As soon as the name Branislav Ivanovic rings your eardrums, you will probably remember a few things. If you’re an opposition winger, you’ll probably not sleep for the next few nights. If you’re Luis Suarez, you will probably remember how tasty his arm is. But mostly an image of an extremely strong man (bear?) will enter your mind, who despite being a defender scores goals for fun.
Branislav Ivanovic joined Chelsea as an unknown youngster from Russia from Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian Premier League. He signed for the Premier League side for a £9-million fee in January 2008. Since then, he’s managed to be the mainstay at CB/RB in a team that has undergone 7 managerial changes is an achievement in itself. But being a rock in the defense isn’t the only thing he is good at.
That night against Napoli, that night in Amsterdam, the winner against the eventual Champions Man City in The Etihad, and going back in time, 2 goals at Anfield in the Champions League Quarterfinals; to name a few, are many of the reasons why he’s considered one of the best right-backs in the Premier League.
It was not too long ago, say 2011, that Branislav Ivanovic was clearly the weakest (attacking) link in the Chelsea squad. Sir Alex Ferguson, in our Champions League meetings, used to set up his Manchester United side to simply ignore Ivanovic. This allowed them to easily overload the middle without any real detriment thanks to the lack of any threat posed by the converted center back.
Ivanovic may have been named to the Premier League’s team of the year in 2009-10 as a right back, but he was still primarily seen as a center back who could be used as a mostly defensive option on the right — and he remained in that role until Jose Mourinho came back.
Since Mourinho came back though, Ivanovic’s performances have been nothing but consistent. Not consistent only, but consistently good. The 2014-15 season was probably the best in the Serbian’s career. The big Serbian scored 8 goals and had 6 assists, winning a place in the UEFA Champions League Team of the Season and a place in the Premier League team of the season as well. He came to his best in an amazing run of matches from March unto the end of the season and started all 38 games in the League.
Here are a few words Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had to say on Ivanovic-
“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 (Terry) and (Gary) 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.”
Source – London24
Now let us hear from an expensive winger himself- Manchester City attacker Raheem Sterling claiming,
“The scariest player to play against was Branislav Ivanovic. He wasn’t dirty; the guy is just a tank! A big guy, big upper body, big lower body. A real tank.”
As the sun keeps rising in the east and setting in the west; it was expected that come the new season, the consistency would go on. But that was not to be. Jefferson Montero tore Ivanovic again and again with his direct, fast, pacey runs. Raheem Sterling used his pace and trickery to full effect.
Furthermore, everyone finally realized what should be out in the open a long time ago; that Chelsea’s weakest link still is Ivanovic, only his weakness had been hidden over by his attacking output. Further defeats to Everton and Stoke brought about a crisis at the club, with Ivanovic facing most of the criticism, all justified.
Now, what exactly has been the problem with the man we all had come to love? First of all, he is still actually a converted right back. This directly implies that he isn’t pacey. His lack of pace was really well complimented by his excellent positional awareness and his superhuman strength; which more often than not kept attackers at bay.
It is important to note that his poor performances against Montero and Sterling was mainly due to the fact that Ivanovic committed to his challenges too early, allowing players to make an easy drop of the shoulder and breeze past him.
The poor performance brought about lots of criticism and calls that he should be dropped. But the manager thought better of it, giving the Serbian another chance. But the performances didn’t improve after a win against West Brom. This led to a loss of confidence, even for a world class player like Ivanovic, who probably realized that getting committed to challenges isn’t the right way going forward.
Against Stoke and Everton, Ivanovic decided to hang back and wait. What happens? The wingers get to dangerous areas easily, and supply crosses, or shots; leaving Ivanovic standing with his hands behind his back.
Here is Gary Neville with some not-so-kind words-
“They look absolutely knackered. They look absolutely shot to pieces. When watching someone who was probably the best right-back last season in Ivanovic at full back, it looks like he can’t move out towards the ball. He comes inside; the ball gets switched back out wide. Then he can’t get back out, and he can’t get back in.”
Source – Squawka
The crisis of confidence made the Serbian to think or overthink a lot, which has also led to horrible performances going forward. His crosses against Everton were pathetic, to say the least. Usually his poor defending used to be compensated by his forays going forward, but now not. He again seems to be a liability for the team and was rightly dropped against Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
What now? It is unknown at this point whether he starts on Saturday against Arsenal, but sometimes being off the pitch can be better than being on it in terms of confidence. Probably this is one of those times. A few matches on the bench can hopefully clear off his head, and rejuvenate him for the rest of the season.
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Edited By: Karan Dubey
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