Chelsea FC: Andre Villas-Boas' 10 Realistic Goals for the Rest of This Season
I have been nothing but a critic these past few weeks as I pull out every stop I can in some naive feeling that I have the power to influence the proceedings at Stamford Bridge.
Andre Villas-Boas has turned a team that was only two wins last season against Manchester United away from winning their second straight Premier League and another Champions League final appearance into one jostling to remain in any European competition next year.
But I want to step back from my negativity for a moment and see if I cannot attempt to be more rounded in my approach.
No, I will not roll over and blow hot air about how if we give him time, he will come through. I am not a believer in this philosophy, as I think the way things are going, time will only extend the suffering.
What I will do, however, is lay down some goals that Villas-Boas should aim for to keep his job and we as fans should expect in this final third of the season.
Here are 10 realistic goals that Villas-Boas should try to accomplish by the end of May.
Prove That This Is Not a Bad Squad
For all the talk about Villas-Boas’ plans for the future, he seems to forget the old adage in sports: You’re only as good as your last game. For Chelsea, that basically means you would have to go back to early December to feel good about this squad.
But what really has irked the Chelsea fanbase is the notion that I mentioned on the opening slide: How can the same team that was within two games of a league title and Champions League final drop this far?
The question becomes even more puzzling when you add in the fact that Daniel Sturridge is playing at a high level, Ramires has found his footing in England and they had perhaps the best summer signing in the whole league, Juan Mata.
This team should not only be better than they are now, they should be much better than they were last year!
You can blame it on tactics, age or player unrest, but the simple fact still remains that there is no way that they should be below teams that lost their leading goal scorer (Carlos Tevez at City), lost the best keeper in the game (Edwin Van der Saar at United), have a manager that was in the process of a serious legal case (Harry Redknapp at Spurs) and lost their two best playmakers and hopes for the future (Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas at Arsenal).
This team has underperformed given the quality they have, and Villas-Boas needs to make sure that no matter what the results show, fans do not feel this way come the end of the season.
Master the Media
I have personally written article after article in which I micro examine the words of Villas-Boas said in stressful and often unpleasant circumstances. Nothing the Chelsea boss has said after the past five games has come off as exactly eloquent or sophisticated. But then again, it’s not easy to talk when you know every word you utter is going to be transmuted, amalgamated and printed out of context.
But hey, that’s the life of an EPL manager.
You ever wonder why Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was the victim when England’s son, Wayne Rooney, was up for contract talks? Why was it that everyone was siding with and old Scot over the best England has had up top since Gary Lineker?
Or how about a Frenchman that can go seven years without a trophy, all while turning the pride of London football into nothing more than a farm system for other teams?
It’s all about the image, and that image is controlled by the media.
Villas-Boas has always had a vitriol approach to the pundits, as he is short with his answers and tends to speak in an I’m-better-than-you tone. The more he loses, the more difficult the questions become and the more guarded his responses.
He seems to emulate his former boss, Jose Mourinho, who has always had a stern voice for the media, and it can be effective—just as long as you are winning. Look at how the media in Spain has taken to his sharp tongue, as he has struggled to come by silverware in the capitol.
This is the reason that more and more fans are beginning to see his three-year plan as nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
The Chelsea season is a failure by all accounts, so the hard-hitting questions will continue to come. So rather than deflecting them in arrogance, Villas-Boas should work on his approach and see if by May, he can have them under his thumb, where all the great managers do.
Get to the Quarterfinals of Champions League
Watching Chelsea play Tuesday night against Napoli was like going on a drop tower ride at the fair—Mata’s goal elevated you to unbelievable heights, and Napoli’s three unanswered dropped you to the floor.
However, Chelsea are by no means finished and out of contention.
Just short of being what I would consider a long shot, Chelsea need one unanswered goal to force a shootout and two for a win.
Considering the way Chelsea played, this is not far-fetched. The team that Villas-Boas had out there was definitely keeping up with Napoli in the chances on goal department with only two less than Napoli in shots on goal.
Add in the fact that Chelsea’s home record is vastly better than their away record, and you have to figure there is some hope.
Scoring has been the issue for Chelsea in this recent run of poor form. In their last eight games, they have a total of only eight goals, and that includes three against United.
However, Chelsea have put up some big scores against teams this season, laying four on Swansea, five on Genk, three on Arsenal and Valencia, four on Portsmouth and then of course, that three on United, the second most they had given up all season.
Chelsea can put the ball in the net at home, and that alone keeps this second leg open.
Bow out of Champions League Respectably
I’ll admit it, I was one of the ones that thought this whole season could look brighter than ever, as some timely play, favorable draws and a bit of fortune could get Chelsea all the way to the Champions League final.
But Tuesday’s loss dashed any faint hopes of that happening.
I just made the case that Chelsea could make it into the quarterfinals, but once there, odds are they will be matched up against a side that is not debatably superior, but vastly so.
With Barcelona, Madrid, Bayern, Milan and Marseille heavy favorites to progress, Chelsea will almost surely play the underdogs in the next round. This is not new territory for Blues, as in most of the later rounds in Europe, they have played this role.
Chelsea is currently not at the level of the clubs, and will in all likelihood not be the victors in a two-leg matchup. There is no shame in being beaten by a better side.
But should they match up against one of these European juggernauts, it would not be acceptable if they were to be embarrassed. Villas-Boas must ensure that should they lose, it will be respectable and making sure the opposing team uses their full effort to do so.
Most fans will comes away with an air of respect for the manger knowing that he was able to keep them competitive in the toughest competition, and the future will look much brighter because of it.
Beat Rivals Handedly
Perhaps the most abysmal part of this season for any true fan of the club has been Villas-Boas’ ineptness at dispensing with their rivals.
Geographically, Villas-Boas is a miserable 2-2-2 against London based clubs, with one win being against Fulham in the first round of the Carling Cup in penalties. On a more liberal and league-wide level, things are even worse: 1-1-3 against United, City and Liverpool.
That makes for a 3-3-5 advantage in bragging rights to our nemeses.
However, all is not over for Chelsea, as they still have six matches remaining with all the aforementioned teams except United.
Chelsea’s hopes of winning the title are non-existent, but figuring in who does is very real.
Villas-Boas could earn some respect around the neighborhood if he were to disrupt City’s chances at the league, keep Liverpool out of Europe again and force Arsenal and Tottenham to play it out for fourth. Not to mention getting revenge on QPR for that early season disaster and squashing out those little pests from Craven Cottage.
If Villas-Boas is to win six more games all season, he would hope that it would be these. In that case, no matter where the team finishes, the fans will be happy to know at least they have an argument of why Chelsea is the better team than their neighbors.
Finish in the Top 3 in the League
Chelsea currently sit in fifth place, tied with Arsenal on points, but the Gunners lead on goal differential. Seventeen points behind league leaders Manchester City, Villas-Boas has already conceded that the title will end up elsewhere by season’s end.
The challenge now for Villas-Boas is to ensure that his team finishes in the top four to earn a Champions League spot next season. This is by no means a difficult task for a squad of this much talent, but they have made it hard on themselves.
However, a fourth-place finish does not benefit as much as a third place one does, which should be the real aim of the club.
If he were to finish fourth, Chelsea would be forced to play early qualifying round matches. These should be easy enough to win, but you have to look at it in respect to the damage they could do to a team that will need the summer to rebuild.
Should Villas-Boas survive the season, he will most likely do an overhaul of the team this summer, exiting older players and bringing in young ones who will have to learn a new system. Rather than playing exhibition matches in some vacation destination to hone their skills and build chemistry, they will be in a competitive match where anything short of winning would be an embarrassment and put Villas-Boas right back on the hot seat.
Villas-Boas will need that extra two weeks of time and practice to make sure he knows his players, his players know one another and everyone is on the same page together.
Chelsea is 10 points back of Tottenham at the moment, but have the benefit of a home game coming up against them.
It may seem petty the difference between third and fourth, but it could make all the difference in the world for Villas-Boas’ long-term future.
Choose a Starting XI and Stick with It
A common complaint I have heard amongst Chelsea fans time and time again has been Villas-Boas’ inability to have a starting XI. Only on the Chelsea page have you every week seen a article with this headline: “Chelsea vs. X: Predicting the Blue’s Starting XI."
That is not a good thing.
There should be no mystery about who will start for a club at this level. Villas-Boas should already have in his mind the players who will start every game unless they cannot due to injury or suspension.
Occasionally, it is OK to tweak it around a bit to give starters a rest or you want more speed or a defensive midfield. But I can safely say that every single week the lineup is announced, there is at least one name on or off the list that has Chelsea fans jaws dropping in unison.
Villas-Boas seems to have one foot on either side of the line (something I will get to in the next slide) where he is unable to give a player consistent playing time for no inherent reason.
Just look at Oriol Romeu. The teenager has been perhaps the best thing Villas-Boas has done for the club. Giving him playing time at first was risky, but Romeu took it and was consistent in his role.
He started 11 straight games with good performances, but for seemingly no reason, he just vanished. In Chelsea’s last six games, he has played a total of 95 minutes and has not featured in the last three.
On the other hand, players who have played hardly at all are getting called to step up in the biggest moments.
Gary Cahill arrived at Chelsea and did not play in any of the first three for which he was available against Norwich, QPR and Swansea. Instead, he was only forced in due to injury against United. Now with John Terry out, he is expected to fill the legend's shoes, with only one game under him in two incredibly important cup matches.
Villas-Boas may upset some fans, but he will make many happier if we no longer have the mystery of who we will be watching on game day. Just pick your best XI and make it work!
Set a Definitive Plan for the Future
In the last slide, I mentioned something about Villas-Boas having one foot on each side. What I was referring to is his inability to match his words with his actions.
Villas-Boas was brought into the club to transform it into the high attacking contemporary game that is popular amongst fans. He wanted Chelsea to not only win, but win with “flair” and an entertaining brand of football that will bring joy to the spectators.
I don’t mind this kind of philosophy. I enjoy watching Barcelona make fools of whatever poor side they are facing. But this revolution will obviously require getting rid of some players who do not have the skills to play such a style and bringing in young new ones who can.
As much as I personally don’t like the thought of a Chelsea team without Drogba, Lampard, Malouda, etc., I understand that in sports players will come and go.
But what I don’t enjoy is the cowardice approach to which Villas-Boas has taken on this transformation.
Villas-Boas knows that he needs the players to go if he is to create the kind of team that he wants. He knows that some of them will just not be able to do it, and he knows who may be able to adapt. He should have done something with this knowledge during the transfer windows.
Now instead, he is stuck with a team of veterans who believe they have more credence in their opinions than their manager due to their seniority at the club. In all truth, they may actually be right.
Now, I know the response is going to be that had he sold these players, the PR fallout would have been disastrous, and yes, they are right.
But if Villas-Boas is so confident in his tactics and players, then he should have no trouble winning and silencing any of those who did not approve of his transferring out of the older players. After all, there is no way we can argue with results.
If he wants to keep the older players, that is fine, but like Ray Wilkins said yesterday:
'There has got to be conversation and if Andre is asking for their (veteran players) opinion, then he shouldn't be too shocked when the opinion comes back because they are very powerful and very strong personalities, these guys he's dealing with.'
By the time May comes around, we as fans should know exactly where this team is heading, as it will settle any uncertainty that is creating tension.
Win the FA Cup
With Chelsea effectively out of the title race, getting knocked out of the Carling Cup and a real long shot for European glory, Villas-Boas’ best chance of not becoming the first Chelsea manager hired by Abramovich to go trophy-less in his first full season comes down to the game's oldest.
The FA Cup is by no means the most prestigious on an international level, but amongst its participants, it is a close second to their leagues.
The winner of the FA Cup represents the best of a competition that pits professionals and amateurs alike on a level playing field in the land of the best organized association in the sport.
Chelsea blew it drawing against Birmingham over the weekend, but are still favorites to progress with the real Blues coming to Stamford Bridge for the replay.
After that, Chelsea will face off against another Championship side, Leicester City.
Seven of the eight teams remaining are Premier League sides, which means there is no easy route to the final. Luckily, the Manchester teams are out meaning that Chelsea figure in with Liverpool and Tottenham (who also must past the test of a replay) as the strongest side left.
The FA Cup is the only realistic way that the Chelsea season could end with champagne and joy. The last game of the season in England could carry Villas-Boas to ensure his security into the summer, and a smile on his face surrounded by his players will be the image we remember from what was otherwise a miserable season.
Regain the Confidence of the Fans
For all the seriousness we make about sports, all the money gambled, the fantasy leagues played and the arguments we have, it is still entertainment. And as a form of entertainment, our opinion is what drives decisions.
Abramovich may not seem to care about how the fanbase feels, sacking Jose Mourinho without even hearing the cries ringing out from the stands, but that is because those were the cries of a sold-out stadium.
But if Villas-Boas continues down the path he is on, those seats may begin to come more and more vacant as fans lose confidence in the manager.
This is the crisis he is facing right now. All the vitriol and negativity he is experiencing is the voice of a fanbase upset with his moves that have left their proud club in a dismal state. They will continue to have these feelings and voice these opinions publicly until that confidence is restored.
There are many ways Villas-Boas could do this, by being more pleasant with the media, making the players happy or even being more involved in the community (not to say he isn’t).
But there is only one surefire way to have all the fans on your side: win.
Mourinho was a jerk, but he was our jerk, and a winning one at that.
Villas-Boas can do whatever he wants and be as arrogant as he likes, and as long as he wins, he will have a good relationship with the fans and a long and happy career at Chelsea FC.
What Do You Think the Goals Should Be?
This is a list dealing with reality. I know as a fan of a sports team, sometimes reality is the hardest thing to grasp, but once you can, your expectations seem a lot more likely and you will be happier for them.
Right now, Villas-Boas is in no position to be thinking about anything other than realistic goals. The ice beneath his feet is too thin to imagine the utopian dream he dangled in front of us when he first arrived.
I think these 10 goals are the ones he should be focused on for the rest of the season.
But what do you think? Do you like these goals? Are they aiming too low? Too high? What would you add and what do you think is being too lofty?
Please let me know, so hopefully, we can all understand better what the real hopes are for this Chelsea team.
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