After the consecutive victories against Manchester City and Arsenal, we found ourselves facing a run of six Premier League fixtures which presented a fantastic opportunity to rack up at least 14 or so points and consolidate our position as favourites, ahead of some of the big matches near Christmas. Needless to say, the run has gotten off to pretty pathetic start with a couple of dire performances, which resulted in a defeat to Newcastle Utd and a home draw to Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion. The West Midlands side played well and defended impressively and have given all the big sides tough matches so far; but our conspicuous lack of creative ambition and painfully slow manoeuvring (in the first half in particular) was really hard to watch; especially when the opposition is (although talented and well trained) hardly world-class.
If this string of poor results continues, it will be the fourth year in a row where are chances of winning the Premier League have all but disintegrated before the new year. On each of these past occasions however, collectively the Chelsea fan base has always had a pretty good excuse/subject on which to project their frustration and allocate blame. Last year it was the profound unpopularity and contempt for the new interim-manager, the year before it was the inexperience and naivety of Andre Villas-Boas and the year before that it was our total dearth of creative attacking talent. The prospect of a “winter slump” doesn’t hurt any less this time around but at least we’ll be forced to think a little bit harder and more deeply about the reasons for our struggles. With a manager who’s loved by the huge majority, who has won seven league titles in his last 11 seasons and with more creative attacking talent than you can shake a stick at – our excuses for not winning matches this time around are not quite so obvious.
So what are the problems? Currently I can think of 4.
1. The excessive use of Lampard – A few weeks ago Frank was playing well and starting to look better in this deeper position. Since the Man City game however, he has not played well yet continues to be selected over the fitter and more suitable Mikel. These poor performances are starting to follow a pattern whereby we manage to maintain possession really high up for long periods and do nothing with it before getting caught on the break. The value of Lampard in this type of situation is a mystery to me. With no space to make late runs or key passes, then he’s just doing the job Mikel has fined tuned his skill set to perform since he was 18 – and a result can do much better. The difference Mikel’s presence made to Ramires’ game against Schalke was also telling
2. The form of Oscar – The value of having Oscar in that #10 position will never change, given all that he offers. But in periods like this where he seems less fit and in form that we’ve grown to expect, his grafting style off of the ball shouldn’t be allowed to compensate for the lack of creative contribution we’ve witnessed this past fortnight. Mata should be given more oppurtunities after the international break.
3. The form of David Luiz – Many laud the defensive partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill for being reliable and responsible etc but although the pair do work well together and are top class defenders in their own right, neither offer the solidity that Luiz can when he’s in top form, heading and clearing away everything, he can impose himself on the opposition forwards and on the game itself like no other centre half in the division. He needs to regain the form of Benitez’ final few months pronto.
4. Finally the use of Branislav Ivanovic – Despite having performed the role extremely well and consistently in the past, based on the evidence of this season, I think it’s safe to say Iva is no longer a good right back, or not a good offensive one anyway. The amount of time he has on the ball (which of course he’s allowed) to the amount he creates/offers in support of the forwards is terrible. Last year Benitez settled on a favoured back four of Azpilicueta-Ivanovic-David Luiz-Cole fairly quickly and he was right to do so – it is patently the toughest and most attackingly effective combination of defenders we can field and for me personally, it’s a shame Mourinho doesn’t agree. But then again – I haven’t won seven league titles in 11 years.
Some Final Thoughts:
Firstly, was it a penalty? No.
If it was the other way around I’d feel so disappointed for such a great performance to be tainted by the awarding of such a soft foul. Having said that, the outrage and accusations of diving that followed were not fair in my opinion. The narrow-mindedness of some people to disregard the possibility of any middle ground between illegal interference and considered simulation, I find to be truly baffling. For me at least, the idea of a man the size of Ramires, who can’t weigh more than 160 pounds, running at that speed with his weight forwards and cutting across Steven Reid (who must be at least 30 pounds heavier) it doesn’t require all of my IQ points to appreciate the feasibility of Ramires falling over. Whether he was deliberately looking for the foul, only he knows, but this dichotomy we’ve constructed that allows for no grey area between fouls and dives isn’t going to make the problem any easier to solve.
It was funny to see the reaction to the incident on Twitter however as 80/90% of the abuse seemed to be directed at Mourinho for his post-match defence of the decisionm rather than at Ramires himself. I wonder how many times he has to do this before these idiots realise by attacking him and not the player they’re doing exactly what he wants. Suckers.
So I guess this international break comes at a welcome time, unlike last month we’re in a position where some time to re-group and refresh would be helpful. Mostly for Mourinho to give some thought to these and other issues that threaten to hamper our progress through the winter months. At the time of writing, Man City and Spurs have both lost their weekend matches whilst Arsenal are losing at Old Trafford. The top of the division is so ridiculously close, it gives us licence to do nothing but continue to focus on ourselves. With everyone dropping points so easily we don’t need to worry so much about falling behind at this stage. There’s a lot to happen yet before any sort of clear title picture can be formed.