It is often said that the ghost of Jose Mourinho hangs around Chelsea, but on Saturday against Norwich it was a different manager that seemed to be looming, Carlo Ancelotti.
Because the slow, unimpressive passing style that scuppered Chelsea in their game against Norwich was reminiscent of some of the low points under the Italian. This poor attacking style has been around the club for a while but Ancelotti’s failure to reverse it was one of the reasons he was sacked, while Andre Villas-Boas was brought in to change that style of play.
Up to a point AVB has changed it, the sharp passing skills of Oriol Romeu had sped up The Blues’ passing play while Meireles and Ramires had formed a good partnership. Without Romeu against Norwich that slow play came back to haunt them.
Norwich were content to let Chelsea have the ball in midfield as their ponderous play killed the pace and allowed The Canaries to get men behind the ball and prevent the away side getting near their goal. Their slow passing also prevented any chance of a counter attack, with the pauses on the ball letting the Norwich defenders race back into position.
Their ineffective midfield began to stifle itself and Torres was unsupported upfront, allowing Norwich defender Daniel Ayala to step up from defence to play as the ‘libero’ or free defender, which helped Norwich swamp the midfield and stop Chelsea when they made their way towards goal. As Ayala stepped up the rest of the team did as well, and started to restrict the areas that Chelsea played in.
This was evident when after 80 minutes with The Blues needing a goal they were stuck inside their own half passing the ball around and looking short on ideas. The worst thing for Chelsea is that this problem seemed to spread through the team affecting other players, including the full-backs.
Bosingwa’s bursts forward seemed to halt the second he got to the half way line. He got forward on occasion, but mostly ended up being part of the problem, not solving it. The same with Torres, a lack of service forced him to drop deeper and deeper as the middle got more crowded.
Chelsea’s problems could have been answered by Juan Mata and possibly Romelu Lukaku who looked impressive at times, but they didn’t get enough service or opportunities to do so. How can someone change the game when their own midfield keep the ball and ruin chances to attack?
It could well have been that the player who could push the team forward was restricted by recent criticism. David Luiz may have had his defensive problems, but he has the energy to push on and bring the team with him. Luiz looked defensively solid but you could see he was dying to push forward, only to remember his responsibilities and step back.
So what can AVB do to quicken up his midfield? Romeu’s introduction will help, but AVB could do with Essien returning back to the player he was a few years ago as he has been a shadow of himself in recent seasons.
Pinning hope on Essien is risky with only nine days left to bring in someone who can add to the midfield. His best form last season did come after recovering from injury but it may be too soon to place all their hope in the Ghanian.
Villas-Boas could move Mata in to the centre in front of two central midfielders, like he did for part of the game on Sunday, giving him more of a creative role and increasing the service he receives. Mata’s pace would fix the slow possession play currently affecting the side, the only problem is who would play in Mata’s current role on the left.
Malouda could be a possibility, but he was guilty of the same slow play on Saturday. Kalou is away on international duty and is likely to be away into the middle of February so can’t be a short term option. AVB would need to go out and buy another winger during the transfer window or find a way of making Malouda fit in to his pacey Chelsea team.
Whatever they are going to do, it needs to be fast. The Blues have some crunch matches coming up with QPR in the cup and then a difficult trip to Swansea were their possession play will be put to the test. After that they face Manchester United at home, the key to winning that one will be to exploit United’s midfield.
Villas-Boas has taken his team to Spain this week, the current home of quick-passing football. He could do with his team picking up a few tips there if they are to stay inside the top four.
Recent Posts: Chelsea