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How Pedro and Baba Rahman Transform Chelsea

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The season has started slowly for Chelsea. A disappointing loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield was followed by a perplexing 2-2 draw at home against Swansea, followed by an embarrassing 3-0 loss at City.

Worse than the results is the process. While Jose Mourinho might have been able to take some solace in the fact that his team had played well, and been unlucky to lose, there is no such refuge.

Chelsea has been profoundly underwhelming. The defense is porous. The offense is blunt. Nemanja Matic is not the monster that swallowed up midfields last season. Cesc Fabregas isn’t pulling strings. Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic seem burned out. Diego Costa looks desperate to get some better service, but even then one wonders if he would score.

Change is needed. Something has failed. Whether that is the system, the players, or, more likely, some combination, Chelsea needs to make some changes. Not an overhaul. No house cleaning. Just some tweaks.

It is clear that Jose Mourinho and the board at Chelsea recognize that. They watched the weak performances. They saw the need for fresh air. And they’ve moved on it.

Pedro’s shocking transfer is one indicator of that. Baba Rahman’s is the second. Both give Mourinho the flexibility he needs to shake things up.

Rahman is a very different fullback than Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea’s normal right back. Ivanovic is a converted center back, playing out of position on the right. While he was brilliant last season, teams have quickly figured out how to beat him. Jefferson Montero and Raheem Sterling both used their tremendous pace to blow past him.

Ivanovic is too slow to deal with true wingers. He is also very offensive. That’s not always bad, but when Willian or whoever is on the right fails to track back and help Ivanovic cover, it leaves Chelsea exposed.

Rahman, on the other hand, is just as speedy as his counterparts. He is great going forward as well, showing a good ability to hit strikers with crosses.

It is not certain that Rahman will push Ivanovic out of the lineup immediately. Ivanovic has had a few bad matches, but he is still one of the best right backs in the league, as well as the vice-captain, and his removal could create discord in the locker room.*

*Rahman for Ivanovic isn’t a straight swap. Rahman would take over at left back, while Cesar Azpilicueta, a natural right back, would move across to Ivanovic’s spot.

But, if Mourinho thought the decision necessary, Rahman would not be a bad replacement; in fact, he might be an upgrade.

Rahman’s pace and defensive skills mean that Jose wouldn’t have to worry about leaving him isolated. Ivanovic requires covering midfielders, who can help in with the pace of players like Montero and Sterling.

But Rahman can handle them, allowing Mourinho to drop Willian or Ramires and start a more offensive winger. Like Pedro.

The former Barca man has a great eye for goal (73 goals in 259 appearances for the Catalans), as well as setting others up (41 assists as well). He is a direct winger, fantastic at picking out targets in the box. He makes incisive and cutting runs behind defenses, and scores most of his goals from those situations.

His work ethic is impressive as well. Pedro often made those runs to no end, and was always outside of the spotlight at Barcelona. Yet he still managed to fend off Thierry Henry, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, and numerous other challengers to retain his spot in the starting lineup.

Pedro’s pace, as well as his dribbling and passing, make him an easy choice to slot into Chelsea’s lineup. He will probably take Willian’s place on the right, although he could slot into any of the front three midfield positions.

Along with Baba Rahman, Pedro will reshape how Chelsea plays. The Blues will look more like the XI Jose built in his first spell at the club.

Trade Didier Drogba out for Diego Costa (both struggled with injuries in their early years at the club, just as a fun sidenote). Trade Arjen Robben and Joe Cole for Eden Hazard and Pedro.

Nemanja Matic will boss the middle of the park like Claude Makelele. The backline will be as solid as it was then, and Thibaut Courtois is a worthy comparison to Petr Cech.

For much of last season, it seemed the Mourinho was holding his team back. He didn’t want the Blues to play the fluid, possession based football they had so beautifully pulled off earlier. There were too many defensive issues, even though the backline was strong.

Chelsea was too often caught out in midfield, and teams could open them up on the break. The Blues went almost the first half of the year without losing, but Mourinho wasn’t comfortable with the shootout style of games they played.

With Rahman slotting in at left back, and Azpilicueta shifting over to right back, Mourinho can relax. He can let Fabregas, Hazard and Pedro off the leash. With a backline that doesn’t need as much cover, and without Ivanovic leaving gaps in the defense by acting like a forward, the midfield and Costa can break loose.

Pedro’s directness will allow Costa to stay central more often. He will ping crosses into Costa, allowing the striker to prey on defenders more.

Hazard will also be freed up by Pedro. The Spaniard’s runs will distract defenders from their focus on Hazard, and give the Belgian a target for his passes. Fabregas too will have a player running in behind defenses to knock the ball too.

Pedro’s inclusion might also allow Ivanovic to stay in the squad. Although the Serbian would still leave the back line open at times, it would make attacks sharper. Ivanovic often darts forward down the right, picking the ball up outside the box.

Willian, Ramires, Juan Cuadrado and Victor Moses often fail to make secondary runs behind and past him, giving him no options to pass too. This leaves Ivanovic with two options: shoot or cross, neither very successful.

But Pedro is the player Ivanovic is looking for. They could play 1-2’s off each other, and Ivanovic would finally have a player to set up for runs into the box.

I personally believe that Rahman should be given a chance. Ivanovic is a great player, but he is out of position at right back. Making him a backup center back would be a better option, both for himself and the team.

However, Jose seems to trust in Ivanovic, and if he can make it work, awesome. Ivanovic can be frustrating, but at the same time, he is a big player for the team. The goals he scored last year were crucial to Chelsea’s success. I also believe in loyalty, and giving the veteran a chance to vindicate himself. Maybe Branislav is just having a few bad games, and he will be backing in world beating form soon.

The moves of this past week aren’t the end all solution to Chelsea’s problems. But they are a statement. A statement that Chelsea is ready to become one of the best teams in Europe.

Featured image: All rights reserved by Francisco Javier Fernández

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James is Chelsea fan, but he enjoys writing about more than just Stamford Bridge. He has written about Swansea, internationals and the Champions League before. Give him a follow @thepitchview

Chelsea

Chelsea 0-0 Leicester City: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge

Rob Meech

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Chelsea
Photo: Reuters

Chelsea remain winless in 2018 after Antonio Conte’s misfiring charges recorded their third successive goalless draw.

Despite having a numerical advantage for the final 20 minutes following Ben Chilwell’s red card, the Blues could not find a winning goal against a Leicester City side that enjoyed prolonged spells of dominance.

Chelsea have now played more than 270 minutes of football in all competitions without scoring and have dropped to fourth place in the Premier League table as a result of Liverpool’s victory over Manchester City. Leicester remain eighth and continue their good form since Claude Puel’s appointment as manager.

Here are three talking points…

Chelsea’s goal scoring problems are mounting

Much has been written about Alvaro Morata’s goalscoring drought, which extended to five matches after he failed to register a single effort in this clash, but Chelsea’s goalscoring issues go much deeper.

Since the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on January 3, the Blues have failed to find the back of the net. None of the top six clubs have scored fewer than Chelsea’s current tally of 41 Premier League goals for the season.

There is no doubt the burden has rested heavily on Morata and when he was in fine form during the first few months of the campaign, Chelsea were often rampant. But the Spaniard’s barren spell has coincided with a downturn in the Blues’ effectiveness.

The problem for Conte is he has little faith in back-up striker Michy Batshuayi. There is no other obvious candidate to act as the focal point, although the Italian has previously experimented with a false number nine.

Defensively, Chelsea are very solid, but that counts for little when they fail to score.

Leicester grab a point despite Chilwell’s red

It’s not often a player receives two yellow cards in a matter of minutes, but that’s exactly the fate that befell Leicester’s Ben Chilwell.

After being cautioned for a foul on Willian, the Leicester man then received a second booking only five minutes later for bringing down Victor Moses.

Both fouls were fairly innocuous and Chilwell’s dismissal disrupted the Foxes’ performance, which had threatened to claim all three points at Stamford Bridge.

Leicester boss Puel was critical of Mike Jones’ decision to send off Chilwell, which may have come under more scrutiny had Chelsea gone on to win the game.

As it was, the visitors held out for a point, which was the least they deserved. Jamie Vardy twice went close to breaking the deadlock and Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois had to be alert throughout.

This was definitely not a rearguard display – Leicester created numerous chances and were keen to take the game to their high-flying opponents.

Tiredness to blame – Conte

Chelsea boss Conte blamed tiredness for his side’s failure to win for the fourth game in a row. This fixture came just three days after their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Arsenal, amid a run of seven games in 21 days.

The Blues return to action again against Norwich City for an FA Cup third round replay on Wednesday night. In total, Chelsea will play eight games in January after playing nine in December.

There’s no doubt it is a punishing schedule, but Chelsea are not alone in that regard. A club with their squad depth should be able to cope. Conte has rotated his squad, particularly for the cup games, and is sure to field a much-changed side for the Norwich replay.

Of course, if the Blues were winning matches there would be no need to raise the fatigue element as an excuse.

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Champions League

Are Chelsea potential 2017/18 Champions League winners?

Rob Meech

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Antonio Conte will be looking to emulate his Italian counterpart Roberto di Matteo, by leading Chelsea to Champions League glory this season. The Blues’ champagne moment six years ago was the realisation of a dream Roman Abramovich had held since he gained ownership of the club in 2003.

Chelsea are the reigning Premier League champions, having claimed the title in Conte’s first campaign in charge. But the former Italy boss’s honeymoon period is now over, amid a run of mixed results and speculation of player unrest. Here, The Boot Room assesses Chelsea’s prospects of lifting the Champions League for a second time.

Performances so far

The Blues were in the same group as both Atletico Madrid and Roma – as well as minnows Qarabag – and they finished level on points with the Italian club at the top of the standings. The highlight was a 2-1 victory away to Atletico, courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from Michy Batshuayi. A routine double was completed over Qarabag, but it was their results against Roma that shaped the final standings.

Even though both clubs ended on 11 points to qualify for the last 16 and Chelsea had a vastly superior goal difference, the Blues could only follow up their 3-0 defeat in the Italian capital with a 3-3 draw at home. This proved costly, with Conte’s side finishing second and being drawn against Barcelona, which has significantly dented their chances of making it into the quarter-finals.

Squad strength

Chelsea captured the Premier League at a canter last season, thanks largely to the goals of Diego Costa and the brilliance of Eden Hazard. Despite the summer arrival of Alvaro Morata, Costa’s departure has been a big loss. Surprisingly, Nemanja Matic was permitted to join Manchester United, while David Luiz has fallen out of favour under Conte.

Antonio Rudiger, Danny Drinkwater and Tiemoue Bakayoko have added depth to the squad, while the rise to prominence of Andreas Christensen has been an unexpected bonus. Ross Barkley is the first of their signings in the January window and perhaps more will follow. Most important is proper competition for the misfiring Morata, with Chelsea currently lacking a cutting edge in tight games.

Manager

A three-time winner of Serie A with Juventus (to go alongside last season’s Premier League crown), Conte is without doubt a manager of immense repute. After Jose Mourinho’s reign had turned sour, the 48-year-old was the perfect successor. He revitalised Chelsea and turned them into champions after adopting a 3-4-3 formation that proved to be a masterstroke.

Conte has a unique style of management. His demonstrable shows of passion are loved by supporters, but his intensity has sparked rumours that he is not universally liked by his players. Costa fell foul of his wrath last summer, while Brazilian centre-back Luiz is the latest to be marginalised. Conte’s public clashes with his superiors over failed transfer targets have increased the tension.

Chances of winning

When Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, they had to beat Barcelona over two legs in the semi-finals. If they want to lift the prestigious trophy again this year, it’s a feat they will need to repeat. Although the Blues are more than capable of competing with the very best in Europe, they would much rather have avoided opponents of Barcelona’s class at this stage.

Chelsea only have themselves to blame for not topping Group C, which would likely have given them a smoother passage to the last eight. Barcelona, the runaway La Liga leaders, are by no means unbeatable, but they will be the favourites to progress and Chelsea will need to be at their very best over both games to stop them.

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Chelsea

Why Andreas Christensen is the future of Chelsea’s defence

Jake Jackman

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Christensen
Photo: Reuters

Andreas Christensen has been rewarded for his great form this season with a new contract at Chelsea and it looks like he is a player who the Blues want to build around for the future. The Danish international has been one of the breakthrough stars of the Premier League campaign and he is proof that there is value to the loan system used at Stamford Bridge.

It has long been criticised as the club have stockpiled talent and few have made it to the first-team. However, Antonio Conte has opened the door to those that have spent time out on loan and breaking into the first eleven is now a realistic aim.

It was a surprise when Victor Moses was given a prominent role last season, but he was the success story that gave hope to the likes of Christensen. At the beginning of this campaign, there was hope that the defender would follow in the wing-back’s footsteps, but he was initially behind David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Antonio Rudiger in the pecking order.

The 21-year-old knew that he would have to work hard to earn a regular starting spot at Stamford Bridge and he has done just that. He has looked every inch a top-six player when he has played and is now seen as part of the club’s first eleven.

Christensen has made 23 appearances this season and it was crucial that the club secured his future at the earliest opportunity. His recent four-and-a-half-year contract is justified.

BBC Sport report the following quotes from him:

“I’m just happy to be committed to Chelsea for the future. I’m enjoying it at the club and everything is working well”

Christensen has had a rapid rise to the top of the sport. The defender is already a first-team regular for a Champions League team at the age of 21. The Danish international had an excellent two years on loan with Borussia Monchengladbach.

Although the system can be abused, it can be a useful aid in developing a player if used correctly. Chelsea haven’t always been great at this, but they got it right with their talented centre-back.

At the age of 19, Christensen had a lot of potential and had already made his first-team debut at Stamford Bridge. However, he was raw and not ready to take up a prominent role in the squad.

He could have stayed around to offer competition, but the decision was taken to send him out on loan. There would have been a lot of interest in him given the hype around him at the time. Chelsea opted for the Bundesliga and Monchengladbach.

This was seen as a good standard and the league has a great reputation for developing young players. Clubs in Germany are more willing to give opportunities to those in the infancy of their careers and that is why more and more young English players are going there.

Monchengladbach immediately gave Christensen a regular starting place and he developed quickly. By the end of his first season, he was regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the division and there were Chelsea fans clamouring for his return.

The loan agreement couldn’t be broken and in hindsight, that was positive for Christensen. One problem with the loan system is that players don’t get to fully settle at a club as they know their stay is going to be a temporary one.

The defender knew that he would be at Monchengladbach for two years and that was certainly a good thing. If it is the right marriage between club and player, there is a lot to gain from a two-year loan.

During his time in Germany, Christensen played regularly in the Bundesliga and got to test himself in European competition. Considering he was planning his long-term future with Chelsea, it was important that he got used to playing a European schedule and Monchengladbach provided that.

These comments to Sky Sports show how crucial the defender thinks the loan experience was for him:

“For me personally, it was the two biggest years of my career. If it went badly I might not be here now, but because it did I am here, feeling confident and in a good spot,”

“The experience of playing in the Champions League and at the top level for two years every week helped me a lot.

“Both for the club and for me personally, the plan was always to come back into the first team.”

Sometimes a player can be loaned out as the parent club don’t know what to do with him and his career is put on the backburner. Christensen suggests that Chelsea mapped out his career path and told him exactly what he needed to do to break into the first-team.

The Blues deserve credit for that, as they gave the player a clear directive and he made sure he achieved the necessary progress while out on loan.

This season has been a breakthrough for Christensen as he has replaced David Luiz in the heart of Chelsea’s defence. That is a huge show of faith from Antonio Conte as he has taken the place of a £50 million signing and he has been full value for his spot in the team.

The 21-year-old’s greatest strength is his ability on the ball, as he has a pass success rate of 93.9% in the Premier League. In a three-man defence, it is important to have a player willing to carry the ball into midfield and the Danish international is the best in the squad at that.

David Luiz has frequently been praised for his ability on the ball, but he can be careless in possession and make costly errors that lead to goals. Despite his age, Christensen can be relied on not to do that and he has grown into his role with every game.

In addition to his quality on the ball, the young defender can compete physically as shown by his average of two successful aerial duels per game. That was a weakness of his game during his teenage years, but his loan spell allowed him to develop his skills and he is now ready for the rough and bustle of the Premier League.

Christensen isn’t an aggressive defender and he prefers to use his intelligence rather than his physicality to regain possession. He is currently averaging 2.5 ball recoveries and 3.6 clearances per game.

The Danish international is a good reader of the game and complements the rest of the defence well. There is a long way to go until he fulfils his potential, but he is on the right track and set to become a mainstay of the Chelsea team for years to come.

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