Chelsea FC : Torres and 9 Things Villas-Boas Must Improve to Win the EPL
Chelsea are up and running after a stuttering and rather nervous start to their new season. The Blues had a rather slow start compared to their in-form rivals Manchester City and Manchester United. Their unconvincing play led many critics to write off the London club's title chances after just two or three games.
But Villas-Boas' side has slowly found their rhythm and are starting to look their usual dangerous self with each passing week. Their loss to title rivals United earlier this month brought more joy to Blues fans than sorrow as they could feel that the Blues were still United's fiercest rivals and were capable of overcoming Sir Alex's in-form Red Devils.
The match not only underlined the strength in Chelsea's squad but also helped dismiss the notion that the Blues' aging squad lacked the temperament to last a season. Andre-Villas Boas needs to improve and fine-tune a few things in his squad to make it start performing at a constant level.
In the following slides, we take a look into 10 such improvements that the young Portuguese manager needs to make for his squad to win the Premier League title.
His Star Players Broken Confidence
Need that Smile Back
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Chelsea's record-breaking £50 million signing, Fernando 'El Nino' Torres has been a flop at Stamford Bridge ever since his arrival from Anfield in January. He has failed to deliver for the Blues so far and with only a two goals in eight months, cries are already being heard around Cobham for the sale of their flop signing.
Torres was brought on mainly because of owner Roman Abramovich's persistence. His arrival had made the Blues faithful hopeful of a deadly partnership between him and Drogba leading to goal scoring sprees.
But all the hopes and expectations have so far been met with empty nets and false hopes of Torres regaining his form.
The Spaniard has failed to emulate his goal scoring form of the past. He presently resembles a person who is surprised the most at his failure to perform and is grasping to find reasons for the same.
If Chelsea are really to fight for the Premier League title, they need to get Torres firing again in front of goal.
The likes of Anelka and Drogba are well past their 30s and must be used effectively in a way that they stay fit all through the year. Youngsters Lukaku and Sturridge have plenty of promise but they are yet to gain sufficient confidence for a permanent starting role.
Andre Villas Boas must motivate his star striker and help Torres regain his shaken confidence. The reason for Torres' lackluster displays are more of psychological and motivational nature. The Chelsea manager must work hard to motivate and help build up the player's confidence.
If he is able to bring back Torres' confidence, we will soon find El Nino back to his striking best which will be one of the important factors for Chelsea to win the Premier League title.
His Often Stuttering Defense
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Chelsea have always boasted of a solid defense in the past. One the main reasons for their success has been their ability to keep clean sheets.
But over the years, the Blues defense has not quite been rock-solid of sort. The reason may be seen as the aging of their star defenders John Terry, Alex and Ashley Cole. The arrival of talented David Luiz might have added that much-needed replenishment at the back for the Blues, but they still look disjointed at times.
The most worrying thing for Chelsea this season has been their inability to keep clean sheets in any of their matches except the lame draw against Stoke on the season opener. As has been seen over the years, teams with better clean-sheet records are favourites to win the Premier League crown.
While at his time in Porto, Villas-Boas' squad had conceded the least amount of goals even though playing a more attacking style than Chelsea. With the Blues playing a much lessened tempo, it will be a very important requirement that they close out their back from conceding too many goals.
Except for Bosingwa, who has had a marvelous start to the season and captain JT who had a few good matches, none of our defenders have looked dominant and impressive so far.
Even against Swansea City, the late goal conceded was totally unwanted. A little complacency and lack of concentration allowed them to get one against us.
Villas-Boas needs to solidify his back four drastically if he is to vie for the Premier League crown this season. Chelsea are way behind the two Manchester clubs in goal difference and even though it is only start of the season, as it is always said, "The early bird gets the bus".
The Portuguese tactician must improve his squad's defensive abilities and target to concede the minimal goals—if any.
Performance from His Bench Players
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Chelsea owes a big chunk of their success during the Special One's era to their bench strength. The Blues boasted world-class bench players who could ably supplement their playing 11.
The squad never had a trouble if any first-team player was sidelined as the Blues bench strength was equally efficient to provide cover in his absence. But since the Mourinho era, Chelsea have lacked sufficient quality in their bench. The fact was harshly exposed last season when a injury-ravaged Chelsea failed to cope with the lack in depth of the squad, leading to a midseason collapse and ultimately loss of the Premier League crown.
Chelsea, in the new season, lacks serious quality on the bench and if that problem is not sorted out pretty quickly, Villas-Boas might see his reign cut short by Chelsea's big man Abramovich. With the exception of youngster Daniel Sturridge, who has excelled so far in his various stints, Chelsea's other forwards have been less than impressive.
With Torres still struggling to get back his old form and Didier Drogba suffering a injury, the likes of Kalou have been anything but good. New boy Romelu Lukaku needs time to adapt to the Premier League and that leaves Chelsea lacking in the scoring department, which is reflected by their low-scoring wins so far this season.
The Blues defense has looked lacking quality too. Alex and Ivanovic have failed to match their earlier performances and, with Luiz just returning from injury, the Blues have been unimpressive at the back.
If Villas-Boas wants to mark his Premier League debut with a champions crown, he has to add quality to his squad and strengthen his bench. His policy of squad rotation to avoid injuries and burnout to players will only be successful if the bench players are able to perform at par with their first-team colleagues.
His Understanding with the Older Players of the Squad
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Almost every manager except Mourinho had a tough time dealing with the egos of the star players in the Blues dressing room.
Luiz Felipe Scolari blamed the senior players of influencing the dressing room and also playing a part in his sacking from Stamford Bridge. It is a known fact that the likes of Chelsea's old stalwarts John Terry, Didier Drogba and others have much influence on the squad. Scolari's faceoff with his senior players led to a dressing room revolt against him and ultimately his disgraceful sacking.
Villas-Boas' most important objective at Stamford Bridge on his debut season will be to gel with the senior players and get a firm grip on the dressing room. The Portuguese manager, at 33 years of age, is a mere few months older than his squad's senior players.
With Boas looking to evolve a new Chelsea from the shadow of an aging squad, the troubles will be on him to undertake the transition without hurting the ego of the senior members. He has already undertaken that transition with Lampard being benched in most of the Blues' games and coming on as a impact substitute. If he can convince the seniors of their role in the team, he will benefit a lot.
If Villas-Boas is able to earn the confidence and respect that Guus Hiddink or Mourinho commanded over their squad, then he can expect his squad to go all out for bringing back what is rightfully theirs.
His Team's Pace of Play
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Mourinho had earned his success in Chelsea by playing a slow and possession-based game. His style of play was seen as unattractive by many and was often criticised. The Special One's successors adapted to his style of play and earned success, but not by Mourinho's standards.
One of the main reasons for that was Chelsea's rivals had, over the seasons, found out tactics to counter the Blues' style of play and exploited the flaws in the system to score goals.
Andre Villas-Boas has arrived at Chelsea with the promise of handing out a more attractive style of attacking football. The new manager has already started out on his path by changing his squad's usual 4-4-3 formation with a 4-2-3-1 style. The change in style has already started to show its effects in the squad's performance. Moreover, the addition of Juan Mata and Meireles has helped speed up the Pensioners' pace of play.
As a matter of fact, Chelsea have looked more dangerous when playing at a higher pace. As was evident in the match against Norwich, the arrival of Mata on the pitch speeded up things which resulted in the goals. Against United and Swansea also, the Blues seemed to trouble their opponents the most when playing at a higher tempo.
But the squad are unable to maintain that pace uniformly all through the match. This failure to maintain the consistency in pace results in the rivals getting back a foothold and causing trouble.
Villas-Boas has to work to help maintain his team's pace all through the match. He needs to use younger players more to keep the momentum going. If Chelsea can play their matches with the pace they usually fail to maintain all through, then the Blues' new manager might be gifted with a England champions medal on his debut season.
Better Understanding and Blending in 4-2-3-1 Formation
Andre Villas-Boas had promised to give the Chelsea fans a more attacking and entertaining style of football.
Everybody is aware of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's two obsession. Firstly, the European champions' crown and next is his wish to watch Chelsea play a more attacking style of football. So his appointment of the comparatively inexperienced but successful Villas-Boas was well justified. Villas-Boas, during his time at Porto last season, played the attacking football of Abramovich's liking and also achieved huge success.
The successors to Mourinho stuck to the favoured Chelsea formation and avoided experimenting. Their fear or inability to evolve the Blues' style of play led to rivals catching up with their tactics and countering the threat. But Villas Boas has already started to show he favours a change and wishes to experiment without playing safe with a tried and tested method.
He has already changed the favoured 4-3-3 into more of an adventurous 4-2-3-1 formation.
The effect of the change in tactics has been clearly visible given Chelsea's much improved performances over the last three matches compared to their opening fixtures. Villas-Boas' use of two central midfielders along with an advanced attacking one has given Chelsea wider options up front along with a good defensive back line.
The team has responded well to the new formation but needs to work well on the tactical aspects and movements. Chelsea are starting to look their dangerous self yet again and Villas-Boas needs to make his players more comfortable in the new formation, which will take some time.
Use of the Talented Youngsters in His First-Team Plans
Oriol Romeu and Romelu Lukaku
Over the past couple of seasons, Chelsea have been blamed of fielding a largely aging squad. Their failure to maintain the success story over the years has been blamed for their inability to infuse youth into their squad.
The average age of their squad until last season was nearly 30. This season, Chelsea have infused much-needed youth into their squad. The inclusion of youngsters like Bertrand, Sturridge and McEachran alongwith new signings Romelu Lukaku and Oriol Romeu are a welcome sign.
Ancelotti had failed to use the youth players effectively and thus lost out when his senior players lost form or were sidelined by injury. Villas-Boas seems to have started on the right note by giving his young players match time to gain experience. His policy of squad rotation has seen several older players warming the bench to accommodate the youngsters.
Villas-Boas should give his talented and highly rated youngsters more playing time, which will ensure that the Chelsea young guns get ready to shoulder first-team responsibilities. The likes of Sturridge and Josh have been very encouraging in their displays for the first team so far while the new signings, Lukaku and Romeu, have also been impressive.
If Villas-Boas is to bring back the Premier League crown back to Stamford Bridge, he needs to use his young players more effectively and give them sufficient match time. If he can make the right mix of youth and experience in the squad, then the West London side will have a good chance to get back their lost glory.
Better Use of Lampard's Skill Without Burning Him out
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Villas-Boas has already expressed his anger on the storm brewing over his decision to limit Lampard to the Chelsea bench in the new season. The Blues and England midfield legend has started most of this season's matches from the bench which has started speculation that Frankie's time may be up at Chelsea.
The Portuguese tactician, though, refuses to accept that Lampard's importance has decreased. There might be two plausible reasons for his dropping of Lampard from the first team.
Firstly, it might be because he is trying to rotate the squad to keep all his players fresh and also try to forge out the best possible combination. Secondly, he must be preserving his aging midfielder for the big matches where his experience will be greatly needed.
Lampard has looked ragged this season. He has been lacking the killer touch to his shots and even seems pretty stale on the creative side. Moreover, with Chelsea playing an advanced 4-2-3-1 style, Meireles has got a bigger role to play, which might be hampering Lampard's chances.
Either way, Villas-Boas has to find the best way to fully utilise the Chelsea legend's skills without burning out his player or hurting his ego. The Chelsea manager has to handle this with utmost care as any wrong moves will make him a villain in Stamford Bridge—where Lampard is worshipped by the Chelsea fans.
If Lampard can be used successfully as an impact player similar to United's Ryan Giggs, then Villas-Boas will have a good chance to win something without hurting anyone's sentiments.
Team's Level of Concentration
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As was seen against United or against Swansea last weekend, Chelsea conceded most of their goals due to lack of concentration.
Against United, Chelsea had been playing well but all the goals they conceded were mostly because of their own lack of concentration or laxness on defense rather than United's skill. Against Swansea too, being 3-0 up, the Blues lowered their tempo and got a bit complacent which led Swansea to take the upper hand, resulting in Chelsea conceding a goal.
Chelsea have been facing the problem of complacency from the past few seasons which has cost them quite a number of matches and even some silverware. They seem to look less motivated or lazy at times, which gives their opponents the opportunity to capitalise.
Villas-Boas must keep his team charged up through the full 90 minutes and also teach them to maintain their concentration all through. He must also confront the complacency problem and find way to wipe it out completely.
If Villas-Boas is to deliver this season, he needs to address this issue that has been a problem for the Blues for quite a long time.