There are bad days. And there are days when you get knocked off the park like you never have been. Every team and manager get these freak performances and freak results every now and then. That’s what is famously wrapped up in a phrase in the continent ‘that’s football’ and in the British Isles ‘football, bloody hell’. Football keeps throwing shocks and surprises at you. sometimes It’s beyond reason and beyond rational explanation. Friday night was a great example.
You know atletico madrid are a good team. And you know chelsea are sitting on top of the premier league with 9 points from 3 games. The odds were in favour of this new Chelsea set up to come out winners. But a win for Atletico Madrid would by no means be termed as an ‘upset’. The history says that only in 6 instances out 15 occasions have the champions league winning team won the UEFA Super Cup. And that history also includes a 3-0 thrashing of Barcelona (had Ronaldinho, Eto, Deco, Messi etc) by Sevilla in 2006. You can sum it up to conclude that it’s got to do with the desire and hunger of the teams involved. The europa cup winner would naturally be more charged up to beat the champions league winner and the champions league winner could look at their opponent as the winner of an inferior competition after all.
But chelsea wanted to win this game. Make no mistake. Chelsea absolutely wanted to win this. There were no half measures in our preparations or the team selection. RDM named a very strong starting eleven for this game. Hazard, Mata & Ramires behind Torres. Mikel & Lampard protecting the back four of Cahill, Luiz, Ivanovic & Cole. On paper, this is a very strong team. On the pitch, we’ve had other observations.
I’m no fan of two things in the current Chelsea set up – (1) Ramires playing as the wide attacking player (2) Mikel-Lampard combination in the midfield. On the earlier, I had already written a post here in this blog on how the new 4-2-3-1 system alienates Ramires as we collected specialists for his positions this summer. On the latter, I’ve been fairly vocal on twitter to say Lampard and Mikel are not the right midfield combination and this fails us both in defence and in attack. Unfortunately, I saw both these present in the starting line-up.
In the initial few minutes of the game, you knew that Atletico Madrid are playing like they cannot go home alive if they lose this game. And Chelsea on the other hand were strolling around the park either with supreme overconfidence or poor fitness or total lack of desire. We are not new to these typical lethargic starts by Chelsea. We do concede a goal and then wake up to start battering them. But on Friday, only the first part happened. We conceded a goal. And then we continued to play like nothing happened. And then we conceded again. We continued playing very ordinary football. And then we conceded again. Game over by half time if Atletico Madrid could get the basics right in second half.
There was no zip in our attacks. Atletico had marked us and closed us down very well. We took too much time to move the ball. Our players didn’t move simultaneously. They would move only after they got the ball which was way too predictable for the atletico defence. Our attacks weren’t instinctive and joined up like that of Atletico. None of our attacks really troubled atletico and that’s the truth.
Meanwhile every time Atletico got the ball there was a conclusive attack – resulting in a save or shot on goal or a corner or even hitting the woodwork. their attacks were decisive. That was also because chelsea took the initiative and Atletico were looking for counterattacking opportunities. Because of this, Chelsea never enjoyed the space that Atletico had.
Later on, Mikel had confirmed that we are consciously changing our defence approach and methods. He mentioned that chelsea don’t look to defend in a compact manner or in numbers. This means the rest of the team would already take up attacking positions and expect the defence and the midfield to protect our goal all by themselves. This also means the defence and midfield should get used to defending all by themselves. Until then, we could have ‘some’ problems.
The only player in my view that came out with some credit from the Chelsea side was John Obi Mikel. Only he played like he wanted to win this game. He did a great job in holding the ball for defence as well as for attack. Lampard as his partner is just not working. The key defensive midfielder there is Mikel. And whoever plays alongside him should support and complement him. Lampard went for the same tackles that mikel went for. Lampard went to close down while Mikel was also on the case. This works when you had three midfielders. Now there’s only two. the way Lampard operated with Mikel meant a lot of space for atletico to exploit right through the middle. That’s why many a times we saw Atletico quite easily outnumbering us in their counterattacks. In summary, in Lampard and in Ramires, we have two midfielders who would perfectly fit into a 4-3-3 formation and neither of them are could do justice to their new roles in the 4-2-3-1.
Also when you want to take the initiative, you will naturally hold more possession than the opponent and your all your players will be in fairly advanced attacking positions. In such circumstances, to lose the ball cheaply is disastrous and it happened quite a few times and Atletico took full advantage of these errors. there was a consolation goal from Gary Cahill. It meant nothing but ‘hey we too scored a goal’.
As the game went on most Chelsea fans knew that this was going to be a terrible night and they weren’t wrong. When the game ended at 4-1, there was hardly anything for us to complain about. Atletico won it fair and square. They played quick and smart football while we were lazy and lethargic.
While this was a terrible performance, I’d not read too much into this. Quite clearly chelsea didn’t turn up. It wasn’t the case of chelsea playing at their level and still got beat 4-1 by Atletico. This is way below what Chelsea could offer without even going top gear. This is a team that gelling together very well and is leading the premier league table with full points after 3 games. The potential of the team is much higher than what was on display on Friday night. It was a freak performance and I honestly do not think there is a concern from this game. Stuff i mentioned about Ramires and Lampard were things that existed before this game. So honestly this game did not make me any more concerned on anything in particular.
For this young bunch of Chelsea players such a humbling experience does help. We should realise that we can’t take any games lightly and every opponent is gonna give that extra bit knowing that a win would mean a win over the european champions. This performance and result were a great wake up call for us.
Some of our players have even apologised on twitter to the Chelsea fans. That means they have been really hurt by this performance and that they are determined to prevent such things in future. After such games, you’d normally want the next game like tomorrow so you can get it out of your system. But in this case I think we need to take some time back to reflect on the midfield dilemma, Ramires’ role and the defensive solidity. the international break of two weeks comes at the right time. we’re still on top of the league so there’s no pressure there.
Falcao was a big talking point in this game. He was in red hot form this week with his hattrick against Athletic Bilbao and this game against Chelsea must have been one of his best nights in his career. He was super-sharp and super-confident. He deserves all the praise he gets. By the way, I also found people comparing Torres and Falcao after this game which in my opinion is as wrong as comparisons go. Firstly, Falcao is in the best form his career. Torres is making some sort of a ‘career recovery’. If you compare them today, then you should have also compared the Torres and Falcao of 2006-2008. Also, Torres once again hardly got any service. In comparison, Atletico were feeding Falcoa all night that too exactly the way Torres might have wanted. Meanwhile there are rumours that Falcao has signed a contract with Chelsea to join us in January. There could be no truth in it. So don’t start celebrating yet.
So there it is. We missed out on the uefa super cup trophy. Personally, I don’t really rate the UEFA Super Cup or the club world cup so much. For me, they are like the community shield trophy. It’s a trophy but not really most coveted one. For me, it’s premier league, champions league, domestic cups & other cups – in that order. You can call this sour grapes. But this is indeed my pecking order. This doesn’t mean I didn’t care about the game on Friday. Of course I wanted us to win. And of course I was terribly disappointed. But the fact is, UEFA super cup or club world cup don’t excite me so much as the proper compeititions do. But there’s no denying that this would have been a good addition to our ever-growing collection of trophies.
In a way, there’s nothing not to cheer about Chelsea now. We’ve got a very young squad with really new exciting players. We’ve taken full points in our three games. We still haven’t seen much of Marin, Oscar, Moses & Azpilicueta. Our squad will have to settle down and gel together well personally & professionally. RDM has impressed me with what he has done so far with the signings, squad and the style and substance of our performances & results. I’m actually so excited about chelsea this season that this super cup result has not managed to dent that even one bit. We haven’t seen anything yet! Future’s bright! Future’s blue! KTBFFH!