Rafa Benitez has much to ponder at Chelsea
Roman Abramovich thinks the answer is to bring in another manager, whilst the Chelsea fans think the answer is to sign a new striker.
If those are two of the solutions then what are the problems which need solving?
Clearly there are a few if there’s already pressure on the interim manager. So what has caused Chelsea’s season to veer off course, and what can be done about it?
Read on to find out.
Rafa Benitez will want to be counting more than this
Once again, Chelsea were not slow to splash the cash over the summer, but did they spend it wisely enough?
Cesar Azpilicueta replaced Jose Bosingwa, Marko Marin and Victor Moses came in for Salomon Kalou and the jettisoned Florent Malouda, whilst Oscar and Eden Hazard were the stellar names brought in to give the Blues some class and creativity.
However, with Didier Drogba gone and Romelu Lukaku allowed to leave on loan, no strikers were sought to ease the burden on Fernando Torres, and no central midfielders were acquired to replace Raul Meireles and Michael Essien.
That has meant an over reliance on the hit-and-miss Torres for goals and for John Obi Mikel and Ramires to run the midfield—both to differing effect.
On their best day, Chelsea’s strongest starting X1 is a match for anyone in the Premier League, but beyond that, it already looks like they are lacking the strength in depth to match the Manchester clubs, and the effects on such a streamlined squad will only wear on over the duration of the season.
The correct January reinforcement are crucial.
An out of form Fernando Torres is not enough
The departure of Didier Drogba was undoubtedly a crucial loss to Chelsea as they fell out of the Champions League group stages, but the Ivory Coast striker only registered five Premier League goals in his last season at Stamford Bridge.
The club hierarchy put their faith in Fernando Torres to finally deliver the goods, and although the Spaniard has found the net 11 times so far this campaign, he has never managed to fully recapture the penalty box prowess which made him so lethal at Liverpool.
Yet, the decision to shove Torres into the limelight wasn’t the most glaring oversight by the Chelsea management. They also let Romelu Lukaku go out on loan without replacing him, meaning Torres has been the Blues sole recognised striker all season.
In times of trouble, Manchester United and Manchester City can call on backup from the bench to rescue games, whereas Chelsea must persevere with a player who’s looked hopelessly short of confidence and conviction for too long.
What would the Premier League table look like if United and City only had Torres to lead the line, whereas Chelsea had one set from Van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck, or, Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli?
Are Chelsea best suited to playing all three of the 'Amigos'?
The 4-2-3-1 formation is football’s new sophisticated fad and one, which on the face of it, seemed to suit the new-look Chelsea.
With strikers at a premium the ‘1’ up-front was a necessity rather than a choice, but again, that married in with the idea of a nimble attacking trio floating around behind.
Initially it worked a treat but although Chelsea’s play over the opening weeks of the season was fluent, their tactics soon proved to be flawed as Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Shakhtar brutally demonstrated.
The pairing of John Obi Mikel and Ramires as the two anchor men has had its issues with the Brazilian’s penchant for bursting forward, too often leaving the Nigerian exposed. With Frank Lampard sidelined, neither Roberto Di Matteo or Rafael Benitez have had the resource to alter that equation, and then there is the on-going conundrum of how to fit Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata into the same side.
Again, it all started out rosy for the Blues as they led the table up until the end of October, but their last seven Premier League games have yielded just seven goals—including three against Sunderland with Oscar dropped to the bench.
Part of the problem is that the "Three Amigos" like to occupy the same central space through the middle, too often condensing and congesting Chelsea’s play and allowing opposing defences to defend narrow and restrict the space in between them.
Against Nordsjaelland and Sunderland, Chelsea looked more threatening with Moses always hugging one touchline and less could be more in terms of the Mazacar dream.
Chelsea have been a rudderless ship without a Captain
He may have his critics, but not many can argue that Chelsea are a better team without John Terry in the lineup.
It’s no coincidence that the Blues annual autumnal slump started after Terry was hit with a suspension following the Anton Ferdinand affair and then injured against Liverpool.
In the 12 games Terry has played for Chelsea so far this season, they have won over half and have conceded at less than a goal a game. In the 14 matches Terry has missed since the middle of October, Chelsea have lost five, drawn three and conceded 22.
His physical powers may be on the wane, but there is no doubting the skipper’s presence provides authority and assurance for the rest of the defence.
With Frank Lampard also absent for the large part and Didier Drogba gone, there are few vocal figures amongst the Chelsea ranks and little on-field guidance when things start to go awry.
Do Chelsea have the hunger to win the title?
So far this season Chelsea have fallen behind in 13 games across all competitions, coming back to win four of those but going on to lose the other nine.
Manchester United have also gone behind in 13 games, but the Reds have rallied to win ten of those—including seven in the league.
Sir Alex Ferguson may have an outstanding arsenal of attacking options to call upon, but his squad also have an ingrained devotion and desire to strain every sinew over 90 minutes to get a result. Chelsea do not.
Against West Brom, the Blues fell behind just five minutes into the second half but could not fashion a response, and against Corinthians, they could not level despite going behind with over twenty minutes left to play.
In both of those games, Chelsea did pass up presentable opportunities to equalise but by the same gesture, they also laboured to carve out many chances of note.
In contrast, there have been countless times this season when United have blasted open bolted doors through a mix of skill and will power which many try to emulate but few can replicate—especially in uncertain surroundings.