Chelsea wrapped up their 5th Premier League title against Crystal Palace on Sunday, after a hard-fought 1-0 victory. Sunday’s performance was another display of grit and efficiency, typified by a Hazard goal and a strong defensive performance after that.
Every title winning team of Jose Mourinho has been based on a foundation of a strong defense, and one man who has been integral to Chelsea’s title-winning campaign this season, is the veteran Branislav Ivanovic. The right back has been one of Chelsea’s most consistent players this season, turning up with strong performances week in week out. Not only has he been strong defensively, but his attacking approach has been phenomenal. This season, Ivanovic has just added a few more to his list of important season-defining goals. With 3 matches still left in the Premier League, Ivanovic already has 4 goals to his name equalling that of strikers Radamel Falcao and Edin Dzeko, and more than Spurs forward Roberto Soldado.
The most telling contribution, in terms of goals, came against Aston Villa and Liverpool. Jose Mourinho had never won at Villa Park, and last season Chelsea had lost 1-0 after a goal from Delph in the 82nd minute. This season, after having held Manchester City to a draw at the Bridge, Chelsea needed to win against the Villans to make sure the gap off second placed City remained 5 points. After an early goal from Hazard, Chelsea conceded from an Okore header right after kick off in the second half. With Chelsea trying to respond quickly, Ivanovic scored with a stunning half-volley with his ‘weaker’ left foot, from the edge of the box. The goal proved to be the match-winner as Chelsea held on to a 2-1 win.
In the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final, Chelsea were held to a 1-1 draw at Anfield. In the second leg, the match remained goalless throughout the 90 minutes, even after a flurry of chances for both the sides. However, as extra time ensued, Ivanovic conjured up a goal, beating the brilliant Mignolet, with a towering header from Willian’s free kick. The scoreline remained 1-0, and Chelsea reached the Capital One Cup final after 8 years, which they eventually won.
What is interesting is his contribution to Chelsea’s goals even when he is not on the score sheet. Ivanovic has raked up 5 assists from the right back position in the league this season, which is more than some of the big names who were bought in to do the same job at other clubs. Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil and Manchester United talisman Wayne Rooney has the same number of assists as Ivanovic, while the likes of David Silva, Juan Mata and Liverpool’s player of the year Coutinho, have 4 assists each. This just illustrates the importance of Ivanovic’s contribution to Chelsea’s wins.
Ivanovic’s first assist came in the second game of the season, against Leicester City at home, having already scored one himself in the first match against Burnley. After a goalless first 45 minutes, Ivanovic sped down the right wing, cutting in for Costa, who finished from inside the box. The match ended 2-0. His next assist came in the home game to Newcastle, as Willian took a quick corner on the right, finding Ivanovic, who in turn found Oscar in the box, tapped in a simple goal. His third assist came in the next match itself, in the 5-0 demolition of Swansea at the Liberty Stadium, when Ivanovic found Schurrle, who scored from close range, the fifth goal of the match. Next up was a rather simple cross, which was headed in by Chelsea’s top scorer Diego Costa, in a 1-1 home draw against the Saints. His fifth assist was more recent, away to Leicester last week. Chelsea went into half-time trailing from Albrighton’s goal. Right at the start of the second half, Chelsea responded, as Drogba swept across Ivanovic’s cross and found the net.
Interestingly, Ivanovic is not the defender with the most assists in the league. Everton’s Leighton Baines has 9 assists to his name, although it must be noted that unlike Ivanovic, Baines is Everton’s main set-piece specialist, taking the majority of Everton’s free kicks and corners.
Making the right back position his own, Ivanovic’s defensive abilities have never been in doubt. So much so, that the much younger Azpilicueta, a natural right back, had to make the left back position his own to stay in the regular starting lineup. Not only his defensive duties, but Ivanovic’s wing play, in general, has won him many plaudits. Goals and assists aside, Ivanovic has recorded 1.1 shots per game in the league from the right back position. Ivanovic has also recorded 0.8 dribbles per match this season.
According to Squawka, Ivanovic, from 35 appearances, has created a total of 35 chances (including the 5 assists) in the league this season, only 8 less than Manchester United’s Juan Mata, who plays in a much advanced position. Manchester City right back, Pablo Zabaleta, only has 1 goal to his name, while he has created a total of 25 chances, while Arsenal right backs Hector Bellerin and Calum Chambers have created 19 chances put together. These stats just show why Ivanovic is the best the right back in the Premier League, justifying his selection as the right back in the PFA Team of the Year.
Ivanovic has been heaped with praise on a lot of occasions this season, but the most valuable praise came from the manager, after his winning goal at Villa Park. Jose Mourinho said:
“He came immediately after I left and after that he made a fantastic contribution for this club. He is a competitive animal. A big heart. What really matters more is what we as a club feel for him and people like John and Cahill, guys that without them — you cannot do anything. A team is an artist like [Eden] Hazard, it is a defender like Branislav. The mix and combination of talent makes a team. Every striker in the world would be proud to score that magnificent goal, it is an amazing goal. When he scores that goal and it is three or four nil it is a different feeling. He is a great guy, what he is doing for us is unbelievable.”
The 31-year-old defender has been one of the most consistent players for the club in the last decade, and with performances like these, it seems that Chelsea will fend off all the interest from other clubs, most notably Bayern, and keep him at the club for years to come.
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Edited By: Harshal