The start to this season has been a complete and abject failure for José Mourinho and his team. He recognizes this, saying in his interview after Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Palace – “The reality is we had a bad start, four points from four matches is a very bad start.” A telling quote from the king of deflecting blame from his team. It is clear however that the team does deserve blame. A lot of blame.
The defence has gone from being the outright league’s best to one of the most porous in the division in the space of a few games. To only compound this, the attack too has been blunt and weak.
Individual performances are just as bad. Eden Hazard; the reigning PFA Player of the Year, has struggled to find any of the magic that drove Chelsea towards an inevitable title last season. Cesc Fabregas has been awful defensively (unsurprisingly) and poor offensively (somewhat more surprisingly). Willian has lacked the spark which made him look completely at home in the company of widely regarded greats of the world game.
It is however the defensive members of the squad who have let José Mourinho down to the greatest extent. Nemanja Matic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic simply have not got started this campaign. Matic is not covering the back four like he once did, indeed he has been dominated by every opposing midfield whilst being offered minimal assistance from Fabregas. Terry, Cahill and Ivanvoic look completely burned out and in desperate need of a rest despite having just returned from a prolonged period away from the Premier League’s infamous intensity. Cesar Azpilicueta and Thibaut Courtois have been the lone shining stars in my eyes. Even Pedro; whose debut in the blue shirt of Chelsea was brilliant, has since been distinctly average.
However, more than any one individual or collection of individuals letting the team down, it is in fact the team has let the individuals down. Chelsea’s brilliance last term came mostly from the fact that the first eleven fitted so well together. Every player knew and performed their role brilliantly, without question or hesitation. Every player admittedly did still have their weaknesses and were exposed on occasion last season. But for the most part, the squad covered for each other, propelling Chelsea to the title under José Mourinho for the third time in his two tenures at the club.
This season however in stark contrast, the team has fallen apart. Partly due to a lack of fitness, in some ways experiencing a feeling of stagnation that came from a quiet summer, and largely through a series of unfortunate events, each player’s failings have come out. They are not being covered as before, making them all the more blatant.
Take Branislav Ivanovic for example. At this early stage of the 2015/16 campaign, he is arguably the weakest member of Cheslea’s back line and opposing teams have detected that. They target the flank on which the Serbian operates, either overloading it or isolating him. Ivanovic’s lack of pace is frighteningly obvious. Every winger he has faced thus far (Jefferson Montero, Raheem Sterling, James McClean, and the Palace trio of Wilfred Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Bakary Sako) has left him appearing somewhat incompetent time and again. He has been poor in his positioning, sometimes drifting too far inside and leaving the wing exposed, and other times separating from the rest of the back-line and leaving gaps. These are not new problems though. They were evident last season in brief flashes, but only this time out have they been exposed fully. In my opinion, it is not entirely Ivanovic’s fault.
Matic did a much better job of covering the back line last season, especially Ivanovic. This in turn let Gary Cahill and John Terry stay inside when Ivanovic was out of position and as such, the defence remained tight. This time around however, the holding midfielder has not been able to cover for Ivanovic, or Cahill and Terry for that matter, worsened this season because of Fabregas. Teams slowly figured out last season that the former Barcelona play-maker is very weak defensively. It is very easy to draw him away from the back line, leaving space in front of Ivanovic and Cahill. Furthermore, Fabregas is not very disciplined, so when he does come out to engage the opposition, he is often unsuccessful in winning the ball. Opponents have focused on drawing out Fabregas, then attacking Ivanovic when he has no cover.
Therefore, Matic has had to cover so much more of the midfield, both in the start of this campaign and indeed towards the end of the last. It could be concluded that his drop in form is tied closely to this. Matic simply can’t be everywhere, and his attempts to be so hurt his performance. Thus, a problem with Ivanovic’s positioning can be traced to Matic which can be tracked further to Cesc Fabregas. The way that ] Mourinho has set up the team makes each piece reliant on the others. A fine principle when all is flowing well. However, when one fails, the rest are impacted in a less than positive manner. So in many ways, Chelsea’s poor form cannot and should not be pinned on anyone player. All; with little exception, have contributed to the lethargic play. This fact means that it is hard to fix the problem. If one or two players were letting the whole team down, then you could just replace them. Although I do not see this as the complete solution, fresh faces would surely go a long way to reigniting the Blues’ season.
In my view, what Chelsea need even more than this however is a systematic change. Instead of panicking and splurging vast sums of money on John Stones and Paul Pogba, the club should instead focus on improving what is already here. Some in-house changes might do some good, particularly as statements to the team. Baba Rahman could replace Ivanovic; either permanently or temporarily, with Azpilicueta filling in at right-back. This would certainly be a timely reminder to the Serbian that he needs to step up his game to play a part in a Mourinho side. A match on the sidelines might do Matic and Fabregas some good too. It would let them know that no one is above being replaced, and give Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore a chance to show their undoubted natural talent. Maybe now is finally the prime time for Mourinho to place some faith in the youth, something that he has been particularly averse to in both his spells at Stamford Bridge.
Although the Portuguese manager sees it as a disadvantage, the pause in Premier League action provided by the international break gives Chelsea a chance to recover. Mourinho can review what has gone wrong in the system and what he needs to change, before putting a plan into action when his stars return to Cobham. Players can think about how to improve their individual performances, mulling over past mistakes in the hotel rooms of their national sides. Quite simply, there needs to be a spark. Chelsea are playing lifeless football right now. Mourinho needs to make some changes to the tactics or fire some players up if the Blues are going to get back on track in their quest to retain the Premier League title.
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Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
The Spanish international has been inconsistent since his £60 million move.
When Antonio Conte sealed the signing of Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid in the summer, many Chelsea fans lauded him as one of the signings of the window.
He was an instant hit at Stamford Bridge following his £60 million arrival, scoring on his debut off the bench in a 3-2 loss against Burnley on the opening day.
Morata has been most commonly used as an impact sub especially at Madrid, but at Chelsea, he was quickly given the responsibility of spearheading the Blues’ attack.
He repaid the faith Conte showed in him early, notching a hat trick away at Stoke in mid-September.
There was early talk of him being involved in a four-way battle for the golden boot alongside Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Gabriel Jesus.
Since then, it hasn’t worked out as well for Morata at Chelsea.
He went on a scoring drought soon after, although he did score a crucial winner against title rivals Manchester United in November.
He still received criticism, however, culminating in a poor performance against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup, where he missed several guilt edge chances to give Chelsea the advantage.
He then played 40 minutes in the FA Cup against Norwich, managing to receive two yellow cards in a matter of seconds, first for diving, and then for dissent.
The cold weather has been blamed for his lack of form, as well as a back injury which at one point Conte suggested could force him to miss the rest of the season.
The English climate is different to what Morata will have previously experienced in Spain and in Italy with Juventus, although whether that can be used as a real argument is debatable.
He proved that theory wrong today, finishing off a fine Chelsea move in one of the coldest games of the season.
The Spaniard has looked bereft of confidence in recent weeks and months, and it appeared that Olivier Giroud had overtaken him as Chelsea’s leading marksman until today.
Morata proved his class against a Leicester side that, had it not been for a late mistake, would have taken the current Premier League champions to penalties.
His well placed shot after an excellent Willian through ball opening the scoring before an audacious flick hit the crossbar.
Although not at the heights of the likes of Kane (24 goals) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (28 goals), Morata has notched 10 goals of his own – a decent return considering he has missed a fair amount of games with injury in a team that is equally reliant on goals from wingers Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian.
With the cold weather subsiding, if that can be used as an excuse for some of Morata’s poor performances, and Chelsea’s chances of silverware increasing with an FA Cup semi-final, now is surely the time for Morata to produce some of his best form and lead Chelsea’s charge going into the back end of the season.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Etihad
Manchester City managed to beat Chelsea for the second time this season as they continue their march to the Premier League title. The contest was far from entertaining, as the visitors showed no interest in playing football and instead to soak in pressure.
Pep Guardiola’s team didn’t have to get out of second gear and it was a more comfortable victory than they would have been expecting. The Citizens are now 18 points clear at the top of the table and remain on target for 100 points, which would be a superb achievement.
Meanwhile, Chelsea sit outside of the Champions League places and are now five points behind Tottenham in fourth position. They will need a near perfect end to the season if they are to avoid missing out on qualification for next season’s competition. Here are three talking points from the Etihad Stadium…
David Silva showed his class
The 32-year-old has been at Manchester City for the majority of their journey from Premier League also-rans to elite super club and he remains a crucial player for them under Pep Guardiola.
If he had been in the team for the entire campaign, he would be running Kevin de Bruyne close for the PFA Player of the Year award. He is a classy operator who seems to get better with age.
He got the important assist for the winning goal with a superb piece of play and that is becoming par for the course for the Spanish international. Silva completed 95% of his passes and made three key passes during the contest. Meanwhile, he was very good out of possession as he made three ball recoveries.
It has been incredible to watch Pep Guardiola get all of his attacking talent on the pitch at one time, but the improvement of both Silva and De Bruyne off the ball has helped achieve that.
They are now complete midfielders and capable of thriving in both halves of the pitch. The midfielder is a club legend and supporters will be hoping that he has a few years left in him.
Antonio Conte continues to make puzzling decisions
Last season, the Italian was lauded every week as his side won the league title comfortably, but he has failed to follow it up with a good second campaign. There have been a lot of problems for Chelsea this season including recruitment, tactics and player performance.
They have been reliant on Eden Hazard and as the campaign has progressed, the team have lost their intensity, which suggests they no longer believe in Conte.
Their 3-4-2-1 formation was revolutionary, but they have moved away from it frequently this season and haven’t been able to settle on a first eleven. That was one of Chelsea’s strengths last season. Gary Cahill and David Luiz have been sidelined, while Alvaro Morata has failed to replace Diego Costa sufficiently.
On Sunday, Conte chose to field Hazard as a lone frontman, but he struggled to impact the game in that role. He is best when having space in front of him to run into and he didn’t have that against Manchester City.
The Belgian international was isolated and touched the ball only 31 times. It was a tactical error and one that blunted Chelsea’s attack before a ball was kicked.
Ilkay Gundogan is flourishing in the middle of the park for Manchester City
The former Borussia Dortmund midfielder has had his problems since arriving in the Premier League.
He has suffered a few injuries and that has seen him struggle to secure a regular starting berth, but he has featured prominently in recent weeks and is perfect for the system. Gundogen recycles possession effectively and that is required, especially when the opposition team sits deep.
Gundogen touched the ball more than any other player on the pitch with 181 touches and was very good at distributing the ball quickly. He finished the match with a 96% pass success rate, which shows his role.
He wasn’t taking any risks and he didn’t have to. City have a lot of attacking talent and the German international isn’t required to try risky passes to influence the game.
Although Chelsea didn’t get on the ball much, Gundogen broke up the play when required with four ball recoveries. Fernandinho’s absence could allow the 27-year-old to secure the place on a permanent basis and he does offer more in the role, especially in possession. It was a strong performance and one of the standouts in a dull affair.
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