The game was won, although after a dismal first half, and Andre Villas-Boas got the points he so desperately needs. It was not a beautiful game, but it helps AVB to understand more about his team, and the fans to understand what he thinks about how the team should play. Here are five things we may learn from this game about Chelsea under AVB.
Alex could be sold, and it is not because of his mistake in the fourth minute, but probably AVB's style of play.
Don't get me wrong, Alex is a good centre-back. His positional play and sternness are just next to Terry in the team. But his weakness could be clearly seen after he was substituted by Branislav Ivanovic. At the 69th minute, the Serbian threw an accurate 40-yard pass into the box, evading all opposition defenders, only for Drogba to miss a chance to volley towards goal. You could hardly see it happen to Alex.
Ivanovic is not as good a traditional EPL centre-back as Alex. But with AVB's preference in pushing up the defensive line, Ivanovic and David Luiz—who are more attack-minded and faster in pace—will be selected before Alex.
The £8 million valuation, as suggested in the media, may be debatable. But being a Brazilian national, it could be hard for him to swallow being sent down the pecking order in the team. Juventus may be a good destination for him personally.
Some may question AVB’s selection of Fernando Torres ahead of Didier Drogba and his decision to put the highly-ineffective Salomon Kalou into the starting line-up. But his substitutions are spot-on and brought a different dimension to the game.
Bringing on Florent Malouda in Kalou’s place in the first half showed that he is not afraid to make bold changes—not unlike Jose Mourinho in his Chelsea days. The link-up play on the left-wing between Malouda and Ashley Cole remain one most lethal weapon of Chelsea. It led to the beautiful shot by Cole in the 40th minute, which marked the turning of the tide in the second half.
Bringing on Ivanovic to replace Alex was another clever move that helped Chelsea to push up the defense that launched the siege of the away team. This put more pressure on the opposition, which sped up their fatigue. Eventually, the Chelsea team with a higher skill and stamina level, as shown in the Jose Bosingwa move that led to the goal, handed the home team the three points.
Many suggested that Malouda is no longer the pacy winger that he used to be. Some even suggested that he should be sold to make way for a younger left-winger.
But he scored the most number of goals last season, and it seems that his golden touch is still there with his winning goal in the 82nd minute.
Also, as previously mentioned, his link-up play with Ashley Cole on the left must have been well-studied by opposition managers. But it remains one most effective way of Chelsea in building up attacks.
In fact, Malouda’s refinement in his dribbles and vision is the reason for his place in the team. According to the media, his contract with Chelsea will last until 2013. There is no reason why he could not see it out unless a really good piece of business comes in.
Some doubted the wisdom in starting with Torres over Drogba in a game that was supposed to be physical. Some think that since Roy Hodgson knows Torres so well, as they were in the same Liverpool team last year, that Drogba should start ahead of Torres.
However, AVB’s decision to put his faith in the £50 million man was somewhat vindicated after Drogba came on. The Ivorian’s form was so bad that he could not even control his first touches. Ivanovic’s long pass that put him clear to goal was wasted, as he could not even hit the ball.
There seems to be a bit of hesitancy in his play. This may be due to his contract negotiations with the club, or he has not really recovered mentally from the malaria that plagued him last season. The physical conditions should still allow him to perform in Chelsea shirts for one or two years at least. But right now, he is not the Drogba Chelsea fans expect him to be.
Yes, Frank Lampard is a legend, but he needs to adapt to the changes forced on him by his own physical conditions, and the development of the team as a whole.
He was known for his box-to-box runs, but clearly he could no longer do it nowadays. Now his legs seem heavy, causing his twists and turns to not be as sharp as before. More importantly, he always likes to keep the ball and look and think before he distributes it to a teammate, which slows down the build-ups a bit.
However, as evident in the dip-in-form last season, Chelsea still could not do without him. His absence last season deprived Chelsea of a commander who could give instructions to his teammates. Michael Essien, Ramires, John Obi Mikel, etc are not natural leaders like Lampard. Since Michael Ballack was gone there is no stand-in for their role.
So here is a dilemma for AVB to solve: To play Lampard or not? What AVB seems to be doing is to deploy Lampard in a deeper role so he could give out instructions, but at the same time spares him the stamina to last the whole season. His long passes could still be of great use. And if an attacking midfielder like Luka Modric could be bought, he can leave the assists to the new partner.
But as admitted by Lampard himself, he still needs time to adjust himself to the new role. The sooner he does, the better for the team.