I wasn’t expecting a Chelsea defeat last night, very rarely does that ever happen, but I wouldn’t have been completely surprised by one. 12,000 miles travelled over 10 days, with the team humiliated and downbeat over our CWC final loss (according to the papers) and on a freezing, wet and windy night in Yorkshire, if ever there was an occasion where players could be forgiven for not being ‘up for it’ then this was it. Fortunately however, quite evidently we were up for it, and a fairly standard dismantling of Leeds ensued.
After routinely bossing the opening 35 minutes, we went behind to a very well worked counter attacking goal. The pundits on Sky Sports for some reason blamed the goal on David Luiz after he lost possession in the Leeds half, and they did so with the implication that a 50+ yard counter attack must be no more difficult than a simple 2 yard tap in. I don’t think any one player was to blame but I’d look at our defensive organisation before Luiz’ passing, personally.
1-0 down at half time, the possibility of us becoming frustrated with tired, jet-lagged legs look very threatening if we couldn’t score quickly. But then luckily we did, as Juan Mata whipped in what looked honestly like a very saveable shot, just seconds after the restart. Goals from Ivanovic, Moses, Hazard and Torres then sealed a result that may have been slightly harsh on Leeds, but didn’t flatter our superiority at all.
I loved Ivanovic’s goal. I think it summed up our centre halves as a goal threat perfectly – just pure strength and athleticism to butt the ball into the net. With Iva, Cahill, Terry and Luiz we have without question the greatest goal scoring set of centre halves in England and I would imagine in the world. The four of them have contributed 14 goals already this season and I’d expect at least another 10.
Looking at some individual performances: Frank Lampard had a better game than he did against Corinthians but still looks conspicuously out of place in this deeper position. His shooting abilities have hardly diminished but there just isn’t a position within this system where they can be used to full effect. And you have to ask yourselves, what use on the field is a 34 year old Frank Lampard who won’t have regular opportunities to score from open play? Oscar also looked out of place and largely ineffectual in the double pivot. There’s no doubt he has the skill set to play that role; journalists like Thore Haugstad even strongly advocate the use of the Brazilian in that deeper position. It’s a difficult position to master in English football however, it’d take time but I’m sure he could do it. I still say he’s our best #10 – the development of other players in the team and signings made next year may ultimately determine where he’s used long term.
Marko Marin made his first start for Chelsea last night. It wasn’t an ideal stage or situation to form any significant initial impressions, but if it was, then hypothetically he wouldn’t have impressed. Not that he did anything wrong but of all six attacking players he was the quietest by a distance. When Hazard was subbed on he looked like a player worth five times as much.
The semi-final draw straight after the game, in my opinion, gave us the toughest possible draw with an opening home leg against Swansea City. If I had to pick a second team in the Premier League it’d be the Welsh side. I love the thought of such a small club being managed by an all-time great in Michael Laudrup and fronted by a player like Michu – who at 2million Euros was surely the signing of the summer. The ties should be good games and the winner of our semi-final should definitely be favourites to lift the trophy. Usually you’d prefer to have the home leg second but I think in this case to pick up a solid 2/3-0 win at the Bridge a kill the tie straight away would be the best possible scenario.
Aston Villa Preview:
This weekend we play the team that we may very well meet in the League Cup in February. Initially I didn’t think much of the the work Paul Lambert was doing at Aston Villa this season, but you can’t help but be impressed with his side recently. He’s made some brave calls so far leaving out established Premier League names such as Stephen Ireland, Darren Bent, Charles N’Zogbia, Shay Given and Marc Albrighton in favour of youth; recent results have certainly vindicated his decisions. Villa’s 3-1 win at Anfield last weekend was one of the stand out team performances of the season so far.
Teams: Villa are shaped around their centre forward Christian Benteke, who’s success this season has been a surprise to everyone who had followed his career in Belgium. 21 year old Andreas Weimann plays as a second striker, with Barry Bannan, Ashley Westwood and Brett Holman in midfield. Recently they’ve also been playing 3 centre halves and using Matt Lowton and Eric Lichaj as wing-backs. We have Ramires back from suspension who possibly will come in for Frank Lampard after he played 90 mins last night. Oscar will probably retain his place in the double pivot allowing Benitez to field what seems to be his favoured trio of Mata, Hazard and Moses behind Torres. Gary Cahill is also available but will probably only return to the bench.
Villa were excellent at Liverpool last week but they started slowly – they could’ve conceded three before they took the lead. Chelsea always seem to start halves quickly since Rafa took charge. If we score the first goal I think we should wrap up the points fairly easily.
Europa League Draw:
Finally the draw for the Europa league last 32 and 16 took place this afternoon. We will face Sparta Prague then either Ajax or Steaua Bucharest if we win. If this wasn’t the easiest possible draw then it’s certainly one of the them. Sparta finished their group in second place behind Lyon, finishing ahead of last season’s runners-up Athletic Bilbao. Although that’s more a reflection of how far the Spanish side have fallen since last May, having lost Javi Martinez and being close to losing Fernando Llorente.
Sparta didn’t win any of their away games in the group stages and if Chelsea can pick a draw or even a 1 goal loss in Prague, then qualification should be fairly straight forward.