Loyalty is infamously hard to come by in modern day football, but, despite some cynicism, is not entirely dead. Many players may abandon their clubs every transfer window, and virtually all clubs will choose to let a number of players depart the club with very little fuss on their part.
Sometimes, though, a player fits in a club. Sometimes, loyalty is expressed on both sides, where neither the player or the club wish for a separation. A prime example of such a fit, is Branislav Ivanovic, the Serbian defender.
Since joining Chelsea in January 2008 for a fee of £9.7 million, Ivanovic has been a fantastic servant to the West London club. A brilliant defender and a danger in attack, the Serb has spent over two thirds of his club career with the Blues, where he has racked up 320 appearances. This has happened over a period where Chelsea have had seven permanent managers. Ivanovic is part of the furniture at Stamford Bridge.
So what happens when he hits a slump? What do Chelsea do when their Serbian hero stops becoming the threat he once was as his career begins to approach it’s twilight years? Ivanovic is in poor form, and at 31, is not exactly young any more. As unthinkable as it may seem to Chelsea fans, it may be time to drop their star full-back.
After a 2-2 draw at home to Swansea and a 3-0 defeat at Manchester City, it is clear that Chelsea have not started the season in the best vein of form. After conceding just 32 goals in 38 matches last campaign, the Blues’ defence has suddenly become extremely porous, leaking five goals and many more chances in a wretched opening pair of games. A big part of this downturn in defensive fortune has come from Ivanovic’s poor form.
The main reason that Swansea and Manchester City have had so much success against Chelsea so far this season is because they have pinned Ivanovic to his right back position. This has had serious consequences for the Blues not only defensively but also offensively.
The Serbian international cannot get forward with as much conviction thanks to the threat of a counter attack from pacey and direct wingers, who are also causing him massive problems in defence.
In the opening games of the season, Ivanovic has been stuck in defence, thanks to the dangers posed by Jefferson Montero and Raheem Sterling, who have both had the beating of the defender. The right-hand side has gone from a strength to a weakness for Chelsea, who are now being punished for Ivanovic’s shortcomings.
Not only are teams cleverly exploiting Ivanovic’s weaknesses, but he is failing to help his team further thanks to a number of individual mistakes.
Against Manchester City, he was slow to cover Gary Cahill for Sergio Aguero’s opener, was out-jumped and out-muscled by Vincent Kompany for the second before losing the ball directly before Fernandinho’s third. Chelsea did play very badly and would probably have lost the game anyway, but Ivanovic’s mistakes proved to be a crucial factor in the outcome of the match.
Ivanovic is proving to be a bit of a problem for Chelsea at the moment, and Mourinho may already have the solution to this dilemma. With the expensive capture of Augsburg left-back Abdul Baba Rahman now complete, Jose Mourninho will be able to tinker with the defence to accommodate for the Ivanovic problem.
Cesar Azpilicueta, origianlly a right-back when he signed for Chelsea can shift flanks to the right side, whilst Rahman can fill in at left-back. He may only be 21 and still raw, but he has the power and pace that Ivanovic has to recover from mistakes and give Chelsea’s ageing defence a much-needed boost of pace.
Of course, Ivanovic is still a quality defender. He is one of the strongest players in the league and is suffering from a poor run of form like any player is entitled to experience once in a while. However, the way teams have been able to exploit his vulnerabilities has proved to be a massive detriment to the Champions.
Suddenly, they have become susceptible to attacks down the left by direct and tricky wingers, who are not only causing a wealth of problems for the Serb in defence but also denying him the chance to play his crucial role in Chelsea’s attack. Mourinho must change something to get the Chelsea machine firing again, and Ivanovic appears to be the obvious weakness in the side.
He will always remain a legend at Stamford Bridge for his passion, skill and performances from the past, but in the present, it may be time to think about a replacement.
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