Consistently Inconsistent – Chelsea’s Internal Polar Philosophies Are Causing Long Term Issues
When Chelsea kick-off tomorrow against Crystal Palace I would like to say that I will be nice and relaxed inside the ground. This, with all due respect (has this been football clichéd yet?), is a game that Chelsea should be winning if they are remotely serious about claiming the title this season. Nevertheless, I enter the game with a sense of trepidation: what type of performance are Chelsea going to muster? We are becoming a picture of consistent inconsistency.
This vision of ‘Barcelona in blue’ has not worked since Villas-Boas’ attempts to revolutionise the style of play at the club. Similarly, Di Matteo’s gung-ho approach was so heavily reliant on playing his best eleven every single game that it was unsustainable for an entire season. Kamikaze football at its very best. Ultimately this group of players has been assembled with the single purpose of appointing Pep Guardiola as Chelsea manager. It is worrying that even this summer Chelsea were still buying players with no purpose other than for a Pep-lite type side.
The club, and an element of the Chelsea-hipster-brigade, seem intent on pursuing this vision of replicating Barcelona until the death. In a time where Chelsea have had arguably some of its greatest creative talent playing we have finished 25pts and 14pts off the top of the league respectively. While it is far too simple to state there is positive correlation between the tangible shift in playing more flair players and poor league performance, it cannot be ignored that a philosophy change has played a large part in this gap opening up. Powerful challengers to mock-tiki-taka makeweights.
Chelsea need to adopt a pragmatic approach until they have the personnel to play in such a fashion (if this is really where we want to head). Whether this is “the Mourinho way ©” (it isn’t) or not is moot. What cannot be denied is that the balance of the squad does not allow for any definitive or effective style to be employed regularly. As an example we do not have the variety or number of central midfielders to effectively rotate and keep the same style of play. Furthermore, the softness of goals conceded, the lack of fluidity in the midfield area and poor finishing ability are alarming.
Certainly defensively there are improvements to make and I expect Mourinho to address these quickly. I do, however, largely feel it comes down to personnel. This is not Mourinho favouritism, as I have been saying this regularly since the departure of Ancelotti. Even Villas-Boas and Benitez, both coaches I have absolutely no time for, suffered at a squad level. We have neither replaced nor produced the quality of player that has left the club in the past 2-3 years. Those running the club have essentially sacrificed the brand of power football that has been so successful chasing a dream that was never achievable: unbalancing the entire fabric of the squad in the process.
This summer should have seen the club buy an exceptional striker, at least one world class central midfielder and a top tier centre back. Spending over £80m, with £50m on the area we needed least, is utterly perplexing. As the January window approaches we can certainly address some of the more obvious issues -- but it will cost. Falcao on loan should be viewed as an essential and doable piece of business. Juventus’ early European exit and comments from their owner suggest a large enough offer could prize Pogba or Vidal away from them. These are the types of signings we need to be making. However, it will not surprise me if the club continue to ignore this and buy a left-back and another winger.
We now head into the busy festive period where each game is a must win. A victory against Palace and against Arsenal (tough game, certainly, but Mourinho relishes these types of matches) would be a huge step in the right direction. My concern is not in the big games under Mourinho, but those deemed smaller. We look strangely complacent and this lack of focus has punished us repeatedly. Stoke, Newcastle and Basel all highlight the deficiencies in mental approach – something that needs drastically altering as we move towards the New Year.
Palace look resurgent under Pulis and it is precisely this type of team that could unsettle Chelsea. Oddly, a frailty at set pieces has been exposed recently and a direct style of play could further cause issues if Cahill continues ahead of David Luiz at the back. The game will be one where Chelsea are smothered in midfield and while I will not labour the point there is neither the speed of thought, speed of foot or otherworldly technique to truly dominate any longer. The less said about who is playing up front the better, frankly.
Pulis may well have it right when he says “they’re third in the League, they’ve just won their group in Europe and they’re in the quarter finals of the League Cup. They’re having a stinker, aren’t they?” Perhaps Mourinho is being too harshly judged upon his return – just look at Moyes at United. The reality is that rightly or wrongly Mourinho is seen as a panacea to everything wrong at Chelsea. From this writers perspective unless the club start to see the salient holes within the squad and look to address them this stop-start season is only going to be a sign of things to come.
Mourinho has made errors of judgement this season regarding his team selections. However, the fact we are so in contention at this stage in the season is down to his management more than anything else. Perhaps being slightly more cautious with his substitutions might pay dividends long term. We do not always need to aggressively chase games as much as we do, Stoke being a recent example. Once we have a stronger set of midfielders and a settled back four then I am all for trying to win the game. Presently we seem to unbalance a lot of the time in pursuit of a goal. I just hope that the game is sewn up in time before that type of decision needs to be made.