Chelsea: A complete jigsaw but an incomplete picture
Things have been far from blue at Stamford Bridge, well at least in the league. Chelsea sit firmly at the top of the premier league table with a 5 point cushion ahead of probably one of the most important fixtures of the season against current champions Manchester City.
This is largely due to Arsenal’s 2-0 victory masterminded by Arsene Wenger. Jose Mourinho surely must have uttered a small thank you to his London rival after the result. The victory or rather more importantly the performance shown at the Etihad has instilled some belief amongst the Arsenal faithful after yet another floundering season in which many of the gunner’s fans called for his head.
Meanwhile in West London, the Blues have gone about their business quietly in true professional fashion. Few would argue that Chelsea are deservedly leading the pack this season and have been an absolute joy to watch. The shrewd signings of Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa have filled in the missing blanks from last season and Mourinho has at his disposal some of the best young talent in the league in the form of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta.
To most people Chelsea this season are the complete package, just coming off a 5-0 bludgeoning away at Swansea in the league and a 1-1 humbling away at Liverpool in the Capital One cup, while offering some of the most entertaining football in the league, yet at times faltering in a few games.
Last night though Chelsea were handed a rude awakening in the form of Bradford City. A 4-2 victory for the Bantams at Stamford Bridge sent the blues crashing out of the FA Cup, a competition won by them 7 times. What culminated into the first home loss of the season for Jose Mourinho was mainly because of the glaring lack of depth or rather quality in depth of Chelsea’s squad. The result was labelled ‘a disgrace’ by the manager, as Bradford are from League One – the third tier of English Football.
Mourinho rang in the changes ahead of this game, resting 9 players from the team named against Liverpool at Anfield in the Capital One Cup. Regulars John Terry, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard were rested while Didier Drogba, Loic Remy, Mohamed Salah and Andreas Christensen all started.
The Blues looked to be in complete control going 2-0 up inside the first 40 minutes but then capitulated as the game wore on. Mourinho tried to rescue the game by bringing on a few of the regulars but was unsuccessful as Bradford ran away as winners.
This was basically Chelsea’s second string of players on the pitch this weekend but the gulf in quality to that of the regular first team was clearly evident individually and collectively. Comparing Chelsea’s squad to some of the best teams in Europe like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, the Blues’ squad definitely comes up short in several areas.
Unstoppable at times and flattering to deceive at times, (remember just 2 months ago Chelsea were still unbeaten) it begs the question – Are Chelsea truly complete? Lets have a look.
As i write this article the rumours doing rounds are that Chelsea have launched a £40m bid for Juventus talisman Paul Pogba, while other reports suggest a £26.8m bid for Fiorentina winger Juan Cuadrado is in progress. Earlier in December, the Blues were said to be leading the race to sign Borussia Dortmund winger Marco Reus. The latest rumour is that of a £20m bid for Shaktar Dontesk’s Douglas Costa.
Although the thought of Marco Reus and Eden Hazard running riot against Premier League defences or Pogba scoring a couple of 30 yard scorchers seems mouth watering, lets examine the current squad and see if/where Chelsea require reinforcements.
Not meaning to kill any excitement, but Mourinho has come out and said he has no intentions of adding or removing any players from his current squad unless forced to. Although he said the same before the departures of Juan Mata and Fernando Torres too. If these reports have any truth to them, is Mourinho looking at the wrong positions?
Is his stance of not doing business this window a wrong one?
Starting from the back, Mourinho is spoilt for choice when it comes to picking his number one on the teamsheet every weekend. Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech are two of the best goalkeepers in the league.
A hallmark of any successful Mourinho team is its defensive solidarity. It is no secret that Jose builds from the back and builds his team’s base on a solid defensive foundation, much needed for lethal counter attacks by soaking up the pressure, something employed so well by Alex Ferguson and which his successor Louis van Gaal should look into at Old Trafford.
Chelsea have the meanest defence in the league this season with 11 clean sheets, conceding just 19 goals with an average conceding ratio of 0.86 goals per game. The only other team with a similar record are surprise packages Southampton who have 10 clean sheets, conceding only 16 goals with and averaging 0.73 goals against thus far.
But let’s remind you that this includes the freak game against Tottenham where nearly every shot taken by Spurs hit the back of the net. Excluding that fixture, Chelsea have conceded just 14 goals this season.
This is largely down to the performances of John Terry and Gary Cahill at the heart of the Blues’ defence. The duo have started almost every game and have performed at a very high level throughout the season, thus far at least.
But a huge cause for worry is whether they will be able to maintain the same form, level of fitness and concentration for the rest of the season. Going back to ‘that’ Tottenham game, the pair looked clearly jaded and in need of some respite after the grueling December period of fixtures. But as the Champions League kicks into full gear and with only 19-year-old Kurt Zouma as cover and Branislav Ivanovic deployed mostly at right back, a purchase of another centre half would surely give some much needed breathing space and recovery time for Cahill and Terry.
Let us keep in mind Terry isn’t getting any younger and any injury to either of the two at this point could prove catastrophic for Chelsea. Mourinho must definitely evaluate this before the window shuts or risk losing the title.
In central midfield, Chelsea have a formidable partnership in the form of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic (He too comes from Serbia, and he too will f*****g murder ya). The duo have practically started every game and have definitely shined to say the least. Fabregas makes the blues tick and leads the chart for most assists by a player in the league, directly creating a whopping 15 goals this season apart from being indirectly involved in most of the 51 goals scored by the Blues.
Meanwhile, the other half – Matic, provides the defensive cover for the back four and goes about his business in no nonsense fashion averaging 3.7 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game. When they start Chelsea almost certainly win, the one loss up until December against Newcastle was when Matic did not play. However, the problem arises when either of the two are shifted from their positions, rested, injured or suspended.
John Obi Mikel replaced Matic against Newcastle and Chelsea lost, Mikel also started against Southampton with Fabregas being pushed up the pitch and deployed as a No. 10, while Oscar was rested but to no avail and leading to a much poorer performance and a fortunate draw. Maybe another experienced or young squad player to compete or rotate in midfield would surely provide Matic and Fabregas some cover as Jose has seemingly lost faith in Ramires, while Mikel doesn’t quite provide the same level of quality.
If you compare Chelsea’s midfield to that of City’s which is more abundant with quality central midfielders then you would find the blues slightly lacking. Alternatively, Mourinho could’ve kept Frank Lampard for another season without worrying about freeing up wages. Is saving £150-200k a week more important than winning a title?
Higher up the pitch Hazard, Oscar and Willian have been providing a display of some flowing, breathtaking attacking football and with Andre Schurrle there to fight for the 3 attacking midfield and wide positions Chelsea have no reason to tweak or worry about the requirement of any additions in these positions. Although with Salah becoming a Roma player, Chelsea will need to look at a replacement for him as well and that is why they are linked with Cuadrado and Douglas Costa.
The void or the area that Chelsea lacked in last season (up front) has been filled up by Diego Costa whose sheer brute force and predatory instincts have helped him bang in an amazing 17 goals in 19 appearances as he currently leads the Premier League scoring charts. Costa was the last piece of the puzzle for Mourinho and has proved an excellent piece of business, with Loic Remy and Didier Drogba as backup, Chelsea have nothing to worry about up front.
Surely though with Drogba retiring at the end of the season, a striker might be on the cards, but definitely not this window.
Lack of rotation
There is certainly a lack of depth in some areas of this Chelsea squad which could possibly harm them as the season progresses through all the cup competitions apart from the Premier League with fixtures coming thick and fast. Jose Mourinho has largely kept his sides unchanged from one game to the next for most part of the season, putting his best team on the pitch week in and week out. The question remains – will this team continue in the same way they started now towards the business end of the season? If they all stay fit, I see no reason why.
Mourinho hasn’t made a lot of changes to his starting XI between matches, but he has utilized the bench well. He has however kept the same XI in almost every match and with the festive season just gone, there may be a risk of burnout in the Chelsea squad. Will his strategy of keeping the same XI in most games work? Or are the players (especially the defence) over-worked?
Endurance will be the key for the Blues as they look to add silverware to the trophy cabinet this season and Mourinho will be hungry as ever to win a title in his second season after an unfruitful first season back at the helm.
A championship winning side needs depth. And every player in some way or the other contributes to the team winning the title. Chelsea are almost complete. They might even go on to win the league and maybe a cup this season without burning out. But if these issues are addressed and some quality is added around this base, Chelsea’s squad will truly be one of the best in Europe.