It was one of those weekends. Didn’t get to see even one minute of football. No premier league. No la liga. No serie a. Chelsea away at Blackburn did give me some worries. In a way, it’s okay that I didn’t get to see this game. I heard that we didn’t play great football. When you play ordinary football in an away stadium and try to negotiate for the last half hour with a slender 1-0 lead, it’s gonna be a very nervy affair.
Either we don’t control like matches before or I’m growing older. Most probably, it’s both. The ‘heart-in-mouth’ feeling once a while is okay. You end up winning some of those and lose some of those. That’s the very beauty of football. But if every match is so thrilling (read ‘lacking in discipline and control’), one of these days I’m gonna get a heart attack.
As it always happens with Chelsea, I see a pattern emerging with Chelsea supporters’ stance on the Chelsea manager. Most Chelsea fans seem to love Andre Villas Boas. He seems to have their sympathy if not support. While many seem to not like how the Chelsea season has gone so far, the sympathy for the man is very prevalent. The reason is obvious. Andre wants to bring in change.
Jose Mourinho made this Chelsea team a champion. He changed the mindset of the players to make them believe they can win trophies and with back-to-back titles and other trophies he turned their dreams into reality. He brought in a step change in the Chelsea mindset. None of his successors brought in change – Grant, Scolari, Hiddink or Ancelotti – none of them. Yes they might have won trophies or they could have been improvements but none of them brought in a step change.
Andre Villas Boas is the agent of change. I don’t think he would be experimenting this if he didn’t have the support of Roman. Andre is talking about a new identity in Chelsea’s style of play – an identity that would not be compromised no matter what the circumstances are. This is something that’s never been tried here at Chelsea. If we thought this transformation would happen quite smoothly with the current players and the pshyche of the club, the supporters and the media, we are wrong.
It’s quite clear that we are not doing great. With Man City going gung-ho, our odds to win the title are heavily cut. Ask any Chelsea fan if Chelsea would win the title this season – most would say ‘no way’. The argument of this set of players not being able to adopt to the new philosophy is not so much in favour of Boas. Because it was Boas who waited for weeks to effect the transfers and finally bought Mata, Meireles, Romeu and Lukaku. And, he even said that his squad was complete and are ready for the premier league season. It was Ancelottiesque.
Luckily for Boas, Man City have exceeded everyone’s (even their own) expectations in the first 11 matches. The way the Manchester teams have gone about their title challenge has helped Boas not to get too much media attention or even untoward fan reactions. We have all kind of accepted the fact that Man City has the best squad and are in the best run of form that trailing to them is not such a bad thing after all.
What’s hidden is that we have managed only 22 points in 11 matches. That’s 2 points per game. And that’s 76 points in average. And that’s no longer a title winning tally in premier league. Actually, in most cases that’s a tally of the third/fourth team in the table. We’ve lost three game and drawn one. And we have conceded 1.36 goals per game. If this average continues, we would have shipped 52 goals at the end of the league. That’s only 6 less than what the relegated Birmingham conceded last season.
There’s work to be done, especially in defence. There’s an impression that if we improve defensively, we would be fine. I think that’s not true. In attack, we are lot more fluent than we’ve ever been. Boas’ philosophy of ‘freeing’ his players is certainly paying dividends. Sometimes the fluent teams do get a little complacent and lack the killer instinct to finish off games. That’s what happening to us too in attacks. We are great to watch but our attack-to-creation-to-conversion ratio has been poor.
In defence, we are leaking goals like nobody’s business. Our set-piece defending is horrendous and I sometimes just close my eyes and hope that I don’t hear the commentator screaming. That’s how we defend set pieces now. Our high-line defence and pressing high up has been much talked about. When it works, it works like magic. When it doesn’t it looks silly. Surely we need more time to get accustomed with such set ups but until then it’s gonna be tough.
Also, forever the high-line defence will be our weakness and teams will always try to exploit that. In the Roman era, we’re known for our strength, depth and maturity in defence and how we are probably the hardest team to beat in the last decade. Not anymore. You will see teams picking fast players when they play Chelsea and beat the offside the trap. The problem with this is, all your hard work in attack and defence can be undone by momentary lack of concentration as every mistake will turn out to be very costly. If this is the approach we want to take in defence, very well but we surely need faster and younger defenders. Probably, that’s what’s there in Boas’ mind too.
Despite all these things, I must say that I have my complete trust and belief in Andre Villas Boas. I’d love to see him as the Chelsea manager for a long long time. I’m completely behind Boas but that’s not going to stop me from worrying when we gather 22 points and concede 15 goals in 11 games. But I also understand that a new footballing philosophy comes with a cost. And as a Chelsea fan, I’m prepared to take that cost (in my case, extreme emotional stress!). I don’t know if the club administration or the owner or the fellow fans and supporters are willing to take the cost and how long will they continue to. Personally, I’m ready to wait for Andre Villas Boas to do his magic. I’m ready to take the cost of the new philosophy. Are you?