The Deeper Issues
Capital One Cup semi-final first leg - final scores, Chelsea 0 Swansea 2.
Even though the match statistics reveal Chelsea was the dominant side, but at the end it's the final score that really matters, such is the cruelty that football brings sometimes. Going through the match day thread, I was surprised to see ardent Chelsea fans still angry at yesterday's result when in truth the result only followed the story of our season so far.
I thought our expectations should have been on reset mode on the back of events that have both occurred previously and sadly events that might still occur in the near term. Instead of focusing on the obvious, such as Torres being done and dusted and Tubby benching an in-form striker for a mirage, I took a broader view and focused on what I consider the core issues with our present team largely considered to be in transition.
We have spent fortunes trying to assemble a new attack minded team but for me the key issue killing us is a lack of balance in a variety of ways. If these imbalances are not curtailed in the near term, it might have far reaching implications for the club.
Attacking third First - the attacking third and the pivot. We all know what the major limitation of playing MAZACAR is lack of natural width, needless to say, that was evident yesterday. The problem is there was only one natural winger on the bench to give some width. One could understand why Benitez did not start Marin as the guy is just building fitness and will take some time for him to start games consecutively.
Mata is the brain box of the team (sad but true) and when he is off the team is lethargic. But for that role there is no like-for-like replacement just yet. If Mata was fresh, the Swansea game would have been wrapped up in the first half. The dilemma is with the games coming thick and fast, how long can Mata carry on playing every three days without suffering a total burnout? (we'll be playing every three days till end of January, then Europa starts!!).
I would like to bring to our remembrance that the guy only managed to get 10 days off after the Euros and has played all almost all the matches this season. Pivot RDM introduced the 4-2-3-1 formation and it`s looking like we intend to stick with it even after his departure. The pivot is a very vital part of a 4-2-3-1 and in our present team, the pivot simply does not exist - fact, which has skewed the balance of the entire team structure.
Here are the combinations we currently have;
(Mikel and Romeu are excluded as one is away and other is injured. I am more concerned about our present results)
Rammy/ Lampard = box to box/orthodox AM in a 4-3-3 (e.g. cwc finals)
Rammy/ Luiz = box to box/ (DM/box to box/CB/) (vs Swansea)
Lampard/Luiz = orthodox AM in a 4-3-3/(DM/box to box/CB/) (vs Everton)
Key weakness of these combinations are: Disjointed transition (lack of CONSISTENT crisp and incisive ball distribution linking the defense to the attacking third), defensive indiscipline due to undefined roles and overall confusion (who stays deep, who attacks, who covers the full backs and center backs when they dash forward.).
While the pivot did not directly contribute significantly to our loss vs. Swansea, it does contribute in no small measure to the overall imbalance within our team at the moment. A traditional pivot has a schemer (or deep lying play maker) and a destroyer with well-defined roles.
There are numerous examples.
At Real Madrid, Alonso is more of the schemer, Khedira blocks and destroys. There is a clear understanding as they alternate attacks.
At Bayern Schweinsteiger is the schemer, Martinez/Gustavo blocks and destroys.
Even Tubby's Liverpool team, Alonso schemes and Mascherano blocks.
Arsenal is suffering at the moment due to a lot of factors but one of the most obvious weakness in that team is the lack of destroyer in the pivot at the moment (Diaby is the closest matured destroyer they've got and is always injured) as they play a combination of Arteta and Wilshre who are both schemers thus lacking steel in front of the back four.
Truth is we do not have the required overall squad depth (RW, CM, CF) as well as mix for the pivot within this present squad be. The type of midfielders we have (Rammy, Lampard, Luiz (if you see him that way)) at the moment favor a 4-3-3 more in my opinion, a formation that thrives on hard working box-box midfielders and a traditional anchor.
Conversely playing 4-3-3 will either push Mata to the right side of the attack as an inverted winger or make him the most advanced of the three midfields. In both cases, he'll have more defensive duties which is clearly not his strength and the team will still not be balanced so we are somewhat stuck with the 4-2-3-1 except we are prepared to bench the maestro.
The summary is our entire squad does not have the required depth and does not even have the complete personnel to play a 4-2-3-1 perfectly at this time. In terms of the players we have been linked with, the board might not be as clueless in terms of transfer needs as we make them seem on VC.
While I did not understand it at first, it now appears the thinking behind wanting to sign Isco is to rotate him with Mata, Taison to play as a RW since Moses is away and Marin still requires a bit more time (which we can`t afford) to play 90 minutes consecutively.
Moreover Walcott has agreed a new deal with Arsenal which makes the Taison signing more attractive at the quoted price of £11m. The Fellaini link for me is delicate and requires some thinking. Except we have other plans for him outside the pivot which is possible given that he is a utility player (e.g. rotate him with Mata to play a 4-4-1-1), pairing Fellaini with any of the other players we have at the moment in the pivot (except Oscar),will still leave the team unbalanced.
Oscar is the closest we have to a deep lying schemer. The alternative is to play Fellaini in the pivot next to a deep lying playmaker such as Benat or Montinho which requires spending more money and frankly I don't see that happening (i.e buying both Fellaini and a deep lying playmaker). Signing Fellaini could have made a lot more sense for the pivot if we had not extended Mikel's contract except we intend to sell one of Romeu or Mikel.
The last source of imbalance that I taught about is the popular manager instability. I keep trying to assess Tubby after each of our matches to see if he stands a chance of staying beyond his short contract.
While I admit that a complete assessment is rather early, I must say to arguments against seems to be a lot more than those for him to stay on. I have been doing a little work on the sequence (W-D-L) of every single match results he has had since his Liverpool days (Inter Milan inclusive) and while I have not concluded this exercise, his biggest problem appears to be his inability to string together a sustained winning run (except for the season Liverpool finished second in the league) and that is why he has not won much after his stint with Valencia.
Recent results do not suggest that is about to change and that alone is enough reason to be gone by the of the season . I intend to discuss the details of my findings at the right time (end of the season so I can include our results till the end of the season) with the aid of clear pictorials (uncle Merlin permitting).
If Tubby walks away at end of the season, I do hope the board and the owner understand the importance of stability and bring in someone who will stay with the team for 3-5 seasons at the very least without much interference. But right now, since we have chosen not to recall any of our highly talented youngsters, we will have to spend the cash in this window to bring in the reinforcements highlighted above and hopefully with loads of prayers, we can grab a champion's league ticket next season. I am blue at heart so I remain optimistic, Chelsea all the way.