyed it.

  2. Thank you, Rob! I’m glad you liked it.

  3. Madhav says:

    Very good article; your views on Chelsea are always insightful.

  4. John says:

    Kalou out. Bosingwa is another weakness and should get 5.5 rather than a 6.5. It’s not always a 4-3-3, but AVB changes formation throughout the match to suit/counter the opposition’s style of play.

  5. Bir says:

    Good article. Should write more Chelsea articles.

  6. rajesh says:

    Great insight article… pls keep things coming…