With both Manchester clubs pretty much nailed on for three more points each at the weekend, anything but a victory against West Ham tomorrow could leave us in a very sorry situation. Most of us predicted and would’ve been happy with a 3rd place finish this year; to have made the best start to a Premier League season in history however and then be all but out of the running six weeks later… that’s just depressing.
There were more boos from the home fans against Fulham on Wednesday night. This time at least a fair percentage of the booing was provoked by the football Chelsea were playing, rather than just what a horrible, stupid, rubbish manager we seem to think our interim is. The result was a poor one, and as Benitez admitted after the game, we weren’t good enough/fluent enough in attack and we need to create more chances.
The Spaniard’s first two games haven’t elicited much excitement or optimism regarding the short term future. As always though you can rely on BlueChampions to remain staunchly positivist – if there’s an upside to a situation with Chelsea, you’ll read it here. The changes Rafa is making to our system/set up obviously haven’t come together yet, as you could’ve hardly expected they would have. The strategy he’s trying to put in place however and its key features I think are already very clear. Firstly he’s getting the team to play collectively much higher up the pitch, press harder and win the ball back quicker. You can see he’s also getting Cech to play the ball from the back and to start our build up play with the defenders. It’s a tactic that’s never really worked for us in the past but it’s something that all the top teams should be competent enough in doing – I think we’re right to be persevering.
Finally the main difference you can see between Benitez’ system and di Matteo’s is the disparity in the compartmentalisation of player’s roles. In di Matteo’s 4-2-3-1 it was very much, the attackers attack and the defenders defend. Now it seems we’re trying to do everything as more of a collective, obviously at the moment we’re better at defending rather than attacking as a team.
There’s no doubt Rafa’s system is more demanding of each player and it’ll take time to come together – however the work ethic, the intelligence and the talent is evidently there in the squad to make it work. This is surely the best group of players Rafa has ever worked with. He clearly backs himself to a make a special team with them, and I agree some vocal backing from the supporters wouldn’t go amiss.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, on paper, our game with West Ham doesn’t exactly scream out ‘potential thriller’. Both teams are on a poor run, add in all the negativity surrounding Chelsea at the moment and the Hammers solidly direct way of playing around Andy Carroll – it’s hard to imagine many neutrals looking forward to it.
The main criticism of Chelsea in the final few weeks of di Matteo’s reign was how poorly we defended the flanks and left our full backs exposed. Most likely that wouldn’t have been a issue with West Ham anyway given all of their plays tend up build up through the middle of the park.
After two consecutive clean sheets it’s doubtful Rafa would’ve wanted to change the back line, but with Luiz’ suspension Gary Cahill will have to come in for the Brazilian to partner Ivanovic at centre back, meaning Azpilicueta will keep his place also. I assume Mikel will come back in for Romeu and that Mata will return as well. Marko Marin finally made his league debut on Wednesday and it’d be good to see him start the game on Saturday, leaving either Hazard or Oscar to play as the #10. It may be more likely Victor Moses will get rotated in however over the German. Torres remains the only option up front once more in Sturridge’s absence, the Spaniard has six goals in six games against West Ham in the PL however – they’re statistically his favourite opposition in English football.
West Ham will sit back and look to counter attack no doubt. The result almost certainly will be decided by how easily we can break them down and create chances. 1-0 seems a safe a prediction although if we score early we should hopefully win by a few more, with Sam Allardyce not being the sort of manager to sit back and prevent a potential thrashing.
Quick side note: Why on earth the English media have started referring to Mazacar as ‘The Three Amigos’ when only Mata is Spanish is beyond me. I don’t like it. It’s a very lazy moniker for three such exceptional players. I hope it doesn’t stick.
Finally, I don’t usually like to write about transfer rumours but links to two young Brazilian players have arisen recently and both seem to have something to them. 18 year old Fluminense right back, Wallace Oliveira dos Santos was one the players we bought part of the rights to in the deal to sell Deco to the Rio based club. Not that I’m ever against talented Brazilian teenagers joining Chelsea but if he does sign in January (which it looks like he will) it’s hard to imagine him being part of the first team for at least 18 months. The acquiring of Azpilicueta this summer makes this deal seem somewhat irrelevant to be brutally honest. The other name being mentioned is 24 year old Metalist Kharkiv striker Taison Barcellos Fredo (a former teammate of Oscar at Internacional). The story that broke our interest in the player was published in Globo Esporte – normally a very reliable paper in Brazil. Some sources even reported the player was in the stands for the game on Wednesday night. I really don’t know how much truth there is to this but I’d suggest it’s more than just a rumour. I can’t comment on how good he is but regardless he’d add needed depth to our measly strike force. I doubt the signing of £10m forward from the Ukraine however would do much to quieten the constant links to Andre Schurrle and Falcao.