Chelsea FC came from behind to earn a point against Newcastle United at St James’ Park on Saturday, with the substitution of Brazilian midfielder Ramires proving to be a turning point in the match.
After six attempts, Jos Mourinho still remains without a win in the Premier League at St.James’ Park. The draw on Saturday came against a Newcastle United team lacking form and confidence, making it a harder pill to swallow for the Portuguese, even though his side improved on the result from the previous two seasons at the same venue.
In a first-half performance that the Blues’ manager rated as -1 out of 10 and among the worst displays he has ever seen from one of his Chelsea FC sides, the issues in midfield were again apparent, as was the importance of Spain international Diego Costa to the side.
The introduction of Brazilian midfielders Ramires and Willian in the second half was crucial in turning the game in the favour of the Premier League champions, and should give Mourinho some food for thought in terms of his team selection for the coming games.
Here are five things we learned from the 2-2 draw at St James’ Park.
Chelsea FC defensive conundrum a difficult one to solve for Mourinho
Against Arsenal FC, the centre-back pairing of Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma put in extremely solid displays, with the latter scoring the second-half goal that all but ended the Gunners’ resistance. Although the Frenchman was not poor throughout the 90 minutes against Newcastle, he was largely at fault for the Magpies’ opener, failing to anticipate the danger lurking behind in the form of striker Ayoze P rez.
There is no question that the 20-year-old has progressed in leaps and bounds since his move to Stamford Bridge last summer, but it is equally clear that Zouma is still far from the finished product. A particularly conspicuous mistake that was the recurring theme of his first season was the centre-back’s propensity to misjudge the flight of the ball and subsequently mistime his jump.
Even though he has improved in that aspect, his failure to clear the danger in the build-up to the first Newcastle goal was a throwback to the 2013-2014 Chelsea FC pre-season. Stand-in captain Branislav Ivanovi can perhaps be blamed in part for failing to communicate with, and alert his younger teammate, but the Frenchman still needs to iron out that particular issue.
Manager Jos Mourinho is faced with something of a Catch-22 as far as his defence is concerned– playing John Terry would necessitate a deeper defensive line and could leave Chelsea FC exposed in defensive transitions, while leaving the captain out takes away that bit of defensive nous and leadership that could help prevent the Blues from conceding goals like the ones on Saturday.
Terry’s defensive organisation and leadership has been a huge factor behind Zouma’s rise, as the Frenchman has himself explicitly stated on several occasions. Playing alongside the 34-year-old might, in theory, reduce Zouma’s errors in terms of positioning and decision-making, but the harsh reality is that the former England international could himself be a liability at times given the porosity of the Blues’ midfield and his own lack of pace.
Mourinho has a tough decision to make either way, with two difficult games against Porto away and Southampton at home to follow.
Ramires deserves a run in the Chelsea FC first team
The form of the midfield pairing of Nemanja Mati and Cesc F bregas has been one of the biggest concerns for the Blues this season, and although the pair seemed something akin to the 2014-2015 version of themselves against Arsenal FC last weekend, familiar shortcomings were again highlighted in the draw at St James’ Park.
What is probably most noticeable in the current Blues’ midfield is the complete lack of cohesion, particularly in a defensive sense. In the first half of the game on Saturday, Newcastle made the pitch look much bigger than it was, exploiting gaps in a Chelsea FC midfield that looked anything but compact.
Although the game was at an entirely different stage when Brazilian Ramires entered the fray, the former Benfica midfielder has attributes that might come in handy to Mourinho and Chelsea FC in their current predicament.
Ramires’ consistent inconsistency is well-documented, but the midfielder has now put in two outstanding displays in the span of four days. The 28-year-old was superb against Walsall, scoring the Blues’ opener, distributing the ball well and winning back possession, and was also the catalyst in the Blues’ fight-back at St James’ Park.
The one obvious area where Ramires trumps Mati and F bregas is mobility. The pacey Brazilian has the ability to run with the ball, and apart from Ruben Loftus-Cheek who is still adapting to the demands of senior football, is the only real box-to-box midfielder Chelsea FC have.
As Mourinho said after the game, Ramires also has the ability to produce a goal from nothing. His stunning strike gave the Blues hope against a Newcastle side that were retreating deeper and deeper into their own territory, and this ability to score from outside the box gives Chelsea FC a more direct route to goal — a plan B of sorts — given the current lack of fluidity in the attack.
How do you solve a problem like F bregas?
The 2-2 draw on Saturday against Newcastle was an excellent summary of everything that is good and bad about Spain international Cesc F bregas. In the second half, as Steve McLaren’s men sat deep in their own half giving Chelsea FC plenty of time and space on the ball, the former Arsenal FC captain excelled, producing one of the passes of the Premier League season to set up compatriot Pedro for a one-on-one opportunity.
Although he was at fault for the second goal Newcastle scored, he was in complete control of the midfield area, enjoying the freedom being given to him by the Magpies’ midfield.
However, the first half is more representative of most games in the Premier League, and F bregas was, to put it mildly, very poor. The Spaniard lost possession time and again when put under pressure by a hard-working Newcastle midfield, ran blind alleys in the hope of creating space to find a pass for one of his teammates, and in general, looked anything but a man capable of controlling the midfield.
The former FC Barcelona midfielder has often looked out of place playing deeper in midfield this season, and despite adapting well to the role last season, cracks had already begun to appear in that particular fa ade. F bregas needs protection in midfield, and although Oscar is able to provide that at his best, it becomes a major issue when the team is bereft of confidence and belief, and is consequently doing everything — in particular, pressing the opposition — to a lower standard.
The 28-year-old is, by a distance, the best passer Chelsea FC have in their squad, and in theory, is supposed to be the perfect conduit between defence and attack. His failure to step up, however, is affecting the team defensively while not providing any benefits in an attacking sense either.
A move to a 4-3-3 might suit F bregas better, but would mean that Oscar would likely miss out on a starting berth. That, in turn, has repercussions on Mourinho’s defensive system, with the Spaniard not nearly as good as pressing the opposition as the Brazilian.
So far, Mourinho has seemingly not even given a thought to dropping the World Cup winner. How long it stays that way will be interesting to see.
Diego Costa is the best striker Chelsea FC have
The Brazil-born Spain international has not been in great form this season, and deservedly picked up a retrospective ban for his altercation with Arsenal FC centre-back Laurent Koscielny in the Blues’ 2-0 win in the London derby last Saturday.
Diego Costa’s antics have been getting on the nerves of even the Blues’ faithful, particularly given his goal return has been well short of what is expected. Be that as it may, the game against Newcastle reinforced what was probably already clear to see– Diego Costa is the best striker Chelsea FC have.
LoA?c R my put in a disappointing display against his former side, providing precious little up front, while Colombian Radamel Falcao had no impact after entering the pitch as a second-half substitute for the Frenchman.
The former Atl tico Madrid striker can be accused of a lot of things, but not putting in effort is certainly not one of them. That is not to say that R my did not try, but Diego Costa can unsettle a defence in a way the France international is simply unable to.
The two are not dissimilar in terms of their playing styles, but Diego Costa provides greater physicality up the pitch, better ability with his back to goal and constant running down channels which draws out a defence or drags a centre-back wide, creating space for the Blues’ attacking midfielders. He is just a level above in each of those aspects than the French striker.
Quite simply, Diego Costa is the Blues’ best best option up front, and was sorely missed against a defence that Mourinho’s men ultimately showed to be relatively fragile.
Mourinho’s honeymoon period is well and truly over
Many anticipated that the challenge Jos Mourinho accepted by coming back to Chelsea FC and aiming to stay the distance would be the greatest one of his managerial career. Ostensibly, few predicted things could go so far south so soon.
The Portuguese has been shown unconditional love by the Stamford Bridge faithful since his return, and has repaid that affection by steering the Blues to their first league title in five years last season. However, the start Chelsea FC have made to the 2015-2016 season means that — if it wasn’t already — his honeymoon period is well and truly over now.
The performances on the pitch have been bad enough, but the incident involving the medical team has also left plenty with a sour taste. Whether or not Mourinho had a point, many felt the situation could have been handled in a much better way.
The 52-year-old’s insistence on playing out-of-form stars has also not gone down well. The decision to continue Branislav Ivanovi at right-back, despite his woeful form at the beginning of the season, has been particularly puzzling.
All in all, Mourinho is suddenly appearing a lot more human and a lot less infallible. The Special One has to dig deep and drag his team out of this mess, if only to finish top four rather than pose any threat to the title.
With two big games coming up before the second international break, including one in the UEFA Champions League against Porto away followed by a tricky fixture against Southampton at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho has to find solutions to the problems in his team before it is too late.