Had it been Stamford Bridge in place of White Hart Lane on Saturday when Chelsea paid a visit to Tottenham Hotspur, one would have easily witnessed a unanimous jeer from the fans at Bridge seeing Paulo Ferreira taking charge as the Right Back, subsequently patrolling the same flank a certain Gareth Bale would operate from.
The anguish from the fans would not have been reckoned out of place, given the ease with which Bale had outclassed Ferreira from the left wing the last time the two locked horns.
The Portuguese would certainly have not been the first choice Right Back for Carlo Ancelotti, had he been at the luxury to choose from the three available to him.
Branislav Ivanovic, the usual commander, held his duty in the centre partnering skipper John Terry, whereas the second choice for the position, Jose Bosingwa—another compatriot of Ferreira in the Chelsea ranks—was unavailable for selections courtesy a damaged hamstring.
Needless to say, Ferreira was under immense pressure coming into this game. His apprehensions were based on several concerns.
First and foremost, of course, was the presence of Gareth Bale in the same flank of operation. The Welsh had kept the shockers coming one after another for the Chelsea defender as the Blues were presented a humbling defeat in the London derby.
Second in the list was the concern of the team’s poor run of form for the events in the last month, going completely against the team’s desires. It was not the ideal time for Chelsea to face Spurs at White Hart Lane, especially given the psychological advantage their talisman winger would hold seeing Ferreira in the opposition ranks.
A déjà vu of what happened during April earlier this year was anticipated the outcome of this game by many of the pundits. Even the most optimists of the fans were at best of their wishes, hoping their team survives a humiliation in the London derby.
The injury-struck team, however, came up with what could be termed an inspiring performance away from home, which would at least gather the much needed self belief before featuring into probably the biggest match of the season during the coming week.
Paulo Ferreira – An inspired soul
On any given day, a defender would choose not to start right opposite to a winger of Gareth Bale’s pace and power. To add to Bale’s brilliance, Ferreira needed to deal with limitless pressure, immense speculation over his abilities along with his team’s distorted fortunes during the latest phase of the season.
Ferreira however, seemed he was all up for it and meant solid business while countering Gareth Bale each time the two were engaged in a duel. There were endless one-on-one battles from both sides of the flanks, as Spurs boast of two of the quickest wingers in the league among their first team in the forms of Bale and Aaron Lennon. Ashley Cole, therefore on the right wing too, was extremely occupied marking Lennon’s runs.
The centre of attraction however was Gareth Bale, given his recent tendency demolishing the opposition defence but the tactical agility the Portuguese veteran showed against him caught many being left awestruck.
Bale’s pace and control were as pulsating as ever but even more pleasing to see was the disciplined positioning and precise first touch clearance from the Chelsea veteran.
Ferreira kept things simple for the day. He acknowledged and respected Gareth Bale’s superiority on the flank and he was also aware of the fact that it was going to be extremely troublesome for him to win the ball back if Bale managed to win the race on the flank.
Ferreira, for most part of the game, limited himself deep enough into the Chelsea half of the field to be potently positioned to deal with Bale’s movements.
Ably allied by Essien and Ivanovic
Carlo Ancelotti was spot on with his plan to administer into the Bale’s territory.
To help Ferreira’s cause, the makeshift centre back Branislav Ivanovic often stretched out of his natural position and kept himself available for Ferreira to clear the ball that could be chained into an immediate counter attack.
This proved out to be very handy partnership in the Chelsea defensive line as on every single attack plotted by the Spurs, they could deliver a build-up in return and needed not clear the ball haplessly.
Equally important contribution was from the Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien. The Bison, as he is called, usually involves himself into orchestrating an attacking linkup with the forwards but the fierce pressure and burden of apprehensions coming into this game restricted him a little on his attacking ambitions and he often dropped deep enough to provide the needed support in the defence.
Essien’s presence down in the deep helped Chelsea sustain in two ways: One, it helped Ferreira hold a line behind the ball when Bale tended to proceed through the flanks, as Essien maintained a continuous run parallel to Bale, which dismissed him a single chance to play the long ball and had to keep moving for not to lose the possession over the ball; the second element that Essien induced into Chelsea’s game with his vision was to lower down the pace of the game when required.
For the most part, the game was played at a reptile pace and therefore, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the midfielders to trigger their impact over the proceedings.
Essien, however, made sure that the pace was lowered down at will. On numerous occasions, as soon as Ferreira managed to win the ball from Bale, Essien took the charge of it. He chose not to drive it forward immediately building on a counter but held the ball long enough and kept the movement active but unhurried.
This helped Chelsea gather the required composure and thus did not lose too many balls in the midfield battles, especially during the second half, where they managed a lion’s share in possession, when the control over match’s pace proved to be a crucial element.
A lot is left to be desired
Although a hard fought draw—which could have been an elated win had Drogba held his composure for a moment that mattered—may boost Chelsea’s morals, a lot still needs to be done to reclaim the stature of the league champions.
A lot fell into their stride at the White Hart Lane, but they must not forget this is the same place few seasons back they used to term “Three-point Lane.”
Intent from the midfield was showed in the second half and the defence showed minimum lapses in last seven matches.
There were moments of individual brilliance, but the collective work rate on the pitch can still be raised to beat the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, who are lined up for the upcoming clashes.
Nicolas Anelka and John Obi Mikel are perhaps running through the worst phase of their career in last few seasons, which makes Ancelotti’s job a little difficult to field the best eleven.
As Lampard seeks to make a return at Bridge to face United, Ancelotti may choose to rest Mikel and graduate an academy product for the big day.
While an off colour Anelka could be axed for a couple of games, it will be interesting to see whether Carlo can come up with a combination upfront robust enough to conjure up the goals galore.
Crucial fixtures in a row in a way help a team determine its target and provide a clearer picture of the remainder of the season with what’s at hand.
Carlo Ancelotti knows this better than anyone else and is expected to deliver his best in the midst of startlingly tensed moments at Stamford Bridge.
However, for this crucial point away, though it does not seem enough in the current picture, full marks go to the manager.