Chelsea’s Corner – Aren’t You Glad 2011 Is Over?

And you thought 2010 didnai??i??t go according to plan.

When Carlo Ancelotti was let go early in 2011, it was perceived as just the latest manifestation of Chelseaai??i??s Roman-era intolerance towards a lack of silverware. But Carlo was living on borrowed time, and had been for quite a while before he was let go.

Like the incumbent in power during times of economic turmoil, the manager expects to get blamed for his teamai??i??s fortunes. It comes with the territory. Carlo Ancelotti, had managed to get the team to conjure up an unlikely run of results in the end, but his inability to usher in transformational change to the squad ai??i?? apart from the scoring by the truckload bit – meant he had doomed himself to being seen as a relic of the past.

 

Ancelotti- Back in the business

Listening - To offers, that is

 

The team needed a new direction, we said. The team needed someone radical at the helm, we suggested. The team needed to change course, we nodded.

But nobody told us change would be this painful.

Andre Villas-Boas, one of the front-runners mooted for the position vacated by Carlo Ancelotti, was the clear favorite once it became evident Guus Hiddink was still bound to his commitment to Turkey. Andre was young, a tactician-par-excellence and was well-versed in English. On three counts, he had outscored Carlo before heai??i??d even begun.

Andre lived up to his billing from the minute of his assuming office. He was as no-nonsense as you can get, getting to work with the signing of Mata, and Meireles later ai??i?? while continuing where Carlo had left off, with the rehabilitation of Torres and the reintroduction of Sturridge. Andre was instrumental in seeking Di Matteo as his assistant ai??i?? an intelligent choice considering the formerai??i??s pedigree as a manager and his years at Chelsea, left much to be desired.

 

But my match reports said...

 

It should have succeeded, as it undoubtedly indicated on paper. The results were not immediate; some might even argue they never materialized.

Itai??i??s hard to see where it all went wrong, initially. Villas-Boas entrusted his team with the 4-3-3 formation they performed best in. He didnai??i??t make the mistake Carlo Ancelotti had by persisting with the diamond even when other clubs had figured it out like the back of their hands.

And yet Chelsea started off the season with a lackluster draw away to Stoke City.

The young manager also refrained from playing both Didier Drogba and Torres up front, when he knew that both of them were mutually exclusive. Choosing instead to play Mata and Sturridge on the flanks, up front, was a masterstroke of genius. Sturridge proved to be a revelation and Chelseaai??i??s most improved player, even more than Ramires, vaulting himself up the charts of this seasonai??i??s top scorers.

 

Saving Grace

 

And yet Chelsea went through a terrible two months in October and November.

The biggest flaw in all of this, was perhaps not Andreai??i??s. Both Drogba and Torres are nowhere near the heady heights of their prime. The Ivorian is moody, no longer as imposing as he used to be, and looks set to join his strike-partner Anelka in leaving the club soon. The Spaniard, on the other hand, has been thoroughly defeated in his mind ai??i?? a seemingly desolate and barren place with no joy left for the game.

With no central striker to rely on, Mata and Sturridge see their brilliance wasted on a focal point that has gotten increasingly astigmatic. Not naturally accustomed to playing out wide, the two tend to drift inwards compounding Chelseaai??i??s lack of width.

 

Dancin' Sturridge

 

The midfield was going to be another matter altogether. Chelsea have, since the Mourinho-Roman era, been a midfield-centric club with Lampard, Essien, Ballack and Makalele once ruling the roost. With Makalele long gone and Ballack walked out, finding a replacement was always going to be hard. John Obi Mikel has struggled in a role he clearly wasnai??i??t meant for, while Romeu has miles to go before he reaches the incredible level of the Frenchman. Michael Essienai??i??s absence in the wake of the sturdy Ballackai??i??s departure has compounded Andreai??i??s predicament.

Ramires and Meireles are relentless workers ai??i?? drone bees ai??i?? more likely to drop dead than ever quit on the cause. But they lack the creative spark and the footballing genius to inspire Chelsea against a resilient defence. And they also lack the beefy presence, the often-criticized Ballack brought to the side. For all their efforts, so much of what Ramires and Meireles do is often an exercise in futility.

 

The work-horse and the stable boy

 

Frank Lampard misplaces passes with alarming regularity, failing to find a way for a side that so desperately needs it. For someone who used to arrive at the right place in the nick of time, heai??i??s begun to make it a habit to arrive to the party after the nick of time.

For someone like Villas-Boas, brought in to help Chelsea negotiate the changing style of the English game, the manager has failed spectacularly on that front. The only talent at his disposal under the creative midfielder category is Juan Mata, but the Spaniard is slotted up front on the left where he doesnai??i??t get enough of the ball.

Ironically, Villas-Boasai??i?? side has managed to rack up time on the ball in midfield ai??i?? courtesy a lot of pointless possession, sideways passing, misplaced lobs back, and the occasional brave foray that serves as fodder for a counter-attack from the other side. Nowhere was this more evident than in Chelseaai??i??s 3-5 loss to Arsenal and the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United.

 

I'm going... there!

 

Soon other clubs figured you didnai??i??t have to have a van Persie or Rooney in your side to take advantage of Chelsea on the counter. Thanks to Chelseaai??i??s newfound obsession with the high backline ai??i?? despite the fact it lacks the defensive organization or legs to carry it out ai??i?? teams are content to let Chelsea saunter about in midfield, while they sit back and defend in numbers, only to break ranks and make a beeline for Cechai??i??s goal. Aston Villaai??i??s 3-1 hammering of Chelsea on the last day of the year was just another case in point.

And thrust in a situation, where his orders were always going to be hard to digest, Villas-Boas made it worse by committing the cardinal sin of throwing the dressing room into chaos. With Anelka and Alex declared persona non grata, and Lampard going to the media about his inability to comprehend what was expected of him, you have to wonder whether the damage wrought thus far is irreparable.

In most cases, dressing room disturbances are easily quelled with a string of victories. Ai??That kind of success can be infectious and brings some semblance of peace into a divided house. The problem is with his perceived high-handedness, any of Villas-Boasai??i?? attempts at blooding newer talents and stars is likely to be seen as a threat to the established players in the squad.

 

Hazard - Handle with care

 

But the revolution and change of guard must, and will in all likelihood, go on. Chelsea are likely to be staring at a season with no Champions League to play for. And that can be a dead-end in the transfer market for years. Rather than end up like Liverpool, the Blues need to buy now, and buy smart.

Which is why Andre needs to let go of any semblance of half-measures here ai??i?? thereai??i??s no point in bringing on Saloman Kalou, Florent Malouda and Paulo Ferreira off the bench when Manchesters City and United can pull up Dzeko and Berbatov. The bench can no longer serve only to supplement in like-for-like switches, but has to bring something additional to the game. There is nobody currently on Chelseaai??i??s bench that adds an additional dimension to what the first team already offers. Chelsea need to buy, and buy massively, if they are to effect a turn-around in a couple of years, at least.

It is almost certain the Blues will spend heavily in the winter transfer window to bring in faster and more creative replacements for Drogba and Lampard, and would do well to add a duo similar to Aaron Lennon and Bale who offer Tottenham natural width.

All that might roil the dressing room further, so perhaps bringing Hiddink on board as a calming influence on the squad and on the young and animated Villas-Boas himself, might be the best purchase Chelsea could make.

Next year, possibly this month of January alone, will help define the kind of club Chelsea seeks to be – for the next decade.

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4 Responses to “Chelsea’s Corner – Aren’t You Glad 2011 Is Over?”

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  1. Giovanin says:

    Very insightful and well-written article! I completely agree with your assessment of Chelsea. In particular, now we know how truly important Ballack was to Chelsea.

    • rony says:

      true… ballack’s absence was noted last season when Chelsea fall 15 pnts behind the leaders.. we dont have a good replacement for Ballack… anyway i hope Chelsea will buy gotze,hazard and de bruyne this season…

  2. Trolllla says:

    Very well written. A “young” striker, more of a “poacher” and an attacking midfielder with very good “vision” is what Chelsea needs, me thinks.

  3. Ballack-kusen says:

    Ballack is a big loss but most of Chelsea fans haven’t realized how important was he to our side until he simply refused to extend and walked away. In 2009 we should have offered him 4 years the guy get older and is becoming better n better amf he’s just great in that position 2008 proved that he can lead over lamps and let’s not forget that ballack is older than lamps and if u compare them ballack has always been a better performer when we played bayer. Away ballack the biggest threat he didn’t score n he was man f the match where was lamps he was lost on the ball sorry to say but lamps is finished