Didn’t this game have 1-1 written all over? I mean even before the game kicked off, there was a 1-1 looming all over West London. We are not a great December team. All season we fight to offset a bad December. We get some winnable matches and mostly home games but still struggle to take full points. Playing Fulham at home on Boxing Day, it had to be a 1-1. I even remember telling my mates the day before that this is gonna be a 1-1.
Either it’s our famous lack of urgency or poor balance in the team or bad finishing or just simply this being the month of December. Have we ever had a good December since our title winning seasons under Mourinho? We have always dropped silly points this month to make things difficult for ourselves. Why did I think that this could be a 1-1?
Lack of Urgency: This is big. I mean, this is BIG. This is also slowly becoming a bad habit. Football is a 90-minute game. For Chelsea, it’s a 30-min game that starts at the 60th minute. It’s just no good enough. You can’t go through your motions for an hour and throw everything in the last half hour and expect to come away with three points, at least not everytime. Fulham enjoyed too much possession, too much freedom and too less pressure – all thanks to Chelsea. Last week, this very Fulham team were demolished 5-0 at Craven Cottage. And here we are, at the Stmaford Bridge, treating them like they’ve just won the champions leauge.
If anything, this was the type of game where Chelsea could have played like they did in August and September. This was the game were we should have played a high line, pressured them into mistakes and choked them to a big defeat. We could have shown all the swagger and style along the way. That was always AVB’s plan A, wasn’t it? For this game though, we chose to revert to plan B – deeper defence, low pressure, allowing possession and wait for opportunities. Very wrong. This was the game where we should have gone and created our own opportunties from the word go. This was the game to remind the league how ruthless we are and how versatile our playing style can be. We chose the plan B and boy, didn’t Fulham take advantage of it?
Poor balance: When the team sheet was announced, I was quite pleased. I was happy that Torres was starting. I was also happy that Romeu is picked ahead of Mikel. It was a very good starting line-up. I was wrong. Lampard’s unfortunate ineffectiveness in the middle kind of ruined the whole balance. With Romeu being a holding midfielder, you don’t expect him to provide the killer balls through the middle. Meireles was not known for it either. And that’s where we want Lampard to come alive. See, Lampard’s role has changed over the seasons. He’s no longer expected to be the goal scoring midfielder that arrives late in the box. He’s now expected to run the midfield and create opportunities – to be a playmaker. Some might argue that he’d never be one. But then, that also shows how much more of him we can see here at Chelsea.
When Malouda came in for Lampard, it changed the game for better. The problem then was you had Malouda left flank and Sturridge on the right flank, Torres and Mata in the middle – all of them expecting distribution from Romeu and Meireles from the centre. They can’t do that while Ashley Cole and David Luiz are on attacking duty. But I must admit, the Malouda substitution was a good one indeed. He brought in a much needed steel and pace – things that this Chelsea team needs very badly. It’s just that we started suddenly throwing everything at Fulham instead of trying to break them down with smart moves. The smart moves are not going to be possible without the right balance in the team.
Couple of special mentions. I did miss Ramires. We needed his pace and doggedness. His absence was really felt. When you replace a pacy Ramires with a slow Lampard, it’s going to show up in the pace of our attacks and it bloody did. Torres had a good game despite again not having great service. He did brilliantly well to create a great chance but couldn’t score. But his assist under pressure was smart work. Also I thought David Luiz had a great game. I don’t think his style has changed one bit. He’s just become more focussed and a bit lucky probably. His defending was a treat to watch. His anticipation was top notch and I love when a Chelsea player dismisses his opponent with his physical play.
Our crosses aren’t great. We do score from crosses but we are scoring only half of how many we should be. With the quality of crosses, more often than not I hope that we work the ball through the middle and then ask myself ‘who’s gonna do that?’. Can Mata be that attacking midfielder in the middle who can give that much needed balance for the team. Think of this midfield – Romeu, Ramires and Mata. You’ll have Mata right behind Torres and also in front of the D for some decent long shots at the goal. So who’ll be on the left wing? Don’t know. That’s why we have the January transfer window. We can nick an orthodox left winger.
I was hoping for two wins out of two this week. Not to be. AVB has felt the heat already. You heard him say that Chelsea are out of the title race after this draw. He didn’t say what’s the revised target for the season. I’m sure we’d all take a top four finish quite happily. Come tomorrow we could drop out of the top four. For the first time in I don’t know how many seasons, we could finish outside of top four at the end of a calendar year. Not a great situation to be in. Very reminiscent of our ‘bad moment’ same time last year. Luckily for AVB, the press has been very kind to him. For the kind of form Chelsea are in, you would expect the press to start the rumour mongering about how dressing room troubles, the mutiny by senior players, the options for new managers, Roman’s secret meeting and what not. None of that is on the papers. Probably, if Man City weren’t this good this season, we’d have got some bad press. There’s two sides every damn thing.
One thing I’ll give AVB is that, he’s been trying a number of things – not everything has got him the success he wanted. But he’s not a ‘let me try the same thing and see if something different happens’ kind of manager. He’s prepared to make changes, he’s prepared to shake things a bit and he’s ready to gamble. I’m sure this Chelsea job has been a great experience for him. It’s here AVB will mature into a top league manager. Like I’ve always said, he’s made some really great decisions already. To name a few: (a) Buying Mata (b) Buying Romeu (c) Buying Meireles (d) Using Sturridge as a regular starter (e) Dropping Lampard to the bench (f) Dropping Malouda to the bench (g) Transfer listing Anelka. There are a few decisions that I did not personally like – (a) Not buying orthodox wingers (b) Not using Torres well enough (c) Not using Josh McE at all (d) Not developing alternatives for Ashley Cole and John Terry (e) Tactical disagreements – aggressive where he should conservative and vice versa. But he’s trying.
We have another game to get through this year. Home game against Aston Villa. Looks like a 0-0 written all over it. Please Chelsea, prove me wrong. Not with a 4-4 or something, with something like a 3-0. And then, we will see how the January transfer window can rejuvenate Chelsea. Hope we end the year on a high. KTBFFH!