Mar 04

AVB Fired

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ChelseaFC released the following statement regarding the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas as coach of Chelsea FC:

Andre Villas-Boas has parted company with Chelsea Football Club today.  The board would like to record our gratitude for his work and express our disappointment that the relationship has ended so early.  Unfortunately the results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season.  The club is still competing in the latter stages of the Uefa Champions League and the FA Cup, as well as challenging for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and we aim to remain as competitive as possible on all fronts.  With that in mind we felt our only option was to make a change at this time.  With immediate effect Roberto Di Matteo has been appointed first team coach on an interim basis until the end of the season.

Well, that’s that.  I for one, am disappointed with the decision of Abramovich and the club and am not convinced it was the right decision.  The results were poor, yes.  I believe he should have been doing better than he was, but how good is the question?  Chelsea were never going to truly contend for the title this year and I think 3rd-4th place was the target.  AVB had his team in 5th, but with a decent portion of the season remaining.  A 3rd or 4th place finish is by no means out of the question and I think AVB could have turned things around.  However, what is done is done and there is no point dwelling on it.

The question that will be talked about for the next 3-4 months is: Who will the new manager be? Chelsea have already stated that there will be an interim manager in Roberto Di Matteo like Chelsea have done in the past with Avram Grant or Guus Hiddink.  He will almost certainly not be the manager next season, which makes me feel a bit bad for him since he’s basically in a lose-lose situation.  The rumors were swirling that Rafael Benitez was in talks with Chelsea to take over.  I can’t think of a person I would like to see less than Rafa on Chelsea’s sidelines.  I think I just threw up a little thinking about it.  Please no.  The problem is, who else is available out there?  The media are going to talk about Jose Mourinho and Guardiola for the next few months, but neither are available and I really can’t see any reason why they would want to leave their current posts as the two best teams on the planet.  The other problem this creates is it essentially scares the board off of signing any more youthful managers.  I still think Chelsea need someone who is young and who can bring a drastic change to Chelsea.  I would be opposed to grabbing another older manager who will mesh with the “old guard” and try to milk out the last ounce of talent from our older players.

The only thing we can do now is get behind the players and support them to get us through this rough period.  There will be tons of speculation, plenty of quotes to dig through, and even more shit from the media.  Stay above it and KTBFFH!

Mar 01

Let’s Talk About AVB

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First, let’s talk a little about how AVB thinks and try and get a general sense of what goes on in his head.  Eric mentioned that he gave an interview, in Portuguese, last week and he had a few translated quotes to talk about.  A member of SBNation listened to the whole interview and translated (loosely, no official quotes) what AVB said.  It is undoubtedly the best recap I’ve seen of the interview and makes a heck of a lot more sense than some of the quotes that have been thrown around.  Go read it.  Finished?  Good.  So let’s talk about it some.  How can you not love AVB more after this interview?  He is open, honest, and shows his true tactical class in this interview.  It’s sad that he has never gotten this type of interview from the English press, but then again what do you really expect?  I’ll touch on some of the main talking points and just let you all read and interpret the rest free of my rambling.

Unless AVB is pulling some kind of sick joke on us, he hits the nail on the head when it comes to the style of play that Roman and most soccer fans in general want to see from Chelsea: pressing, attacking, possession, and technical.  Clinical should probably be in there too, but maybe that’s just implied.  With a pitch like that, it is no doubt that AVB won over Roman (at least in the beginning…) and penned a contract with the Blues.  Chelsea attempted to play this style of play in the beginning, but it soon became clear that the correct personnel was not in place to have this system perform properly.  This was partly due to the fact that some players are not Chelsea quality (cough…Meireles…cough), but also due to a lack of confidence suffered early in the season.  It’s not the only time that AVB brings up a lack of confidence as a reason for poor performance as he singles out Torres later in the interview.  Comparing anyone to Shev-shank-O is harsh, albeit not completely undeserved at this point for Torres.

AVB seems to like the 4-2-3-1, as most of us do, but sees the same problem that we do when we look at it.  Mata should be in the center, sure, but then who goes out wide?  The only real possibilities are Malouda and Kalou and neither of these players are really first-team quality for Chelsea.  Malouda may have been up for it at some point in his career, but he is a different type of winger than AVB is looking for anyway, even if he got back to his best (which isn’t going to happen).  So, AVB is essentially stuck in a trap.  Put his best players on the field and hope they can work something out in an ineffective formation, or play a formation that suits some, but leaves others out to dry.  Another issue AVB has with the 4-2-3-1 is who to play in the double pivot.  Due to lost confidence, AVB is playing two “destroyer” midfielders in the double pivot when he tries the 4-2-3-1, but it’s great to hear that he does not always plan on doing this.  According to the submitter, AVB would rather have two deep-lying playmakers who can link up with Mata and the wingers to form a deadly midfield.  This explains why Chelsea went so hard after Modric this summer and why Moutinho should not be ruled out as a transfer target. Having players who excel at passing in the center of the field allows for the entire team to be pulled into the game and especially takes some of the pressure off of Mata.

One of the more interesting notes is his discussion of the Napoli game in which he talks about his selections for the game.  The way it is presented now, it makes it sound like Cole was sat for tactical reasons, not for fitness reasons like we all expected.  I would be very surprised if this was true and I would have to disagree with Villas-Boas.  Sure, Cole can get caught forward at times now that his speed and stamina is slowing down, but that is certainly better than placing Bosingwa out there…

The best part about the interview, in my opinion, is the discussion of the new year.  AVB was apparently excited about it and hit the nail on the head when it came to new signings.  He mentioned a new, explosive winger (yes please), a midfield general (sell Meireles?), and maybe a replacement for Cole.  I think the LB should be the lowest priority by far, but the first two are dead on.  Yes, Hulk was mentioned but that doesn’t mean “I’m going to buy Hulk.”  He was using Hulk as an example of the type of player he is targeting for Chelsea.  He also mentions his “project” and admits that he is essentially trying to build a Barcelona-esque team at the Bridge.  Copying is never a good idea and he knows this, stating that he simply wants a possession, technical, attacking side as opposed to a Italian, defensive side (the dig at City seems odd since they are pretty good, but we all hate them so whatever).  His discussion on Chelsea reverting back to old ways when they feel vulnerable is an interesting point and one that is probably very fair.  Human instinct is to  go back to something you are more comfortable with and Chelsea have seemed to do exactly that over the course of the season.  This could help explain some of his selections as well, as he knows Meireles will listen to his instructions while Lampard will have a tendency to play the old style since he feels more comfortable with it.  It is also exactly the reason there must be a clear-out this summer.  AVB must break Chelsea of their old habits and that will not happen if there are a majority of players who prefer the old habits and think they are better.

Basically, I loved reading the recap of this interview and really enjoyed that things were finally put in context.  Reading this has only enhanced my faith that AVB is the right man for the job.  Which leads me to my final point: Do not get sucked into the media storm.  An article surfaced from The National that Abramovich has informed AVB he must advance past Napoli to keep his job.  I don’t believe it.  I will go on record and say that I firmly believe Andre Villas-Boas will managing Chelsea through 2012, no matter what happens the remainder of this season.  He has his project and Roman should understand that in order to achieve it, he must be given time.  Giving him an ultimatum at this juncture makes no sense.  Was he not trying to win before but now that he knows his job is on the line he will suddenly manage to win?  AVB was Abramovich’s hire and I believe he will be given time to see this through at least 1 more year.  Don’t get sucked in to the stories the media are creating to stir up trouble, like this one.  Mourinho isn’t looking to take over Tottenham, Chelsea, England, etc. he’s just roaming around.  Get over it.  AVB will be here through the summer and it will be the most important summer of the Abramovich era.

Feb 24

Dissecting Chelsea’s Play: Photo-Analysis of 3 Close Calls

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Near the end of my post-match analysis I said I would do a post showing some of Chelsea’s poor defending during the Napoli loss, so here we are.  For those of you that watched, you were able to witness the numerous individual errors that lead to the 3 goals, as well as other errors that lead to opportunities that Cech (or Cole) had to save.  Luckily, Carefree Chronicles has already done an excellent post analyzing the three goals Chelsea let in, so I am spared from having to look at those again.  Instead, I’m going to highlight a few plays that stood out in my mind while watching the game.  Two are even more defensive errors, and one is a great piece of attacking play.

The first play came just minutes after the introduction of Ashley Cole.  I think it’s universal that Chelsea fans feel more comfortable with Cole playing LB instead of Bosingwa, but Cole produced a very Unibrow-like display on this particular play.  We pick up after a long ball has been semi-cleared to Inler, who has taken possession and just played the ball down the line to Lavezzi, who is hugging the line:

We see Chelsea in pretty good defensive shape at this point.  Luiz is coming out wide to cover for Cole, who was pressing higher up the pitch.  Cahill is coming over to cover for Luiz and Ramires and Meireles are both running straight back towards goal in good shape to cut off any square balls.  Cole (red circle) is marking Maggio, who is starting to make a run down the line.  Nothing wrong here, right?  Fast forward a few seconds and we see this:

 

Luiz is applying pressure to Lavezzi, who has now taken control of the ball.  Meireles, Ramires, and Ivanovic are all tracking back and in good position.  The difference?  In the matter of one billboard length, Cole has gone from a few yards goalside of his mark (Maggio), to a couple of yards behind.  Maggio is now in a full sprint a pulling away from Cole by the second.  Meireles has no chance of catching him and Luiz is now faced with a 2 v 1 down the wing.

Lavezzi correctly lays the ball into Maggio’s path (yellow pass) and Cahill delays just a quarter of a second before hauling ass to get there.  Meanwhile, the gap between Cole and Maggio is now massive (red line) and Luiz has been taken out of the play by an excellent pass (not his fault).  Ivanovic is thankfully still covering Cavani, eliminating the cross.  No screengrabs, but Maggio takes the ball at full speed and is able to rifle off a shot before Cahill closes him down.  Cech is in good position and makes a solid save, but the whole situation should have been avoided.  The old Cole would not have let this happen.  The older Cole (see what I did there?) did nothing to stop it.  For those that have any doubt, this is a clear example showing that Cole is not the same player he used to be.  I’m not one calling for his head and for Bertrand to start every game, but Cole is not a top 2 LB in the world anymore.

Next up, we have a break down near the end of the game that almost made it 4-1.  Let’s set the scene.  Napoli were the midst of a fast break (go figure), when Dzemaili decided to pull back and wait for some help.  His attempted square pass was cut off by a sliding Lampard, but unfortunately the deflection went straight to Cavani.  This is where we pick up:

We see Cavani with possession of the ball on the 18, with Luiz the first to pick him up (blue line).  Cahill is in support to Luiz’s right, and Essien is tracking Hamsik and has positioned himself in between the ball and the player.  Once again, things start off looking good.  As Cavani continues to move to his left, we see the following:

Things do not look so good now.  Luiz has followed his man across the field, while Cahill has simple taken a few steps backwards, and Essien has pinched in.  The red lines indicate line of sight for the Chelsea players.  This, my friends, is commonly referred to as “ball watching”, and it is not a good thing.  You could argue that Cahill is playing “help defense”, but in reality they are in a vertical line and that is not how it is done.  Furthermore, Essien has come in to help win the ball (because we really need 3 people) and left Hamsik alone on the outside.  Hamsik and Cavani realize this and as Marek makes his run (yellow line), Cavani lays it just behind Essien into the space.  The result?

An excellent goal line save from Cole.  Hamsik turned everyone around and played a square ball across the 6 that just missed Cavani but fell perfectly to Maggio.  Thankfully, Cole did his duty tracking back this time and was in perfect position to clear it out, saving Chelsea a 3 goal hole heading into the second leg.  Bottom line: Ball watching is bad and Essien probably should have done better. (Cahill and Luiz maybe should have communicated for a switch off as well to avoid the positioning they ended up with)

Lastly, we examine one of the better Chelsea plays that almost resulted in a goal.  Setting the scene again, Lavezzi has received the ball in the middle of the field and is turning towards goal when Meireles makes a good effort to close him down from behind.  This causes Lavezzi to hesitate and allows for Luiz to come over the be the enforcer:

Luiz takes the ball from Lavezzi and begins moving up the field and starts the counter attack himself.  He eventually runs into some resistance and calmly lays the ball off to Malouda (blue line below), who has taken up position on the left flank.

Drogba is up top, just off of the last defender and has a decision to make.  He can either cut in front of the defender and head towards the corner, or man a run off of his shoulder towards the goal (2 options shown in yellow).  This is the difference between Drogba and Torres right now.  Torres would have made the run to the corner 99 times out of 100.  It’s the easier path and it’s not one that takes him directly towards the goal, which is apparently something he is deathly afraid of at the moment.  Drogba on the other hand, being a direct and confident player, chooses to head right at the goal and make something happen.

Malouda reads the run and drops a perfect ball over the last defender’s head onto Drogba’s chest (blue pass from off-screen).  Drogba’s first touch takes him directly towards the goal (red line) and only a tip from Aronica’s toe likely saves Napoli from conceding a goal.  Despite the fact that I get upset with him at times, I like to give credit where it is due and Malouda played a beautiful pass to Drogba.  Let’s also not forget that this whole play started with Luiz taking the ball from Lavezzi’s foot and starting the counter attack himself.  He still makes mistakes (like the third goal), but his presence on the field is immense.

None of these plays resulted in a goal, but they are all interesting to look at and helps us see exactly what is going on at Chelsea at the moment.  I’m too tired to write up a solid conclusion right now, so I’m just going to leave it at this: Chelsea is being plagued by individual errors right now, Torres is making the wrong runs and is afraid of the goal, and neither of those last two have to deal with AVB’s philosophy.  Maybe he should be doing better managing the team, but maybe the players could be doing a hell of a lot more too.

 

Feb 17

Notes from AVB’s Press Conference

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Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas spoke to the media today about a number of issues and we’re here to sum them up for you.  Before we get to the quotes that set the media world ablaze, let’s touch on the more tangible information: Injury News.

  • The best news of the day is that Ramires has recovered from his injury and will be available this weekend.  We cannot underestimate how important Rambo is to this team.  Without him in the side we play slow and lethargic.  He is able to provide Chelsea with the extra gear that we need to be competitive and his work ethic seems to spread all over the field when he is playing.  He is THE most important player on Chelsea right now (yes, even over our favorite hobbit).
  • The bad news is that Drogba, Kalou, and Cole have all been ruled out for this weekend.  Cole’s calf is still injured and it could end up being worse than was originally reported (which was “bruise”).  Drogba and Kalou, on the other hand, just returned to practice from the ACON and will be rested this weekend.
  • Lastly, John Terry is able to play one of the two games this week, but apparently isn’t fit to play both.  I think it’s safe to say that JT will sit out for the FA Cup tie this weekend and start against Napoli, but then again I’ve been proved wrong so many times by AVB that I’m numb to it now.

The team is finally beginning to recover from all of the injuries, suspensions, and players leaving us for ACON and look to be at full strength soon.  With that in mind, what is the best formation for Chelsea?  I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but could it be Kalou’s chance to start a few games?  AVB was heavily criticized for starting Kalou the first two games of the season, but I’m not he can do poorly enough to lower our standards right now.  I think at least once we need to see the Blues in a 4-2-3-1 with Essien and Ramires patrolling the middle of the field and making other grown men cry in the process.  That would require 3 attacking midfielders though and Chelsea only seem to have two competent (on a day when Sturridge isn’t 100% selfish) AM’s available.  I think starting Kalou out left, Mata in the center, and Sturridge out right is worth a shot.  Malouda has been terrible and ruins almost every attacking possession Chelsea has.  Kalou makes some…interesting decisions, but at least he will be spontaneous and quasi-creative, two things Malouda has not been.  As for the back 4, I think it’s safe to say most everyone agrees on a Cole-Terry-Luiz-Ivanovic lineup when everyone is healthy.  It will be interesting to see if Bertrand will get a chance to show how well he can play or if Bosingwa will against reprise his LB role with Ashley out through injury.  Your guess is as good as mine.

_______________

Enough about the other stuff, let’s get to the quotes that set off 23498229 tweets and 3234584 articles across the globe:

They [the players] don’t have to back my project.  It’s the owner who backs my project. Some of them don’t back the project? That is normal. I think the owner has full trust in me and will continue to progress with the ideas that we have.

Players compete, in the end, for their place and for their place towards the future in the team. So if you want to be in the team in the future, you are competing to win something against your colleague. I would put it exactly like that: performance to have reward … reward in terms of results and reward in terms of future continuity.

My authority is total because it’s the owner’s authority. I have told you that we set out this team to try to win four trophies, believing in this team. Next year it’s another one because there are different ongoing situations regarding contracts which will have to be addressed so that means different changes. Two players have already departed and further will depart in the future and won’t make part of the project, which more or less they expect but this is the reality of any football team. We prepare to be more competent in the present and we have to prepare the future as well.

They know there is a manager in position holding on for a project of three years so, if they want to be part of that project, [it is about] performance level, or continuity of performance level and display. I think that’s pretty basic of any football team. You don’t contemplate with a reward people who  under perform in any football team.

Source: The Guardian

So there you have it, straight from the manager’s mouth.  He openly admits that not all players are with him, yet he doesn’t care.  This is both brilliant and stupid at the same time.  While I love that he is showing strength (read: stubbornness), his timing could probably use some improvement.  It is true that he has to show he is not afraid to ruffle some feathers and that the Chelsea project is bigger than any individual (or group of players), but he has to be somewhat tactful in the process.  It isn’t too hard to guess that players like Malouda, Lampard, and Drogba are being targeted here, as he is basically saying “I know the older guys don’t like that they are being kicked out.  I expect that and they just have to deal with it.”  There is a lot of season that is left and if he goes and pisses off every player that is older than 26, he is going to run into a lot of trouble.  He still needs some of the players that he is talking about in these quotes and he can’t prematurely cut the chord.  This seems like the kind of talk you would like to keep quiet, but maybe AVB has tried that and it didn’t take.  Some players have gone to the media and perhaps AVB is letting them know that he isn’t afraid to do so either.  I don’t particularly like this public method, but then again we’ve all heard tales of the “player power” in the locker room and how no one has been able to break it.  It sure seems like AVB is either going to make it happen, or go down swinging.

Whether he is right or wrong, AVB seems to have absolutely no fear that he will be fired anytime soon.  He is choosing his words very carefully when he has spoken about the topic and he is making it abundantly clear to everyone that he has Abramovich’s full support.  I think he is being a little coy here because he isn’t really speaking to the media.  Sure, it may help doomsday headlines stay away for a while, but in reality I think this is pointed towards the players as a warning.  He knows that some players don’t agree with his style but he is making them aware that at the end of the day (or season), the player will end up on the losing side if they continue to fight this battle.  Roman is the highest level at Chelsea and he is siding with the manager (says AVB).

There are more quotes in the linked article where AVB states that this is simply his managerial style: 100% open and honest.  He certainly seems like it and he’s certainly given Chelsea fans a lot to talk about for the remainder of the season.  If things go south, everyone will surely point to this press conference to show where he went wrong disregarding his “senior” players.  However, if things turn around they will probably credit this conference as the time when he acted above his age and took control of the team.  Say what you want about the man, but you can’t deny that he is strong (read: stubborn, again) enough to finally make some real changes around Chelsea.  Let’s hope Abramovich gives him time to do so.

Feb 15

AVB – The Right Man for the Job?

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What a season it has been for Chelsea FC.  There have been incredible highs (taking down Manchester City, progressing in the CL in 1st place, going up 3-0 on Manchester United) and some terrible lows (Everton, Liverpool, Everton, Swansea, Everton) that have kept Chelsea fans on the edge of their seats and madly typing away on message boards and fan sites.  Through about 10 seconds of “research”, I’ve found that the game last weekend was the turning point for many fans of Chelsea and that many fans are ready to push AVB out the door as soon as this week.  While I understand their frustrations, since I have felt them too, I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that he should be sacked.

AVB was brought in just 7 months ago by Roman Abramovich with a view to turn Chelsea around the lead us into the future.  He inherited a club with “superstars” who are no longer capable of their former feats (Lampard, Drogba, Cole), players who seemingly only know how to play one way (Mikel, Malouda, Terry), and a 100% broken striker (I think you know).  It was never a secret that part of AVB’s new job was to phase out the old stars and usher in a new era of younger and more exciting players.  Coming into the season, the general thought from the media was that AVB was too young to command respect from the current crop of players and that he would lose control of the locker room.  Clearly age is the important thing, since Scolari did such a good job of commanding respect from the team.  But, I digress.  While the youth argument is somewhat logical, the real concern with keeping a hold of the locker room is that fact that AVB’s job was obvious for all to see: to kick players out and bring in a new era.  Never mind the fact that he is young, older players know their days are numbered and other than being professional (which is hard to find these days) have little reason to buddy up with the man that will soon be showing them the door.  Just ask Anelka and Alex. 

Recent reports are coming out that the players have openly criticized AVB’s tactics, in front of Abramovich, and that AVB is being undermined by none other than Jose Mourinho.  While I have no idea how the Porto boss knows that Chelsea players are texting Mourinho, I must admit that I believe it.  I do not think that Mourinho has a vendetta against AVB and is actively trying to get him fired, but I believe there is contact there (as players have admitted in the past) and it probably isn’t talking about how great AVB is doing.  What does this prove though?  Does it prove that AVB is a terrible manager or that some of the “old guard” are not happy about their reduced roles in the squad or the prospect that they will be the next player that is sent to train with the reserve team?  Of course they are not happy with the situation, especially since wins are not raining down as they were for most of the Mourinho era.  However, part of AVB’s appointment was to change the guard from players past their prime to players in their prime and naturally, some toes are going to get stepped on. 

The other part of his job is to manage a soccer team and win games.  While I am still an AVB defender, he has failed so far in the most critical aspect of his job: winning.  In AVB’s defense, he is a new-age thinker with a different style than any Chelsea manager before and has inherited a team that cannot play his style.  Then again, it doesn’t matter.  He has to realize he can’t mold this group to fit his play and needs to mold to fit them.  He will have this summer and next year to mold “his” team, but for the time being he must accept the way things are and manage the team he has.  He cannot play mind games with Torres for months; if your striker isn’t scoring, you bench him.  He cannot play the same formation every game in order to force the team to play his style; he must adapt for the opponent and play different styles when necessary.  He cannot play a HORRIBLE fullback just because he has been playing there for a while and is “settled”; he must use the players that will perform the best.  He cannot allow players to start if they show zero effort and energy during games; he must throw their asses on the bench and start players that will work their ass off for the club.  Simply put, he must do whatever is necessary to ensure that Chelsea finish in the top 4 this year and THEN worry about the future.  It isn’t here yet and it won’t arrive the way he wants it to if he doesn’t take care of the matter at hand: winning.   

Finishing below 4th in the EPL is totally unacceptable and he will be at fault for it if it happens.  He is the leader, tactician, and motivator of the Blues and they are currently falling short in all of these aspects.  While he still seems 100% certain that he has 3 years at Chelsea, he cannot look past the present to get to the future.  Part of our future will be decided by how the present unfolds and things are not looking too bright right now.  I believe he will be the manager at Chelsea through 2012/2013 and I will reserve judgment about this performance as Chelsea manager until then.  This summer will be THE biggest transfer window Chelsea has seen in the Abramovich era, both buying and selling.  The team we see in 2012/2013 will be vastly different than the team that is running out today and only then can we truly judge how AVB has performed at his task to turn Chelsea around. 

Is he the right man to get the most out of the current team?  No.  Is he the right man for the future of Chelsea?  Yes.

Do you still believe in AVB?  Let us know in the comments.

Feb 10

Does Chelsea play up/down to level of competition?

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There is no doubt that Chelsea have had a “roller coaster” of a season so far this year.  We’ve had some lows (QPR, Aston Villa, Swansea, to name a few) and some highs (Valencia, Manchester City, Manchester United), and plenty of mediocre games so far this season.  Looking at those two groups we see that generally Chelsea’s worst performances have come again lower competition, while the majority of our quality games have come against the highest competition.  While many people would attribute the increased level of play to the “play to the level of the competition” saying, I’m not sure I agree with this line of thought.  It appears to be true when looking at it from the outside since Chelsea plays some of their best games against higher level opponents, the bigger factor that is less talked about is the style of play we see against the better teams.

In reality, there is little to no statistical proof that Chelsea is playing better against quality components than they are against the bottom-feeders of the Premier League.  So far this year, Chelsea is averaging 56% possession on 85% pass completion and getting 6 shots on target per game.  In our first “big win” of the year against Valencia, Chelsea only completed 77% of their passes and had a staggering 31% possession, yet came away with an impressive 3-1 victory.  Against Manchester City, Chelsea were again below their averages with 82% completion and 50% possession.  In our latest good outing against Manchester United, Chelsea passed at a 79% clip while holding possession for 44% of the time.  In comparison, over the 3 games “bad game” stretch mentioned above, Chelsea had average or above average possession in each game and was over 83% pass completion for each game as well.  So if the stats don’t tell the whole story, what does?

It must be the famous “eye” test.  The reason that Chelsea to be performing better against quality teams is down to the tactics used by the bigger clubs.  Some of Chelsea’s best games came in the Champions League, a competition known for being more open than others.  Teams can’t simply tie their way into the qualification rounds so they must go out with intent to attack and score goals.  This is where Chelsea can show their true colors and use their superior skill to overpower most teams.  When opposition teams decide to move the bus off of the field and play, Chelsea have done well so far this year.  Players like Ramires, Sturridge, Mata, Torres, and Luiz thrive off having open space to play into and have generally performed very well in these games.  Torres scored and assisted more (2 goals, 3 assists) than any other Chelsea player during the group stage and it’s not hard to imagine why.  He had more space for his teammates to play him into and he did well finding those seams and exploiting them.  Likewise, Ramires has scored a third of his goals in the Champions League and hasn’t been rated below a 7 by us in the Champions League yet.

Chelsea put 2 past league leaders Manchester City, 4 past Manchester United (over 2 games), 4 past Valencia (over 2 games), and 3 past Arsenal so far this season.  The Blues have the ability to score goals, as we all know, they just struggle against certain styles of play.  As the world has noted, Chelsea desperately lack creativity in their side and thus, struggle against teams that are content to get a point out of the match.  When a manager is simply playing for a draw, he can sit back and absorb Chelsea’s “pressure”, because we honestly don’t provide too much.  A lot of passing around the midfield in a slow and methodical way occurs, but Chelsea are still lacking that killer ball that will makes teams wish they had never sat back and let Chelsea have so much possession.  This explains how Chelsea always have great possession and completion percentage numbers in games when we all seen them play “terrible”, yet struggle to make quality chances on target and put them away.  “Better” teams do not sit with 10 players behind the ball and instead look to try and attack and win the games themselves.  This favors Chelsea’s current run-and-style of play and reduces the need for players to operate in tight spaces and play clever passes through small confined areas.

Unfortunately, the Blues will only play a select few teams that will play an open style against them and as a result, Chelsea fans should be prepared to be frustrated for another few months.  Luckily, AVB is more than aware of the situation and has already been looking to address these issues.  Not only has he shown interest in the exact type of player we need (Neymar, Willian, HAZARD), but he has shown that he is seeking a fix with the current team too by playing a 4-2-3-1 with Mata in the hole to get the most out of him.  Some may choose to look at the fact that we can’t break a team down as a huge negative and want to blame the manager.  While it is not ideal in any way, I like to look at it in a positive light: At least there is a reason behind the madness of losing/drawing to lower teams and it isn’t down to a lack of effort or caring from out Blues.  While I have griped about Chelsea’s lack of concentration before, at least it is equal-opportunity to teams of all skill levels*.

*I’m really trying to turn this into a positive thing, in case you couldn’t tell.  Just roll with it.