Knocked out of the league cup by Sunderland. Many times, we find situations or matches that summarise the season for us. I think this defeat against Sunderland is probably the best prototype of this season could turn out to be. As harsh as it sounds, we should not have been too surprised by the result. While we are rightfully expected Chelsea to beat Sunderland in a league cup quarterfinal, what’s happened is not against the run of play (of recent form) for Chelsea.
I think Chelsea have had three big issues this season and we could observe all these three issues in yesterday’s game. Here, Jose Mourinho explains one of those issues. He’s tried subtlety, he’s tried being direct and I’m not sure what else he would do but he is surely and strongly conveying to the Chelsea board of what’s the problem and what he needs.
Jose Mourinho: “I don’t want to become more defensive, but maybe the way to rectify the problem is to have a different approach. If I want to win 1-0, then I can, because it is the easiest thing in football. In this moment every game we don’t kill we are in trouble and sometimes we lose matches that we shouldn’t. We have to score goals and kill opponents and not just be dominant in every game and not just be the best team in every game but win matches. You have to win matches and not be the best team. It keeps repeating itself, against Stoke, Everton, Newcastle and now against Sunderland. We score in the first minute of the second half, and if we score another, with all our chances, then it is goodbye. But we don’t and our opponents keep breathing.”
Warning: I’m going to be Captain Obvious but until things change, saying things as they are would see a Captain Obvious in all of us.
Taking our chances: Match after match, Chelsea keep wasting their chances. Whether they are half-chances, clear chances or chances on a plate, we deal them with consistency. Our strikers not scoring is a massive massive issue. Now we have numerous players that keep creating the chances that no one finishes unless the creators themselves take matters in their own hands. And they will but their conversion ratio is going to be much lesser and you can’t blame them for that. They are not strikers. The conversion ratio with regard to our midfield is about how they convert attacking plays into chances. And they have been good at that. It’s the strikers’ conversion of those chances into goals that will finally count and that’s where we fail.
Yesterday, Eto’o could have won the game for us. When he misses chance after chance, it only made Sunderland more confident. I’m sure they must gone ‘it’s probably our night’. If we had goal scoring strikers, games like these would be over by half time. We see managers being sacked when things are looking downhill. That’s just to cut the losses. Looks like we need to do the same with our strikers. Ship all three of them and get Lukaku back and get a couple of new, young and strong strikers. If you imagine this Chelsea team with an Aguero or a Suarez upfront, you know how far this team can go. Even a Dzeko or Negredo would be such an upgrade.
Controlling the game: When you’re closer to the final whistle, you do certain things and you don’t do certain things. This is basic intelligence in football dictated by the situations. You have many ways of legally running down the clock, keep the opposition off the ball, stop and block the attacks high on the pitch at any cost, harmless fouls to break the rhythm and regroup our forces so on and so forth. Basically, all those things Stoke City did against us for the last 10 minutes in their win.
This needs to happen from the midfield. The pivot and the attacking trio need to control the game and should understand the purpose behind controlling – is it to score a goal, is to settle the nerves, is it to frustrate the opponents or is it to just hold on for a few minutes. When the midfield fails to do this, the pressure mounts on defence and they look the villains when the ball hits the net. There’s not enough energy or maturity in this midfield (of five players) to control the game and put the opposition out of the game.
Right from the AVB days, the aura of our midfield has gone. The Chelsea midfield gets over run quite easily these days. I don’t even remember when was the last time the Chelsea midfield ‘bossed the game’. We should either admit that we don’t have the right players for 4-2-3-1 or go back to 4-3-3 and pack the midfield but you can do that only if you have a Drogba-like striker.
As regards controlling the game, I think this is something you learn with experience (there are exceptions like Oscar though). This Chelsea team has shown time and again how naive they are. We have blundered too many times with our loss of focus and concentration and also for our total naivety in dealing with intense situations of the match. And we have paid the price too.
Using the squad: Our squad is big but we don’t use it well enough. Jose still burns out players like Oscar and Hazard while others don’t play enough and don’t play enough together. While it was great to see Schurrle, Willian and KdB play together, yesterday was probably they played alongside each other for the first time in a competitive game. This need not have been this way. You don’t expect these three players to step on the pitch and start understanding each others ideas and moves.
Jose has been totally unfair to KdB. I don’t know what’s the problem behind the scenes. For a player of his quality, he should have played more games and minutes than he has. Yesterday, he wasn’t impressive and he can’t be blamed. He was too eager to make an impression and that was evident. Schurrle and KdB did not play as a unit as much as Willian was trying to pull them all together.
Jose does rotate but he doesn’t use the whole squad for rotation. He’s formed smaller (reliable?) squad within the squad and all his rotations turn out to be within this micro-squad and whenever the players from outside this micro-squad get to play they come a cropper and it’s not their fault. I can understand that Jose wanted to save his A team for next Monday’s game against Arsenal and in situations like these, our B team, instead of getting the opportunities, simply get exposed.
We need to so something about the strikers. The longer we take, bigger the damage. We need a stronger, intelligent and responsible midfield that not only feeds the attacks but also controls the game and protects the defence – for now, pair up Mikel and Oscar. On squad rotation, if we had the goal scoring strikers, we can afford to rotate and still produce the results. Probably, Jose plays his burns out his best midfield options because he doesn’t have goal scoring strikers. And because of that the squad does not get opportunities. And, because he burns out the best midfield options, they are fatigued and do not quite control the game as they should. Probably, all these issues are inter-related.
Strangely, this result hasn’t dented my optimism even one bit for the game against Arsenal on Monday at the Emirates. Hoping we have all our top players ready and raring. Hoping Azpilicueta can play (on the right). Hoping Cahill and Terry play in central defence. And hopefully we can see the holy trinity of Oscar, Hazard & Mata start against Arsenal. And up front, any one of the three.