Early Christmas is ringing bells like ever as Chelsea FC’s campaign this season is going from bad to worse. Having managed to win only two of their last eight top-flight matches and more importantly, having been comprehensively beaten in half the games is surely elongating Roman Abramovic’s spell of sleepless nights. What’s more disturbing than these numbers is the ease with which the Blues have been outplayed by oppositions standing miles from them in terms of talent.
The latest in the series is the modest 1-0 defeat handed over in France by Didier Drogba’s former club, Olympique de Marseille. This was the first time Carlo Ancelotti’s men failed to claim three points in a group game from the current edition of UEFA Champions League. A secured pole position in the group would have lessened the disappointment from this loss but it matters more as Chelsea are consistently failing to find a touch.
Amidst all sorts of concerns raised in West London, one question that appears to be so Chelseaesque to ask is whether it is about the time Carlo Ancelotti should be handed over tickets to fly back to Italy? Whether it is the managerial blunders by this ex-Milan man that has caught the team plunged into a distorted frame? Whether it was only for the assertive presence of a certain Ray Wilkins that earned Carlo the accolades he perhaps was not worthy of? Or maybe whether it is only the Italian’s insistence to prefer several players over others that has mounted atop a tormenting cloud after what could possibly be termed a dream start to the season?
The list of questions is lengthening at a pace of a 12 year old’s sexual fantasies and it is high time the Chelsea faithful – as they prefer to call themselves – receive the due explanations. As per the traditions the club has set for over a decade, nothing less than an untimely sacking of Ancelotti would please the fans. Roman Abramovic’s obsession with trophies is no secret to anybody and in order to maintain the good terms with the Russian, needless to say, Carlo would need to work his magic and replicate the laureates of the last season.
A Brief Look into the Carlo Era at Bridge
Following the long-nurtured difference in opinion with Adriano Galliani and Silvio Berlusconi, Ancelotti marched his way to London under the highest apprehensions on how he would fare in a completely unfamiliar proximity. Many speculated he would be “Lost in translation” and would end up being another mockery in the infamous series of Chelsea managers having been prematurely terminated off duty.
The nature of the game was apparently distinctive but it took the Italian no time in getting a pragmatic hold over it. His initial mannerisms did not suit the team’s style of play and he was never reluctant in admitting it. He immediately deployed the system that had become famous during the Mourinho days and the results were soon evident.
A double on the debut season was no mean achievement, not to mention, having managed another double over each of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Soon after the eventful spree of results, the club deemed the wages of several players unaffordable and offloaded a host of them including Joe Cole, Michael Ballack, Deco and Juliano Belletti. Ricardo Carvalho too was thought to be a good bargain and Mourinho’s persuasions were powerful enough for Chelsea to let him fly to Spain.
Locating able replacements for these giants and filling the void their departure caused, were still the questions unanswered but a vivacious start to the new season soon shelved all the concerns. The acquisition of Ramires did raise some brows but the team was doing too good for anybody to look deep into those worries.
The Ferreira-Ramires-Zhirkov saga and the Downfall
Injuries have never been kind to the Blues and this season was no different. Just when it all looked what the doctor ordered, Frank Lampard was reckoned out of action indefinitely with effect to the muscular injury he sustained.
This inherently disturbed the harmony in the midfield for the Chelsea game for quite some seasons being a Lampard-driven one. This compelled Ancelotti to fold his midfield a few yards deeper and a certain Brazilian Ramires was introduced in the centre with Mikel playing behind him on the holding fold and the Chelsea engineer Michael Essien on the right of the midfield layer.
The ex-Benfica midfielder would have loved to have his time in England in order to get gelled with the physically toughest league in the present era. Ancelotti might have reserved him on the bench and utilised his skill-based play only when desperately needed. This would have allowed the Brazilian a required time to acclimatize himself into the English game.
However, Lampard’s injury was unforeseen and trouble was added when Yossi Benayoun was ruled out for the whole season following an aggravation in his injuries. This brought Ramires right in middle of a damage struck zone and his tendency to lose the ball against physically tougher counterparts became easily apparent. The oppositions did not waste any time in making the most of it and soon Chelsea midfield started to be exposed against physically tough teams.
To make matters worse, John Terry too was dispatched for a considerably long period of time with an injury and Michael Essien received a three match ban for an antic that was highly immature, to say the least. The collective absence of three iconic players coupled with Drogba’s illness left Ancelotti with no choice but to introduce a team that was mediocre by all standards.
In absence of Terry, Ivanovic moved to the centre of defence pairing with Alex and the Right Back position was left unmanned. The second choice Right Back Jose Bosingwa too was out injured and in came the usual suspect – Paulo Ferreira. The Portuguese’s inclusion over Ivanovic during the loss at White Hart Lane in the previous season had earned Ancelotti enough critics but he frankly did not have much choice but to deploy a faded and off pace Ferreira to patrol the left flank.
Yuri Zhirkov reserved a place in the midfield along with Mikel and Ramires. Zhirkov, being a natural left-footed winger can at best serve as an impact substitute for a fatigued Malouda but expecting him to control the battle in midfield and maintain a continual supply in the final third was a little too much. Out of his habitual instincts, he got a little too far carried away while making fast paced runs, something which comes so naturally with the classical wingers.
All in all, within a span of two weeks, an impenetrable Chelsea unit transformed into an easily beatable one and the collective failure of the team coincided with a once in a bluemoon performance by on any other day mediocre oppositions.
Carlo too stands responsible
The blame, as they say has to be ultimately assumed by the ring master and in the same spirit Ancelotti stands a guilty man. Few of his gestures have been puzzling fans and his adamant reservations for his choice of game are up to an extent responsible for the sudden debacle.
The personnel at his disposal were certainly limited after an injury prone month, but a close watch over the matches played during the last one month and a half would draw one’s attention towards the fact that the Italian master has never chosen to alter his approach which has become so facilely predictable.
His substitutions during the nerve cracking moments have always been subject to debates and Malouda’s annulment from the game against Sunderland has only added to his condemnation.
Furthermore, his denial in refashioning formation has made it easier for oppositions to invade through the Chelsea midfield which is not strongest in the current scenario.
Why is Carlo not to be entirely blamed?
A bunch of Chelsea supporters, quite affirmatively believe that the problem does not lie in the injuries to the key players but in their replacements. Looking into the one-dimensional view, this sounds absolutely logical and there can be no possible counter argument to it.
However, the second dimension clearly throws the light at the fact, that it is not Ancelotti who spends the money. Replacements were quite pragmatically chosen and the economic factor had to be taken care of, for if Chelsea enlarge their debts anymore, they may well fall short of qualification parameters to continue playing in the Champions League.
Ancelotti was spot on in acquiring the best deals at the optimum price-tags but the new signings cannot be expected to deliver the Ballack and Cole like performances right from the word go.
To his credit, he has allowed the likes of Josh MaEachran and Gael Kakuta to graduate to the first team from the academy. Although both the youngsters along with another academy product Fabio Borini have majorly warmed the bench but the former two have been credited opportunities to showcase their impact by fielding them as substitutes at important junctures.
Why must Carlo Stay Put?
It is time Roman Abramovic learnt from his past mistakes in letting two world class managers – Jose Mourinho and Luis Felipe Scolari – go. The Russian must get a hold over his irrational desire for titles. The titles at best can be described as a by-product of a continual perseverance to be better with every single day.
What this Chelsea side needs the most is a cohesive camaraderie to be instated that could last over generations. Any team in the longer run is remembered and revered for the display of authoritative football which comes only with an amicable bond with their leader.
Chelsea brigade desperately need a marshal who could steer the club’s fortunes in the proper direction long enough for the fans to develop a bond with him and stand by him in convoluted times. A strong character that withholds every lean patch of form is presently the need of the hour at West London and Carlo Ancelotti promises to build and strengthen that character at the core of the team.
Awaits next, the London Derby against a rejuvenated Spurs side having finished top of the table in Champions League dismissing the current champions Inter Milan the chance. An away win over the Lilywhites in these circumstances should put all the complaints at rest and more importantly, reinstall the much needed confidence amongst the top ranked players.
One right result at the right time and the team is back on track and as per what the history and instincts suggest; it is only a matter of time. However, should Chelsea dream to make this winning unit a venerated one in the history books, they must act in accordance with their ambitions. To pave the road to the glory, it takes enormous effort and unending diligence. The team has the right man to accomplish the both, just let him be.
All That Matters
The fans at Stamford Bridge must remember that it took Sir Alex Ferguson five years to win a title at Old Trafford. Of course, the propositions have much changed since and the commercialisation has dismissed the element of patience among the fans.
However, in the similar frame of time, Arsene Wenger too has not been able to bag a single title and yet the gooners proudly say, “In Wenger, we trust.” The Chelsea brand of fans must learn from this and act mature enough to understand that titles are not the only testimony for a team’s pursuit of excellence.