Man Under Pressure
Andre Villas-Boas comes into with another TV interview, offering his view on the loss to Leverkusen. Sounding unconvincing, one could not help but think that this young man was out of his depth.
The loss leaves Chelsea facing the unthinkable—not qualifying for the Champions League final stages as we have done in the past eight seasons.
Many observers might feel that AVB cannot be held responsible for a Chelsea team that, in the main, he inherited. Yet closer examination shows that AVB has significantly altered the playing style and in particular, has persisted with a high-line defence for most of the season and that has not worked.
Results speak for themselves. Four defeats in seven matches has seen Chelsea's season placed in jeopardy.
Should Roman Abramovich step in and make a change now?
Or should the club persist with their new manager and face making wholesale changes to the team itself.
Looking For A Higher Power?
In truth, the defence did play rather better against Leverkusen, despite conceding two goals.
It is clear that AVB has finally conceded that Branislav Ivanovic is the best right back he has. Indeed many argue that Ivanovic is a better full-back than centre-half.
Although Jose Bosingwa performed credibly in Germany as an emergency replacement for injured Ashley Cole, it is surely young Ryan Bertrand who needs greater exposure at left back. Yet AVB seems to be falling into the same trap as his predecessor in not placing any faith in youth.
Centre-back Alex appears to be out of favor at Chelsea this season and rumors abound that he will leave in the January window. David Luiz flatters to deceive, although he too performed well against Leverkusen. But most commentators have no faith in the young Brazilian’s defending and many suggest that his best position might well be as a holding midfielder.
It seems that AVB does not agree.
Finally, question marks surround the captain. John Terry is no longer the assured presence of seasons past. Has the controversy of racist claims added to his loss of form or is age catching up on this iconic player? Either way, should JT be the first name on the team sheet?
One thing seems clear. Chelsea must splash the cash quickly. At least one new defender must be signed in January. With his contract ending in the summer, the likely candidate is Bolton’s Gary Cahill, who could arrive for less than £10 million. That signing apart, it is unlikely that Chelsea can sign a marquee name in the winter.
Stifled out wide
Surprisingly, AVB chose Raul Meireles to play in a holding role at Leverkusen. Not that Meireles played badly, but what was the point of bringing Oriel Romeu to the club to see him play the odd reserve game?
Despite his early promise, John Obi Mikel has not made the grade in this position. With Michael Essien a long-term injury, AVB might be accused of being short-sighted in not giving Romeu his chance. The youngster plays in the Barca style—few touches, short, swift passes and good movement into space.
And then there is David Luiz?
Further forward, Chelsea look short of creativity in midfield. AVB persists in playing 4-3-3 with Juan Mata supposedly out wide. It is plain for all to see that Mata’s best position is behind the striker(s). He has to be played there.
Given the present squad, Frank Lampard and Ramires are rightly first choices and it is clear that Chelsea are unlikely to get a stellar player in the mid-season window. But come summer, the club must enter the market and a player like Eden Hazard must arrive at the Bridge.
Lampard has indicated that he wants to finish his career at Chelsea and expects a new contract. Arguably the greatest attacking midfielder in the history of the club, perhaps he deserves that. But Super Frank has to accept that he will not play every game when new blood arrives in the summer.
Don't ask me?
Robin Van Persie has score 17 goals this season at Arsenal. No one at Chelsea is even close.
The simple fact is that, whilst the Blues are creating chances, we lack a decisive finisher.
AVB surprisingly went with Drogba for both the Liverpool and Leverkusen games. Bold decisions!
Many observers tend to the view that Drogba’s best days are behind him. He has not scored enough goals in the last 18 months and approaching 34, he cannot be considered the future.
Drogba is away for the month of January at the Africa Cup of Nations. Is it smart therefore for AVB to select him ahead of Fernando Torres?
With Nicolas Anelka clearly looking for a move away in the summer, AVB should be focused on Torres and Daniel Sturridge.
Torres has to be given a run of games and the team must be set up to accommodate him so as to give him every chance. That clearly means a change of shape to allow Mata to play in the hole. Any further talk about selling Torres must wait until the summer. Let's see if he can deliver.
Sturridge also has to be given the chance to express himself. He is the future, too, and doesn't belong in a wide position. I advocate a 4-3-1-2 style as the format that can get the best from our present crop of players. Cech; Ivanovich, Luiz (Cahill), Terry, Cole; Romelu (Luiz), Ramires, Lampard; Mata; Torres, Sturridge.
Spectre looming large
He arrived with a mandate to shake the tree, to get rid of the ponderous buildup introduced by Ancelotti that sent many Blue’s fans to sleep. AVB can justifiably say that he must have time, that his team is in transition, and the club must not judge him on a one-season performance.
Yet we know that the owner wants results. Along with falling away from any realistic prospect of winning the Premiership, playing in the Europa Cup might be a step too far for Roman Abramovich. As I have said before, putting the Champions League place at risk (and costing the club £20 million in the process) might be a headache for Andre and a Hiddink for the club.
It may not be fair, but then life is often not fair. The fact is that the manager is the man who ultimately has to take responsibility for the choices that he makes.
The clock is ticking.