Branislav Ivanovic – An Asset Or A Liability?

Firstly, I would like to say that this is not a temperamental post-match rant. I’ve wanted to write this piece for a while now, and the performance against Swansea City only added further fuel to that urge. At long last, I’m going to relent and let it all out.

Last season, few would argue that our two best players were Eden Hazard and John Terry. One, an exciting, mesmeric player up front who was easy to the eye and the other a wise old head at the back, not only gave the fans a lot to cheer but also gave the newspapers editors headlines to write. After all, something like “Hazard: Tackle at your own risk” or “Terry-fic performance sees skipper lead from the front” would have been difficult to pass up as a writer.

There was one common denominator between these two, though – they were both covered by the same player. That unerringly dependable and consistent player in the question is, of course, Cesar Azpilicueta!

The Spaniard, who as we must remember, is a right-back playing at left-back, was simply superb throughout. Him remaining as solid as a rock meant that Terry didn’t have to get out of his comfort zone too much and Hazard could weave his magic at the other end without having to look constantly over his shoulder at the opposition winger making a run.

Stark contrast

On the other side of the pitch, was Branislav Ivanovic. Now I love Branna, and it’s difficult not to, with all the memorable moments he’s given us over the years. He will, undoubtedly, go down as a club legend, one whose contributions will be remembered and celebrated for a long time to come.

He was initially signed as a centre-half and with his tall and well-built physique, is still one of the toughest men around to get through. Carlo Ancelotti shifted him to the right in 2009 as per the need of the hour, and that’s where he has majorly featured ever since.

But now, there is no doubt that he has become a bit too smart for his own good. His hunger to score goals has seen him foray forward when he hasn’t necessarily needed to, leaving a huge gap for Willian to fill. The Brazilian, in turn, hasn’t been able to perform to his fullest in an attacking sense.

Another player affected by this has been Gary Cahill. The Englishman has been forced to leave his position and cover for Ivanovic, thereby leaving space in the heart of the defence for a runner from midfield to go through. It’s easy to look at Cahill and blame him, but it’s a problem of Ivanovic’s making.

Off the top of my head, I can remember the thrashing at White Hart Lane last season, the first goal we conceded against Hull City to Ahmed Elmohamady and the one against West Brom to Stephane Sessegnon at Stamford Bridge in the 2013/14 season as clear examples of where we’ve been left exposed on the right due to Ivanovic going missing. In general as well, teams find it much easier to get through from that side than they do past Azpilicueta on the left.

New season, same story

Saturday’s game against Swansea saw Ivanovic have an absolute shocker, as he was ripped to shreds by Jefferson Montero. His physicality came to no avail as the Ecuadorian beat him with his pace time and time again, setting up the first goal in the process.

The fact that the Serb still wanted to continue his runs forward without considering the situation did him no favours whatsoever. In the build-up to the penalty that we conceded, Willian was the one playing Bafetimbi Gomis onside, something he can hardly be blamed for. He was doing a job that wasn’t his.

Ivanovic has garnered a lot of praise in the last one season, with fans and pundits alike heralding him as one of the best right-backs in the league. He even made the Team of the Season as we won the title last year. I, for one, never understood that, and am firmly of the opinion that his mistakes weren’t noticed by everyone simply because we managed to win the league so comfortably. This season, there are already signs that things may turn out differently.

Jose, for some reason, has refrained from dropping Ivanovic up until now. Maybe that’s because every time the 31-year-old’s position became close to untenable, he came up with a big goal. Another possible reason could be that Mourinho didn’t trust Filipe Luis enough to do the job on the left last year.

Now, with a deal for Abdul Rahman Baba almost done, it will be interesting to see if things change. If the youngster from Augsburg proves to be a solid defender, playing him at left-back and shifting Azpilicueta to the right would give us much more solidarity.

Ivanovic would still be a great option at centre-back, if either Cahill or Terry’s form drops, but his days as a full-back, for our own good, should be well and truly over.

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Edited By: Karan Dubey

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