I’m one of the big believers that football imitates life. There’s so much in common, it can be a great metaphor for life. In life, there are some things that are explainable and unexplainable. Sometimes, even the explainable things can be unavoidable. Our defeat at the Britannia stadium was a combination of explainables and unexplainables but in our case the defeat was totally avoidable. Ahead of the game, I made a prediction that Chelsea would win 2-0. I probably missed out on the growing trend that this Chelsea team hates cleansheets and ships out cheap goals like a mid-table team. Someone tweeted that the last 8 shots on target against Chelsea have resulted in 8 goal conceded.
As you’ve figured out, my biggest problem with yesterday’s game was not attack. In a tricky away game, if you get two goals that should be sufficient for you to win the game or at least draw the game. That hasn’t been the case with Chelsea of late. In the away games, we’ve made this habit of being either lucky or unlucky with our results and never being convincing at all. So much is made of Man City’s away form. Aston Villa, Newcastle and Everton have had better away results than Chelsea this season. Let’s have a look at all our away games so far in this league this season.
Man Utd: Drew. Unconvincing. Man Utd were there for the taking. We should have smashed them instead we gave too much respect and drew the game. Everton: Lost. Everton full value for their win. No complaints. Tottenham: Drew. We were living dangerously in first half but picked up pace in second half. Unfortunate red card closed out the game. Norwich City: Won. Late equaliser from Norwich could have drawn the game. Had to score a winner from a counterattack as Norwich were smelling a win. Despite what the scoreline says, this was a very nervy win. Newcastle: Lost. Beaten convincingly by Newcastle 2-0. After Everton and Man Utd, this was the third away game, we couldn’t even score a goal. West Ham: Won. The only convincing away win of this league so far. Sunderland: Won. Could have easily drawn this game. Nervy moments all through the game which finally ended 4-3 in our favour with our winning moment coming from an own goal. Stoke City: Lost. Well, the less spoken about this game the better.
What’s going wrong with our defence in the away games? Even Southampton and West Ham have conceded less goals away than Chelsea. A makeshift attack might get your draws instead of wins. Makeshift defence turns your draws into defeats. This season, we have done a lot of rotation and experimentation with our forwards and midfield and of course it’s had an impact on our results. The rotation and experimentation with our defence and the form of Petr Cech is what’s turned some draws and even wins into defeats.
Azpilicueta, as brilliant as he is, is not a left back. He belongs on the right back position and you can get the best out of this excellent defender on the right side. Ivanovic is neither a right back nor a centre back. He’s not technically sound. He’s got a lot of heart and experience but gets found out too often. Cahill is suspect. Ashley Cole hasn’t been at his best. Bertrand doesn’t even get a look in. Petr Cech has made as many blunders this season as he had probably made in the last couple of seasons put together. John Terry is the only consistent performer playing in his natural position this season in defence. So the personnel solution is a combination of medium and long term one.
What could be the quick fix? What could be quick solution? I don’t have the analytics to confirm my following assertion but let me state it anyway. Look at the positive and negatives of the so-called width provided by our full backs while we are on the ball. Most of our goals conceded could have been averted if our full backs were more defensive minded. Or is it worth having them push up and provide that width? In order to answer this question we need to see what’s the real effectiveness of the full backs in our attacks. If memory serves right, it’s not much. So as a quick fix, if our full backs were to contain themselves to stay within our halves and leave the width problem with the attacking trio the defensive issues could be sorted to an extent but then it would create a problem of the opponent’s defenders outnumbering our attackers. And that’s where our creative players should come into play. That’s the right stage for the Matas, Oscars and Willians.
The other real concern is that we seem to repeat our mistakes game after game. This is where the buck stops with Jose Mourinho. He simply can’t have Chelsea ship out cheap goals game after game and say that we have not scored enough goals. For a fact, we have scored more goals this season than the league leaders Arsenal. What separates Chelsea and Arsenal is not the goals scored. It’s goals conceded. There’s also a theme emerging in the goals conceded by us. Set pieces, goal mouth scrambles and counterattacks. It’s not very often a team constructs an attacking manouvre and unlocks our defence. So much so that we conceded three goals from corners in just one game against Sunderland. This is sure to raise the confidence of our opponents and not give up hope against Chelsea.
I had written earlier in this blog my short review on our defensive players. That was my vote of confidence of sorts that we can win the title with this defence. My biggest hope was Jose Mourinho and how he drills his defence and that we would concede less than 30 goals in the whole season (we have already conceded 17 goals in 15 games).
Luckily for us, Arsenal have only managed to get a draw against Everton. Our loss now does not look as damning a result as it looked yesterday. We have 12 more points to play for this month. Crystal Palace (home), Arsenal (away), Swansea (home) and Liverpool (home). Anywhere between 9 to 12 points from these four games would be the best I would ask for. With the defeat against Stoke, our chances of finishing on top of the league are very slim now. The good thing is, three out of these 4 games are at Stamford Bridge. The run of home games may not come at a better time.
In many ways these four games would determine where Chelsea stand with respect to the title race. There would still be 19 more games to play for but whether we lead the table or stay close to the leader or fall too behind the leader will be clear. And that would have a big psychological impact ahead of the champions league fixtures and other domestic cup fixtures. Quite clearly, there’s no magic potion for the problems we are going through. Winter transfer window also comes at a nice time for us while we are asking questions about certain positions and players. I still believe we have a very good squad worthy of winning the premier league title, if we could get a couple of key reinforcements in January.
This weekend was a great opportunity lost. It was a bad defeat but was not a horrible weekend thanks to the results of Arsenal, Man Utd and Man City. There’s some consolation. If I know Jose Mourinho’s personality, he must be so angry at the team, at the players, at himself and at what we had allowed to happen. Something should change and it should change fairly quickly. Enough of this walking on thin ice every time we play away. We need a run of clean sheets. Hoping it would start from the next game.