Andre Villas-Boas went from being at the top of the world to the bottom of the barrel in a matter of days. Just as his rise was meteoric, his downfall was alarming. In two years of management, he didn’t know what a loss at home meant, forget a bad run. Even before he became a manager, Jose Mourinho, by virtue of his experience and nature of game-play, kept him away from harm’s way. The unprecedented success he experienced in Portugal made the world sit up and take notice, including Chelsea.

From pointing out Sir Bobby Robson’s managerial mistakes to taking over the reins of a national team at the age of 21, the man who’d never batted an eyelid in the face of a challenge, thought he was ready for the Premiership when Roman wanted him to lead Chelsea into a new era.

Baptism of Fire

Four months into the new season, Premiership has played the role of a strict taskmaster, the one who is uncompromising in his dealings and relentlessly demanding in his lessons. One wrong selection, one wrong tactical decision, one bad pass, one miss – and, Andre was left licking his wounds.

The start to the season was good; Chelsea were playing an attractive brand of football. The players were pressing higher up the pitch and the defence was maintaining a high-line. However, as soon as the team came face-to-face with stronger outfits, cracks began to appear on the surface. Already, The Blues have been knocked out of a cup competition, have lost to Manchester United despite playing well away from home, have been defeated by Arsenal and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge because of an abysmally poor defensive performance, and have come excruciatingly close to being knocked out of Europe.

Welcome to England, Andre!

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Where others see a need to fire the manager, we at TheHardTackle, see a learning experience like no other. If Chelsea are to stick with Villas-Boas at least till the end of his three-year contract, it’s good for the club that he has experienced so much failure right at the beginning of his journey. Everybody falls down; the important part is to get yourself up, dust yourself off and try again.

However, for that to happen, one needs to acknowledge what went wrong and address it.

High defensive back-line

A high back-line wasn’t the problem, really. It even worked with lesser teams. The problem was insisting on it, despite having defenders who primarily weren’t known for their blistering pace. John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Alex are solid, no-nonsense defenders but they can’t make up ground if a ball is played behind them. David Luiz can, but he is still adapting to the English game and tends to commit more fouls than clean tackles. Against quicker, more incisive teams, this strategy backfired.

In the last few games, Chelsea have positioned the defensive block closer to Petr Cech, and as a result the same defenders, who appears terribly out of form, have looked solid. This doesn’t mean that setting the defence higher up the pitch was wrong or shouldn’t be tried again. Just that it wasn’t a good idea with the present set of defenders and against swift counter-attacking teams.

Shape of the team

Teams such as Barcelona, which thrive on possession-based football, tend to relentlessly press their opponents. However, these teams quickly regain their shape if pressing fails to yield possession. Chelsea weren’t doing the latter; as a result, players were being caught out of position on far too many occasions.

Again, in the matches that Chelsea have done well recently, they have looked more organized, even if it has come at the cost of possession. Villas-Boas needs to find a balance which can make the possession-based, high-pressing style work. A clear mandate to his players that they shouldn’t over-commit themselves in pursuit of possession will ensure the team retains its shape.

Choice of players

Andre Villas-Boas persisted with his compatriot Jose Bosingwa at right-back for a long time. Such was his inclination towards playing him there that Branislav Ivanovic, who was more solid and had previously performed reasonably well at the position, wasn’t played there even once during pre-season. Bosingwa also repaid the faith that the manager had showed in him by beginning well. However, few games into the season, his form deteriorated and goals such as Arsenal’s second, for which he was unpardonably out of position, became a common occurrence.

Recently, Ivanovic has played more often at right-back. Not only have Chelsea appeared more solid at the back, but also the accuracy of crosses from the right has improved.

The manager liked the fluency which the trio of Lampard, Ramires and Meireles offered in central midfield. The midfielders kept changing positions and were always available for an extra pass. But, absence of a designated defensive midfielder left a void for the opposition’s creative fulcrum to exploit. With the team playing a high-line, the problem was only compounded. In some games, Mikel was brought in to fill the void, but the Nigerian was out of form and his trademark composure on the ball deserted him. As a result, opponents almost had a free run through the centre of the pitch.

Oriol Romeu is a player Villas-Boas wanted at Porto; Oriol Romeu is a player Villas-Boas was able to sign at Chelsea. The former Barcelona youngster had been restricted to appearances in the Carling Cup and lesser games of the Champions League. However, with the team desperately in need of solidarity in midfield, he got a chance – a chance that he has grabbed with both hands. He has shown maturity much beyond his age and has looked very comfortable amongst the big boys. Being positionally very astute, he is able to spot a pass before it’s delivered and is at the right place to intercept it. Further, his superior technique allows him to tackle at will, and that too cleanly. He has played a role in steadying the listing ship.

The corrective measures show that the manager has been picking valuable lessons on the way and is learning from his mistakes.

Unafraid in the Face of Adversity

In the most important game of the season, Andre backed himself and didn’t play Frank Lampard against Valencia, after he’d taken him off against Newcastle. Instead, he fielded a midfield of Romeu, Ramires and Meireles. Previously, he had subbed the Englishman at half-time against Manchester United after a poor first half. Being the model sportsman that he is, Lampard immediately picked up his game after the match at Old Trafford, and had earned his way back into the team.Ai??Lampard is a legend in these parts, and quite rightly so. Such is his stature amongst the Chelsea faithful that previous managers couldn’t dare think of such a drastic step. However, Andre has come in and made a clear statement of intent – the only way for a player to retain a place on the team will be his performance, not reputation, not stardom.

For one reason or the other, Alex and Anelka were not getting enough time on the pitch. Alex had expressed his desire to play for Juventus in the summer, while the emergence of Sturridge had cut into Anelka’s chances. Both of them submitted a transfer request, which was subsequently accepted by the club. The manager explicitly praised their professionalism and integrity, but at the same time ensured that they trainAi??separately from the first team. With almost a month to go for the winter transfer window to open, the manager wouldn’t have taken this risk if it wasn’t necessary for the dressing room. Improved performances from the team and palpable team spirit have thus far backed his bold move.

Chelsea are a club in transition, with quite a few ageing superstars. The need of the hour is a manager, who is strong enough to take practical decisions by remaining as emotionally detached as possible. Few of his decisions in future may not be appreciated by the fans, but one thing is for sure – they will be in the interest of the club.

Manchester City, and thereafter

There was a sense of urgency after a horrendous show to win a few games and ensure Champions League progress. With three 3-0 wins in the last four games, the last of which came against Valencia in midweek, Chelsea have somewhat stemmed the rot. The next game is very important. The next game is against Manchester City.

With 10 points behind City, Chelsea should see this match as a perfect platform to perform. It’s a perfect opportunity for the players to showcase where they stand against quality opposition. An inspiring performance against the strongest team in England will definitely serve the club well for the rest of the campaign. In the league, Villas-Boas’ team has come up against three big teams – United, Arsenal and Liverpool – and has failed in each test. Title credentials can be evaluated at a latter time, if at all; now is a time to play for pride.

The manager, the players, and even those who are present in the stands at Stamford Bridge have faced a lot of criticism. In the game against Valencia, there were glimpses that The Blues had turned the page. On Monday night, they’ll have a chance to begin the new chapter.

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3 Responses to “Chelsea’s Corner: Villas-Boas Will Emerge Stronger After Baptism Of Fire”

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  1. True Blue says:

    nice article, well written , and covers all the points.

  2. aman adbi says:

    awesome , but when are we discussing solution to chelsea problems , do they need to sign players !

  3. Anoop Gupta says:

    Keep it up Karan :)