Chelsea: 5 Easy Steps to Get the Blues Back to Challenging for Trophies
Having won the trophy that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has been chasing for the last 10 years in the 2011/12 season, the Blues are having a far less successful campaign this time around. They were sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League until November following some impressive wins at the start of the season, but a dip in form saw Roberto Di Matteo sacked and things began to spiral out of control.
By the time of Rafa Benitez's appointment as interim manager, Chelsea had already missed out on two trophies, having lost in the Community Shield against Manchester City and suffering a humiliating 4-1 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. Since taking over, Benitez has led the Blues to defeat in the Capital One Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Things need to change fast, as the Blues are still hanging on in the FA Cup and are set to play their first Europa League match in February. Despite the long odds on silverware arriving at Stamford Bridge this season, both Benitez and Abramovich could do worse than change the following five things to avoid disaster for Chelsea.
Tighten Up Defensively
Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has sought Barcelona-style attacking football since he bought the club 10 years ago. This footballing philosophy has been implemented by most of Chelsea's recent managers and produced a number of huge winning margins.
However, the results that have mattered most have come from a more defensive style of play. When Chelsea beat Barcelona in the 2012 Champions League semifinal, they had 11 shots on goal to the Catalan side's 47 over the two legs. They won 3-2 on aggregate because they were organised defensively and able to absorb pressure throughout the game as well as on the counter.
When Chelsea won the Premier League title in 2004/05 under Jose Mourinho, they conceded 15 goals in 38 games. In 25 games so far in the 2012/13 season, they have conceded 27 goals.
This season has seen Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill score six goals each despite playing as centre-backs. Their forward forays have left Chelsea exposed and, when combined with a team ethic that revolves around all out attack, it has led to wins becoming draws and, all too often, losses.
Get the Strikers Scoring
Chelsea's top Premier League goal scorers for 2012/13 are Frank Lampard and Juan Mata, having both scored 10 goals. With midfielders seemingly obsessed with shooting from well outside the box, Chelsea have often seemed content to roll the ball around rather than looking for a penetrative pass into the box.
When Fernando Torres is playing as the lone front man you can understand the reluctance to get him involved. He is seemingly terrified of shooting, and his first touch has let him down more often than not. However, he is not the only striking option that Chelsea have available.
Change Their Tactical Approach
When Roberto Di Matteo took over as interim manager in March 2012, he adapted to the squad he had available and deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with great success. He continued this approach at the beginning of the 2012/13 season and, again, enjoyed success at the start.
However, with Torres now the lone striker instead of Didier Drogba, the weakness of that formation was exposed. Chelsea's goals were coming mostly from the three behind Torres and when they were marked out of games the European champions lost their cutting edge.
When you factor in suspensions and injuries in the holding midfield and central defensive roles, the formation which won the Champions League became redundant and in need of an overhaul.
Rafa Benitez has been lauded as a great tactician, but his stubbornness in sticking with the 4-2-3-1 has cost Chelsea two trophies since his tenure began. To avoid the club being further humiliated by an early FA Cup exit and a slide down the Premier League table, he will need to explore his options.
Whether it is employing a 4-3-3 to add more defensive cover, or a staggered 4-4-2 with two out-and-out strikers to provide more goals, or something completely different, Benitez will need to act fast if he wants to be considered as a candidate for a permanent managerial position at Stamford Bridge.
Find Some Stability
Rafa Benitez is the 10th manager to take charge of Chelsea in 10 years. With each coach bringing different tactics and playing philosophies, there has been no opportunity to establish a stable foundation for the club.
Players who were regular first-team starters under one manager find themselves cast aside by the next, while stalwarts John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech have been forced to adapt, often halfway through a season. This has given rise to what has been dubbed "player power" by the press.
Departing managers have spoken of the influence that the likes of Terry have in the dressing room and how they were undermined by the captain. However, when his presence has been the only consistent factor in a tumultuous time, it is not hard to see why he has an authority that some managers have lacked.
The only way to stabilise the club in the long term is to stop the managerial merry-go-round and give a coach time to build a squad and implement a philosophy. It would save a significant amount of money and allow the players and fans to look forward to the future, ultimately bringing success.
Develop the Strength and Depth of the Squad
Chelsea are currently suffering something of a crisis within their squad. As players begin to feel the fatigue which comes with a fixture list as congested as the Blues' they become more injury prone. When suspensions and international duties are factored in, a squad with at least 18 players who would be part of the starting 11 at the top clubs in the league is needed to keep a competitive edge.
A squad that can be rotated without losing any quality allows the manager to choose his lineup with the opponents in mind rather than forcing him to make the best of what he has available. Chelsea simply do not have adequate cover across the park for them to maintain the momentum that they gained at the start of the season.