Persistent bad habits;
For me the score of our latest preseason match against Werder Bremen is the least of our concerns;
The 3-0 score considerably flatters Werder and included 2 highly contentious PKs awarded by a referee who seemed to have an agenda. The greater cause for concern and alarm for me is that we were so poor and that the problems apparent in out play today have been pervasive and apparent in all our prior games this preseason except for maybe our first preseason game against Wycombe Wanderers. The same recurrent issues persist and are essentially continuations of the same problems we struggled with all season long last season. The bigger concerns we should harbor from today's match and all the others this preseason other than the first one are that despite having greater possession in virtually all these matches we have contrived to create rather few chances, we haven`t taken many of those few and the scorelines have often been rather flattering to us compared to what actually transpired on the pitch. The BPL reality coming mid August wont be so forgiving.
We have not faced any top tier BPL level opposition thus far. While those teams in the Guiness International champions cup have been playing significantly higher level competition for example we have played decidedly mid to lower rung level competition and thus far despite the results my biggest concern is that 7 persistent bad habits from last season continue and you know what that old saying says;
"you cant continue to do the same thing repeatedly and seriously expect a change in results; such an expectation is a clear definition of lunacy".
I will detail below the 7 big recurrent issues I think need addressing in the remaining few weeks we have before season start realizing that the way Werder Bremen played us today is the way virtually all the bottom 7-10 teams in the BPL will play us both home and away. Unless we make some substantive changes and fast we are going to see a rehash of the way we essentially gave the BPL title away last season by donating points to most of the bottom dwelling teams like West Brom, Sunderland, Aston villa etc etc. The greater concern is that we will be hard pressed to replicate our scintillating form from last season against the top 7 teams this coming season and some of them like the gunners may actually borrow a leaf from the bottom dwelling teams and when they come play us at Stamford bridge may then elect to also 'pack the bus' and pick us of on the counter; a rather simple formula to which we seem to have little answer right now.
Right now the formula to beating chelsea`s staple 4-2-3-1 is very simple; Defend deep in your half and pack the middle of the 18 yard box, have a couple of fast wingers that can take advantage of the space their overlapping full backs will certainly give you the moment they turn the ball over. You really only need one man up front when defending and then just wait patiently for them to make the mistakes they will eventually make..finito!!!
The recurrent problems we still have not fixed which are now coupled with a defensive frailty we didn`t use to have in the latter half of last season (I can easily chuck this up to it still being preseason and that we haven`t played our preferred back 4 that much so far this preseason) are as follows;
1. Slow starts in the first half of matches. We always seem to be trying to grow into matches rather than starting out like gang busters from the first whistle. This very bad habit often sees us conceding early goals and then having to chase games. It is a bad habit which also tends to give lower level sides a degree of hope and confidence that is dangerous. City and Liverpool who were the top two teams of last season were typically the opposite. They tended to be fast starters and often had games won by the end of the first half. I know what type of mind set I prefer and one of the few games we did the latter ( against the gunners at Stamford bridge last season) was one of the games I enjoyed the most and one of the few matches we were able to play the second half with peace of mind. The solution here lies with Jose..he has to light a fire in our players behinds demanding top notch level 11 effort from the moment the whistle blows. Players who seem to be sleep walking in the first half should be made to pay by not starting the next game ..simple as that!!!
2. We consistently have no width in the final third; I find this so very annoying because it is so obvious to anyone who watches us and it makes it so easy to defend. Again I reference City and Liverpool ; the top 2 teams from last year..we have virtually no one like Jesus Navas for city, Sterling for Liverpool, Walcott and chamberlain for the gunners…front players who understand and exploit the need for true wing play. Our best options here are Schurrle and Hazard and yet too often we saw last season both of them tending to want to drift inwards rather than taking on their full backs with speed on the flanks, getting behind the opposing defense and so pulling the tight packing in the center of the 18 yard apart to reveal much needed space for our goal scorers. The solution here in my mind is on jose..he needs to emphasize to our front band of three to stick to their designated roles..the no 10 should stay in the middle to orchestrate and our wide forwards need to play the role of true wingers rather than everyone trying to come inside. One of the huge reasons Bayern and Real are so effective is that both teams truly use the width of the pitch to great effect; For Bayern the Robery connection of Robben and Ribery play the role of true wide men and the occasional maurauding runs of Alaba and Lahm just add to that not take its place. For real CR7 and Di Maria play this role. Jose needs to drive it into Schurrle's and Hazard's heads to stay wide as long as possible till they get behind the defense and pull the CBs and FBs out of the center of the 18 yard box. Our FBs should be auxillaries in providing us width not our first and only options!!!
3. Formation problems; I usually don`t feel that formations are that big a deal but I think this is a major issue now for us. I am really concerned with our almost slavish devotion to the 4-2-3-1. This works okay when we play top level opposition when defensive solidity is crucial but the big problems with this remain getting a solid appropriate pivot partner for Matic so he does not get overrun defensively and the fact that this formation is piss poor for dealing with teams that pack the bus against us. Again this is on Jose. It is well past time that we saw more of us playing either 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 against lower level opposition where we certainly don`t need two full time DMs and yet where speed of transition and true width are of far greater premium. If only for the sake of changing things up and being less predictable we need to see far less of the 4-2-3-1 and more of anything else. Look I wouldn`t even mind seeing us experiment with the crazy 3-5-2 formation that City tired several times early in last years campaign. Jose needs to stop being so stubborn and conservative in this regard.
4. Lack of speed in build up and transition; this is a plague that we have had for way too long and it continues. Contrary to what some would like to believe..No Mikel is not to blame for this because it has been persistent and there to see pretty much in all our preseason games other than the first even when Mikel has not been on the pitch. Again Jose, this is your call..i understand the need for caution and discipline in keeping team shape but the transition from center mid field to the attacking third needs to be drastically speeded up if we are to catch defensive minded teams out of position. As long as we take a century to move the ball from defense to center mid and then another century to get from there into the oppositions half then no wonder we always run into a brick wall by the time we get there. To perfect rapid transition needs rapid thinking and rapid action. It is harder than slow build up and to develop it our boys need to practice it repeatedly in practice drills. Jose the ball is in your court.
5. Needless back passing and poor forward passing; This was no more apparent in our preseason than today. Go back and rewatch the match to see how many times even when we were 1 and two goals down our players were often passing the ball backwards both in our half and the oppositions rather than trying to look for the forward pass that would advance our cause. This is a long standing problem at Chelsea and it is the result of players not being held accountable..both the players with the ball at the moment and team mates that don`t actively seek to take up advanced positions to allow an option for a forward pass. Effective passing is not a skill that very many footie players are born with..it is a learned skill and it can be taught and learned if premium is placed on it. This is one area Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez excel. Everywhere these guys have coached they have preached and taught the gospel of effective forward passing. Both long and short range. Again in this area Jose needs to step it up. If he needs to get a passing specialist to drill our boys and get them to spend the time improving this skill both the appropriate spacing and the actual execution of both carpet and aerial forward passes (both long and short range) then this investment must be made. Ramires can improving his passing skill if he is made to take the time to invest in it. Mikel is one of our best passers but he must be pressured to make the forward (albeit somewhat riskier) passes more often and in the same vein our forward players need to be much better grilled in taking advanced positions that make execution of the forward pass easier to make with speed. Again no-one is born with this. I am not talking tiki taka here ( and even that was not born to the Catalans..they were taught it repeatedly for days and years on end at La Masia). I am talking more of the goal oriented forward passing that we saw Jose have Real deploy to such devastating effect during his time there and the same sort of devastating rapid forward passing that Borussia Dortmund and Bayern ( Jupp Heynckes version not Peps Tika Taka Bayern hybrid) espouse. The onus here is on Jose to make teaching and executing this a priority.
6. Scoring problems; I wont waste a lot of time here. Look carefully at our preseason so far and compare it to that which our fellow competitors like City and ManU have had. We have a scoring problem. Apart from our first game we have not exactly had a comfortable win in any of the other games and in some games we were essentially holding on by the skin of our teeth. This is a recurrent theme from last season and is a result of many problems including many of the things mentioned above as well as having mediocre goal scorers. Bluntly stated right now our only elite goal scorer is Diego Costa and the entire BPL will quickly find this out if they don`t know it already. Unless our defenders pick it up in the scoring dept the way they did 2 seasons ago, unless Hazard and Schurrle really step it up as far as scoring, unless willian does more than chip in 3 goals in a season as a CAM, unless Oscar no longer does a disappearing act after a third of the season we are going to have major problems. The drogs at 36 and El nino wont save us most times when these problems come and so yet again I appeal to Jose; find a decent priced second striker who brings a different dimension to the direct bullying power of costa. Make sure we have a decent and effective plan B.
7. We always seem to play up or down to our competition. It is hard to imagine that the same side that came to play with such precision and passion as we saw against Manu and the Gunners at Stamford Bridge last season were the same team that played against West Brom and West Ham at the same venue. Again I must place the burden squarely on Jose here. I know this tendency to over prepare for certain opposition and to allow complacency creep in against opposition perceived to be inferior is human nature but the SAF trained sides of ManUs reign of terror as league leaders hardly ever showed this. They were absolutely ruthless against lower level opposition; putting them to the sword quickly and effectively..often with routes that ended the contest in the first half of matches and against higher level competition that edge was still there. Atletico Madrid last season despite having no mega superstar ( their best simulations of that being Diego Costa and Thibaut Courtois) were known for one thing; near consistent intensity from start to finish of the season. I can think of only 2-3 matches all season when it can be said that their typical 110% effort was not on display and the results they had bear that out. Diego simeone must take the credit for that.
To address this I can understand therefore why Jose could not tolerate having a player like Lukaku on the team..to get this kind of consistency and intensity the entire team must be on the same page and they must all be invested in the team first and foremost with considerations of self banished to a far distant past tense. Jose has to rebuild his usual bunker type; us against the world mentality in our boys. His goals ..lofty goals for this season must be shared with the team in no uncertain terms. These goals should be for internal consumption only; not be noised aboard nor shopped to the media but these goals should be the fuel that drives high level performances every time these guys take to the pitch wearing the royal blue of Chelsea with the crest of the Stamford Lions on their chests these goals should resonate in their minds.
Double, Triple or even the El Dorado Quadruple trophy winning seasons don`t happen by accident and they never happen with teams that take any days of or underestimate any opponents. We must learn to execute and put out 110% effort and quality every time and against everyone we play this season and this falls on Jose to ingrain into our boys and on our squad to execute.
Blue nation the floor is yours to discuss; KTBFFH!!!