Top of the table since day one, Chelsea Football Club is surely having a memorable season. The win over United on Saturday meant that Jose’s men are now ten points clear of Arsenal at the top and 11 past that of the 3rd placed Manchester United.
As the scoreline read 1-0 after the final whistle, there was no doubt that United did give Chelsea a fight. But its not just this game against the Red Devils, Chelsea have not been able to romp any of their oppositions by a big margin since the 5-0 thrashing of Swansea City on January 17th. Every game has been a battle unto itself, needing to be fought till the very end. After the Swansea game, the Blues have played nine games. They have won seven and drawn two, but none of the seven wins have been by a goal difference of more than one even though we have played average-to-easy teams in the majority of these games. It seems they make hard work of easier fixtures. One wonders if they try and match the level of the opposition: be it higher or lower and in that sense, they have done very well.
A noticeable aspect of Chelsea’s game has been their inability to break the deadlock when the opposition sits back. Consider the away game against Stoke, for example. Chelsea managed to hold the ball; accounting for 61 percent possession of the ball for them but had to depend on an Eden Hazard penalty to break the deadlock. But their packed and numbered defence didn’t stop from giving us tough times just yet, as we then had to wait for a mistake by their goalkeeper for Loic Remy to strike in and win it for the Blues, after Charlie Adams had equalized for the home team.
Remember the reaction of the crowd and Chelsea bench at Stamford Bridge and that of the players when Willian scored the last minute goal in the 1-0 victory over Everton? It was a joy of crossing a huge milestone in the title race and maintaining the 7 points lead over the then 2nd placed Man City. As the Blues were finally able to break down the Everton defence.
The struggles of Chelsea against the teams who defend deeply and in numbers can’t get worse than what we saw in the 1-1 draw against Burnley. A team struggling against relegation came to the Bridge and made Chelsea pay the price of their poor performance in front of the goal. As they went on to equalize in added time after Branislav Ivanovic had put the Blues ahead in the 14th minute of the game. Does that sound familiar to a Champions League tie? It should. It does.
Although the performances against teams playing attacking football have not been very impressive either. Yet, we must believe that we can perform better against the attacking teams who leave the spaces behind for our midfielders to exploit with pace and constant pressing. Evidence suggests so.
We saw a clear example of this in Saturday’s game against Manchester United. There was no doubt of any kind that the visitors were not going to restrict themselves to counter attacks. And so Jose made a simple change of starting Zouma in the defensive midfield position, along with Matic. What was the result of playing with five defenders? The full backs had all of the seven touches in the opposition half between them. That’s a quarter of the average this season. In terms of the result, well, Jose nailed it again! There was no room left for Fellaini to get in a suitable position to be fed long balls or create many chances, owing to Zouma’s domination of the Belgian. John Terry, on the other hand, did well to control the movement of Falcao along with Gary Cahill. This is how in spite of keeping only 29 percent of possession, Chelsea frustrated the hell out of United’s attack. And our midfielders did amazingly well to make the best out of their rare chance with some beautiful passing and running through the spaces, for Eden Hazard to finish it in style.
And this trick can work well on Saturday as well when we visit the Northern part of London to face second-placed Arsenal. Wenger certainly wants to win all his remaining games, and he may look to dominate us at his home and take all the three points to close on us on the points table. But some good defending from Chelsea may be the key to making their attack look helpless. It also boosts the confidence of our forwards to play further up and look to move in through the spaces.
However, Wenger may yet try to ape Mourinho as he did against City. He got the victory there, and will be hopeful of it again. That may be a different proposition for Mourinho to ponder through this weekend. Either way, Chelsea are very unlikely to repeat last season’s Arse6-nil on their visit to the Emirates.
It is not just going to be about Arsenal though. There will still be five games left after this London Derby, including a big one at the Bridge against Liverpool. So what if any of our oppositions decides to sit back, something that is certain to happen against the kind of opponents we’ll be facing. What if they wait for the chance and attack on counters? Will we be going through the same kind of struggle to find a goal as we did against Everton or Stoke? For sure, it would be about who blinks first, a game of cat and mouse if you’d say so. Only, we can’t be too sure who’s going to be the cat or the mouse.
Well, one tactic might be to defend in numbers and at the same time, try to rotate the ball in opposition’s half. And this can be executed by using the same kind of squad as we did against United. Zouma starting along with Matic in the defensive midfield, Fabregas taking up the No.10 spot with Hazard and Oscar on his either flank. Rumours have it that Loic Remy can be fit to start in a short time, and till then Drogba’s physicality can do good to break defences.
Matic is and will be the link between the front four and the back four and may be accompanied by a fifth man, Kurt Zouma. Long balls from the Serbian and Ivanovic’s runs down the right can help us to keep the possession in their half, and abilities of both to trace back will not leave our defence vulnerable either. Even if Ivanovic is unable to trace back on some occasions, the presence of Zouma can still assure that Chelsea still have four men in their backline.
Fabregas’ goal against QPR and his contribution to Hazard’s goal against United brought some sigh of relief for the Chelsea fans. Once again, they saw what they had been used to from the Spaniard before his drop in form. Oscar’s assist to Hazard for the same goal and his presence on the field were quite supreme. Besides, his overall performance on Saturday was a bit surprising as you don’t get to see this kind of display from the Brazilian in the late stages of the season. Mourinho might have been able to break Oscar’s late season syndrome. These could well be the signs of Chelsea’s creative duo coming back to its form. Couple that with Hazard’s match-winning performances, and I assure you that Chelsea can tear apart defences and register some thrashing wins in these last few games. But at this moment, it’s all mere conjecture of my wishful thinking.
Two wins and a draw is all that Chelsea need from our next six games to be crowned the English champions. But why not finish the season, which has been an amazing one for us, emphatically.
For a team to be considered great, it is a must to not only try and win each and every game, but to do it in style. Many called our win against United to be not a deserving one, and the critics will have the same ‘Park the Bus’ thing to readied and practiced even when we lift the Premier League trophy. True that it is not fair at all to say that a team that has been on the top since the beginning of the season does not deserve to win. Then again, why leave them with any reason to criticize our Premier League winning campaign? Are you listening, Mr. Special One? It is time to do the new dance. Next season, maybe?
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Edited By: Ojas Tripathi