UEFA Champions League: Rating the Chelsea Players Against Juventus
So I guess we’re all pretty big Shakhtar Donetsk fans right about now.
After Tuesday’s extremely disappointing 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin, Chelsea needs to hope for Shakhtar to defeat the Old Lady in Donetsk on December 5 to avoid becoming the first Champions League club in history to fail to reach the knockout stage the following year.
Few Blues played up to par in the group stage loss and manager Roberto Di Matteo employed a quirky 5-2-3 tactical formation with Juan Mata serving as the striker in place of Fernando Torres in a lost effort to focus on defense and seemingly play for the draw in Italy.
Although Chelsea are still the defending European champions and will be so until May, unless Shakhtar—who won 5-2 at FC Nordsjælland to move to the top of Group E and qualify for the round of 16—can beat Juventus in two weeks the Blues will be playing on Thursdays in the Europa League.
With so much blame to go around, let’s get right to it.
Petr Čech: B
Once again, things would have gotten real ugly, real early for Chelsea if not for its goalkeeper Petr Čech.
The big Czech made a brilliant save on a Stephan Lichtsteiner shot at the three-minute mark and then kept the match scoreless 11 minutes later with another fine save on a shot from Claudio Marchisio.
Fabio Quagliarella caught Čech wrong-footed at the 39-minute mark and scored on a deflection to give Juventus a 1-0 lead but it’s really hard to blame the goalkeeper in a situation like that.
Čech continued to keep his team in the game but another deflection at the 60-minute mark resulted in an Arturo Vidal score and it was pretty clear it was not to be Chelsea’s day at Juventus Stadium.
The Blues’ goalkeeper did make a mistake late in the game by gambling a bit and coming way off of his line which resulted in an easy goal for Sebastian Giovinco but nobody played a more spirited game than Čech in this one and the five defenders Di Matteo employed did very little to help out their goalkeeper.
Ashley Cole: B-
Out of all the defenders, Ashley Cole probably played the best game at Juventus—but that isn’t saying much in retrospect.
Cole’s quick save off the line late in the first half kept Chelsea’s hopes alive and the score at 1-0, but he did stick out considering how the club’s other four defenders played.
After witnessing Tuesday’s debacle, it will be quite disappointing if the Blues don’t find a way to re-sign Cole who is still considered by some as the best left-back in the world.
Branislav Ivanović: D+
Usually holding down the right-back position, Branislav Ivanović was moved to left center-back by Di Matteo and the experiment pretty much failed as he often looked lost and out of place.
Ivanović left too much open space on the second goal by the Bianconeri and was caught out of position and his sliding attempt on Vidal’s shot was simply an exercise in futility as the ball sailed through the legs of Čech after deflecting off Ramires.
Like the play of most Chelsea defenders of Tuesday, Ivanović’s play left a lot to be desired but Di Matteo should take some of the responsibility for his grade for playing him in a such an unfamiliar position in such a huge game.
Gary Cahill: C
Gary Cahill tried to lead in the stead of captain John Terry but he ended up falling short in his efforts.
Di Matteo played Cahill directly in front of Čech—making him another player in an unfamiliar role—and instead of making it seem like there were an abundance of Blues defenders hoping to “park the bus” against Juventus, it devolved into a reality where there were too many players in the box at times not knowing whom they should be covering or where they should be on the pitch.
Cahill wasn’t horrible, but can only be graded as average for his performance against the impressive Serie A champions whose Quagliarella and Mirko Vučinić seemed to give him fits all day.
David Luiz: D
David Luiz started at his normal right center-back spot but played a pretty poor game.
Often, he wandered too far out of position and he badly misplayed a ball off his back at the 50-minute mark, which could have easily resulted in a cheap Juventus goal and further embarrassment on a day in which Chelsea certainly needed no more.
I have always been a supporter of the fiery Brazilian, despite some of his obvious flaws, but this tweet sort of stood out for me today.
César Azpilicueta: D+
It’s hard to blame the new kid too much for everything that went wrong on Tuesday but he was almost invisible at times and looked way in above his head.
Once again, Di Matteo should take part of the blame for starting Azpilicueta at right center-back in such an important match and not sticking with the Blues’ usual 4-2-3-1 formation would have been a much better decision heading in.
John Obi Mikel: C+
John Obi Mikel played better than most players for Chelsea but like everyone else, struggled with so many new guys in new spots in Di Matteo’s drastic defensive formation.
If there was one area, besides the play of Čech, that didn’t totally stick out like a sore thumb for the Blues it was the defensive midfield but there were still huge spaces for Juventus to work with which led to a number of Bianconeri scoring attempts.
The speedy Brazilian had his moments Tuesday but they were few and far between for blue-blooded Chelsea fans.
Ramires looked a bit out of sorts while possessing the ball near the Chelsea box and made a couple of dicey decisions on offense.
One problem for Ramires was the fact that the Blues were so committed to defense from the opening whistle and generated so few real rushes offensively that he looked
a bit lost.
But blaming Ramires or his midfield partner Mikel for this ugly loss would be a bit like blaming Nick Mason for the break-up of Pink Floyd.
One thing that stood out for me was how small Chelsea’s starting front three was when compared to Juventus, a problem the club must now consider in its metamorphosis to a Barcelona-style, tiki-taka type of team.
And Oscar looked liked a thin teenager compared to the competition surrounding him.
He did have a nice run early to set up a great opportunity by line-mate Eden Hazard but in the end he seemed to wear down around the 70-minute mark as did Hazard.
Eden Hazard: C
The young Belgian has dropped off quite a bit since his red-hot start this season and,
like Oscar, looked helpless and small in the air on Chelsea crosses.
And, also like Oscar, Hazard also seemed a bit gassed with about 20 minutes to go in the match where the visitors could get nothing going and showed little spark in a game of such magnitude.
Hazard didn’t exactly play bad, but his play could hardly be deemed good.
Juan Mata: B
It’s hard to get too down on Juan Mata—who got the start in the striker spot from Di Matteo and got few real scoring attempts over the 90+ minutes at Juventus.
Like Oscar and Hazard, the diminutive Spaniard looked small against the Old Lady’s talented defense, which leap-frogged Chelsea in the group standings with the win and now can advance with a draw or a win at Shakhtar on December 5.
Mata would have been better served at his usual advanced midfield position in this one and one again, the manager needs to take responsibility for this tactical experiment gone wrong in Turin.
Victor Moses: B
Victor Moses subbed in for Azpilicueta at the 60-minute mark shortly before Vidal put the game out of reach with Juventus’s second goal.
Moses brought his usual high level of energy but didn’t get any real scoring attempts as by the time he entered the match, a huge sense of desperation had already set in for the deflated European champions.
Fernando Torres: C+
There were many times Di Matteo probably should have left Fernando Torres out of his starting lineup and experimented with his front line, but Tuesday was not the day to do so.
Torres substituted in for Mikel at the 70-minute mark and went several minutes without touching the ball for Chelsea but by then, the proverbial writing was already on the wall.
The Spaniard still looked listless and unmotivated, and his recent form and the possible fallout from him not being started in such an important game is something Chelsea may have to deal with in the coming weeks.
It’s always easy to blame El Niño for Chelsea’s offensive shortcomings but Torres was far from the reason the Blues lost and find themselves in the position they are now in.
"No striker. No points. No leader. There was nothing there today." —Warren Barton, Fox Soccer Channel analyst on Chelsea's performance against Juventus
Without vocal captain John Terry holding down the defense, vice-captain Frank Lampard out there to provide his leadership and bunches of goals in the midfield and the now-gone legend Didier Drogba pulling rabbits out of his hat at the striker position up front, Chelsea now looks like a wounded animal.
And relying on Čech to constantly save the Blues' bacon and keep them in games is sure to wear the big goalkeeper down by year’s end.
In his post-game interview, Čech said: “It is a very sad moment because last season the Champions League was like a dream. I wouldn't say it's a nightmare but it's a huge disappointment.”
It’s hard not to give credit to an opponent like Juventus—who fought from a 2-0 deficit to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in the group stage opener—in an impressive win like this, but Chelsea’s approach both on and off the field left a lot to be desired.
And with its Champions League fate now in the hands (or feet) of Shakhtar and just two points in its last four English Premier League games, this very new, young and small club will have to find a way to get up off the canvas very quickly with defending league champions and undefeated Manchester City coming into Stamford Bridge on Sunday (Fox Soccer Channel, 11:00 a.m. ET/8:00 a.m. PT).
And if they don’t—and Shakhtar doesn’t beat Juventus—it could be a very long season for us Blues fans.
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