Chelseas defeat to Wolves on Wendesday night means that the champions are now on their worst run of form since 1995/6. What Carlo Ancelotti describes, one eyebrow raised, as our ‘bad moment’ is in danger of becoming serious decline. However Carlo Ancelotti can not be held totally accountable for this run of form. Chelsea’s poor form can be attributed to a number of factors.
Chelsea had been riding their luck somewhat towards the end of their good early season run. Drawing with Aston Villa and winning without playing well against Wolves and Blackburn in October. Chelsea’s luck run out against Liverpool at Anfield where they were soundly beaten. It was in the week following this result that the problems began to pile up; Essien got himself suspended for 3 games against Fulham, Terry was ruled out of the next 3 games through injury , Drogba was diagnosed with malaria which he still does not seem to have fully recovered from and of course Ray Wilkins was sacked.
With key players out and insufficient depth in the squad to cover their absence, Chelsea slumped to defeat against Sunderland and Birmingham, and drew against Newcastle and Everton. Although key players Lampard, Essien and Terry all returned for the games against Tottenham, Arsenal, Villa and Wolves they came back in to a side bereft of confidence. It is big ask for players, particularly Lampard having missed so many games, to come back in to a side and immediately turn things around. Meanwhile Ancelotti’s ability to affect events has been hampered by the reality that Chelsea’s small squad means he has few options to change things up.
It is here that the clubs hierarchy must take some blame. Letting go of Joe Cole, Deco, Carvalho, Belletti and Ballack was a sensible forward thinking move by the club. It was right to allow talented youngsters like Josh McEachran a chance, but even taking into account the talented youngsters in the squad it is clear now the club went into the season a central midfielder and central defender light. Had Yossi Benayoun not been injured for the season he may have proved useful but nonetheless more players should have come in during the summer. In this respect the clubs hierarchy must take some blame.
Ancelotti however is not compleatly blameless. In my opinion he should have used young players Kakuta, Bruma, McEachran etc more when Chelsea were on top form at the start of the season. If he had played them earlier in the season they could have gained some good experience and confidence and he would have more options now. Where as now it is not really fair to expect teenagers with little experience however talented to come off the bench and change a struggling side.
Ancelotti probably made a further mistake in continuing to play Drogba whilst he was recovering from malaria. I am no expert in tropical diseases but I imagine had the Ivorian been given a months rest he could have returned later fit and strong . Where as at the moment Drogba is clearly not at full fitness.
Chelsea desperately need to halt this run. Which has almost certainly written them out of the title race and is putting their top four status in jeopardy. In my view the West London club must change things up if they are to improve. Here are three changes I would recommend to try and salvage the season.
1. Go Shopping
January presents the club with an opportunity to freshen things up. It may not be the best time to sign players but it is essential that the champions add a bit of depth and generate some competition for places. Here I feel a creative midfielder and a central defender should be a priority.
2. Play Danny Sturridge
At the moment Anelka looks short of form. Danny Sturridge seems to possess a confidence and fearlessness which could freshen up Chelsea’s stale frontline. Sturridge, scorer of 5 goals in a recent reserve win against Tottenham, is not the yet finished article. Nonetheless a bit of unpredictability and youthful exuberance could be just what Chelsea need.
3. Go Direct.
Under Ancelotti Chelsea have become an expansive passing side, more so than they are often given credit for. However with the confidence sucked out the team Chelsea’s build up play has become very laboured, players fearful of losing the ball are playing safe sideways passes, allowing the opposition to get back in position . When not in possession there has been a tendency for the whole to team to drop deeper and get behind the ball, resulting in fewer options when the ball is won. Futhermore where as previously opposing teams would often drop deep against Chelsea they are now pressing high up the pitch and pressuring the ball. This is resulting in the champions losing the ball a lot in the middle of the pitch. Given the current state of affairs, Chelsea would in my view benefit from playing a more direct style of football. It was a tactic that Jose Mourinho was never afraid of employing and Chelsea have the right players at their disposal to make it work. Teams seem to know how to play against the champions at the moment, a change in style would give them something else to think about. By moving the ball forward quickly they’d avoid losing the ball dangerously in the middle of the pitch, keep their shape better whilst allowing Drogba, Malouda and Anelka/Sturridge/ Kalou to battle up front.
Chelsea play managerless Ipswich on Sunday which could be a chance for the blues to get a decent performance under their belts . They then have a full weeks training before playing Blackburn at home. As a club they desperately need to use this as an opportunity regroup and improve or their place in the top four will be seriously under threat.
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