Do you remember the unbeaten home league record we held for a long time? I always had a lot of respect for that record but only this season I kinda realise what a magnificent achievement that was. Imagine going unbeaten in the home league games for several seasons! Incredible! There was a time when it was bloody hard to score a goal at Stamford Bridge, leave alone winning a game here. Probably, as soon as TSO left Chelsea, the aura around Stamford Bridge had gone too.
Having been beaten by Arsenal and Liverpool at ‘fortress’ Stamford Bridge and still having to wait for the Manchester teams to visit the Bridge, the season doesn’t look too good. 12 points off the leaders after 12 games. Given the relative form of the London and Manchester teams, I see this gap increasing to at least 15 points by the end of the year. So I must formally state that I don’t think we’re going to win the title this season. You could say that I’m too late to realise this but I generally dot lose hope so soon. I believe in miracles. But then, if Man City were playing like Man Utd of the last few seasons, I’d have retained hope. But City seem to be steamrolling everyone. So far, they have shown no signs of slowing down and they are only growing from strength to strength.
City’s resolve will be tested in the first three months of 2012. I’m keen to see if City can sustain their superiority despite their involvement in champions league. But then, even City were to slip, I see Man Utd taking advantage of that with their typical late season surge. Would we still be in the race by March? Too many things now need to happen in our favour. Honestly, I’d be quite fine with a champions league spot this season. We need to admit that Man City’s squad is the best in England and they have a good manager. If this Chelsea squad with a new manager/philosophy is going to beat Man City for the title, it must be quite special and we don’t look like doing anything special now.
Ah! We need talk about the match right? Hmm. I thought the playing eleven was a good selection. I was okay with not starting the ex-Liverpool boys. Against us, Pepe Reina has always been error-prone with free kicks. So I was okay with Drogba starting. Malouda starting meant Mata should be on the right. I was a bit concerned about how Mata and Drogba can work together though.
Chelsea’s performance in the first half was forgettable. We hardly created any real opportunities while Liverpool were quite dangerous when they had the ball in our half. They played Bellamy, Suarez and Kuyt which meant they have a forward line that works very hard, chases every ball and constantly puts pressure on the back line. With AVB’s Chelsea playing such a high defensive line, it’s only a matter of time before they nick one. Bellamy is too pacy, Suarez is a fox and Kuyt puts in a double shift every single match. Against them, we had a now-suspect defensive line playing high up on the pitch and has failed to manage even a single clean sheet at home this season. In the away games though, we kept two cleansheets and we won neither of those games.
Later in the first half, Liverpool did finally take the lead from a very smart piece of passing and movement. It all started with Mikel fumbling a ball from Petr Cech, right in front of the D. Mikel’s role has long been in doubt especially since AVB came in. In the last few seasons, Mikel (or his role) was pretty crucial as the wing backs will go attacking and Mikel pretty took the position of the centre back. When the opposition had the ball, Mikel was operating in front of the defensive line to intercept attacks. Now, with the defence playing up so high, he’s further pushed up on the pitch and he doesn’t have the ball skills to hold the ball in tight spaces. Under AVB, Mikel has too little space to manouvre and he’s not finding it comfortable at all. Mikel uses his body than his feet to keep the ball. What we probably need is a holding midfielder with ball skills like Oriol or Josh McEachran (there I go!).
On this first goal though, I still do not figure why Petr Cech would pass to Mikel while the Liverpool forwards are still in the zone. Mikel is not a Pirlo who can collect the ball, keep it under pressure and quickly launch an attack with a dream pass. Under AVB, we don’t see Petr Cech taking long goal kicks. Any manager watching Chelsea would know that there’s a chance if the ball receiver’s are hassled. Liverpool did just that all first half and were finally rewarded.
About 10 minutes into the game I actually realised that Drogba’s presence was becoming counter-productive. One is, we started launching longballs for Drogba (without skill that’s just hoofing up, isn’t it?) and Drogba’s movement did not complement our cheif playmaker, Juan Mata. You can say all that you want about Fernando Torres but when he’s in the team with Mata, you see Chelsea playing some nice football and creating opportunities. When Torres joined us in Jan this year, he did not fit into our style of football and now, it is Drogba who doesn’t fit anymore. This is not a knee-jerk comment after a home defeat. This has been the case for some time.
At halftime, I expected to see Torres for ineffective Drogba. AVB chose to keep Drogba until about 5 minutes to full time. I thought that was surely a mistake. Later AVB brought in Sturridge for Mikel which was a good substitution but that still meant Malouda would be on the left and Mata would be on the right. When Mata and Sturridge play as the wide men you can see them interchange positions a lot. When Malouda plays as the winger, he does restrict the overall movement and fluidity of our play. All said, it was Malouda who assisted for the equaliser which I do think was a mis-hit shot. With Sturridge always being alert in those areas, we equalised. For about 10-15 minutes, the momentum was with Chelsea. We should have taken a lead if not for Reina’s save. When we passed that phase of play not capitalising on the momentum, I knew the game’s not safe.
As I tweeted, while I was expecting the ex-Liverpool players to score the winner, it was the ex-Chelsea man who found the net. A fantastic goal. He was virtually unchallenged as he danced into the penalty area to slot home the winner. It was the 87th minute. All it needed was one dodgy tackle or a strong body check. The goal actually reminded me of the goal that Messi scored against Real Madrid in the first leg of the champions league semi final last season. I’ll tell you why. In that game, Madrid already had a player sent off and several of their players on yellow and they didn’t want to risk missing few more players for the second leg. They simply ‘allowed’ Messi expecting him make a mistake. Messi being Messi, he scored. It was hailed as a great goal. I didn’t buy that then too. If Madrid had all eleven players on the pitch and weren’t scared of the barca-friendly refs, he could have been stopped. All through the game Messi was kept silent and was practically invisible.
Chelsea have been picking up a lot of red cards of late. Remember, the current slump in form began against QPR when we had two players sent off. Ever since that QPR game, I could see a lighter approach in Chelsea’s tackling. Probably, we took a gamble. May be we thought Johnson might get too excited after that solo run and could sky it. Johnson is a good finisher for a right back and he took it very well. I wouldn’t put my money on the current Chelsea team to make miraculous come backs. As soon as Johnson scored, I knew it was over.
We’re not doing all that well from a league standing point of view. There’s a mad fight out there for the third and fourth places and we are right in the mix with Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Newcastle for those two spots. Interestingly, our form now is like that of Liverpool and Arsenal of recent seasons. We don’t no longer know which are our winnable matches. We get beaten home and away. We are involved in ‘exciting’ matches. We look vulnerable. AVB knew he’s on the hot seat when he took the Chelsea job but now he will feel it himself. But you’ve to give it to the man. He was not apologetic. He was not mincing words. He was very confident and clear.
The situation in the league is not good for us. It is not impossible to turn it around but it is not the brightest of starts in the Premier League for Chelsea in the last 10 years.
The owner didn’t pay €15 million to get me out of Porto just to pay me another fortune to get me out. It’s not a question of the owner having patience. We are committed to what we are creating for the future. We have enough talent to compete in all competitions and that is our perspective at the moment. The situation in the League is not good, it’s not the brightest start for Chelsea but we believe we can still turn it around. It doesn’t look good being 12 points behind such a strong leader as Manchester City but the December fixtures give us hope.
The perspective is we have to win every game if we want to make this a title challenge. There is no running away from responsibilities, there is no calling this a year of transition. Our responsibility is to win the most amount of trophies and at the moment we are in all of them and that is what we have to believe and focus on.
I’ve written a lot in the earlier blog on AVB’s new philosophy and the focus being on the future than on the present. I’m very much behind AVB. I think he’s made mistakes and we’ve paid for those. But there’s something about AVB that makes me think he’s set this right. Of course that doesn’t mean winning the league this season. He has very clear ideas and thoughts. He has got the conviction and confidence. He’s got the support of the owners, management and supporters. He hasn’t got the results. His team doesn’t replicate half the passion that he displays from the dugout. Despite all these, he’s firm with what he wants to do. He’s more focused on creating the future and there’s some collateral damage. I’m more patient with a man who fails now but holds promise for a better tomorrow than a man who succeeds short term and has no plans for the long term.
Am I disappointed? Yes. Do I think AVB has done well so far? No. Does the buck stop with him? Yes. Do I think he is the man for us? Yes.