Identity crisis for Chelsea - Defensive powerhouse or offensive juggernaut?
Chelsea need to understand whether they are an offensive team, or whether they are a team of defensive stalwarts, as the business end of the Premier League season approaches.
When playing in so many competitions throughout a season, a team must consider what it takes to be successful in each competition. To win in the Capital One Cup, Chelsea simply needed to outclass a few lower league teams. Then they battled their way past Liverpool into the finals.
A team must also be able to scrap for points, at all costs. A hard-fought draw against a bottom of the table club can be valued just as highly as a victory against a top 4 club.
Finally, the Champions League presents another different format for success. Getting into the knockout stages is one thing, something that should be relatively easy for a club of Chelsea’s stature, especially considering the strength of their group. However, getting into the deeper rounds, requires grit, a sense of composure and an unwavering cohesiveness.
Chelsea stuck in between their new style of play and Mourinho’s defensive philosophies
Chelsea are different from last campaign. Last season, Chelsea were the iconic Jose Mourinho team. At no point during last campaign was it pretty, but Chelsea managed to get results from all of their big matches in the Premier League.
This included beating Manchester City twice, Liverpool twice, and remaining undefeated against Tottenham, Manchester United, and Arsenal. That is an extraordinary feat considering they were a “little horse” in the title race.
Chelsea also managed to find a way past PSG last season. They were strategic, persistent, and disciplined in the second leg, and thanks to Demba Ba, Chelsea progressed to the semi-final. Chelsea’s downfall last season were their performance against the weaker teams. For example, negative results versus Sunderland, Crystal Palace, West Brom, West Ham, and Aston Villa held Chelsea back from the title.
This season, Chelsea are a different team. They are revitalized, with a deeper squad, and a more flashy approach to attack. Additions such as Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas have allowed Chelsea to directly attack and break down opponents that defend with 10 men behind the ball.
Chelsea have beaten Aston Villa, Everton, and Stoke City on the road, while getting results from other matches that last year might not have happened.
However, in gaining an ability to break down these bottom of the table teams, they have lost some of their resolve and composure that allowed them to be so successful against the stronger teams last season. For example, they have only tied Manchester City twice this season, along with tieing Manchester United, and losing to Tottenham and Newcastle.
The biggest sign of their drop off in discipline is against PSG this season. One of the signs of a Mourinho team is an ability to adapt and find ways to win. They are currently caught between this new flashy style of play they have adapted in the Premier League and Mourinho’s defensive ideologies that would typically get them through games like these.
PSG exposed Chelsea's defensive frailties and offensive ineffencies
Chelsea were unable to find a way past the PSG defense. However, at home, against a 10-man PSG, Mourinho’s men would typically have sat back and defended their hearts out. It would have been a true Chelsea result to see them draw 0-0 at home and advance on away goals in front of their home crowd.
However, they let PSG in too many times, and in the 86’ it cost them. They were too sloppy defensively, and had too many men roaming free in the box, especially David Luiz. The same thing happened on the second goal. A Hazard penalty based on a scrappy play, and a poor handball should have been enough for Chelsea to advance.
Instead, they let PSG in, with Thiago Silva forcing a brilliant save out of Courtois, followed by an uncontested header for a goal. That was not a sign of a Chelsea team ready to grind out a hard-worked victory at home.
This is a team, struggling to find an identity. Chelsea aren’t defending well enough to be a strong defensive powerhouse, but they certainly aren’t scoring enough goals to be considered an attacking juggernaut. No, they sit in this newfound middle ground, and it’s not serving them well.
Chelsea have a Premier League title to win. They are 5 points clear of Manchester City, with a game in hand. The Blues have also played most of their tough games this season. They would have to have a devastating finish to the Premier League to surrender this lead. However, they must rediscover their identity.
They must locate their ability to adapt to the game at hand, and feel out the team they are playing against. Chelsea need to learn how to grind out tough matches, while also regaining the early season swagger they displayed on attack.
Hopefully, a Barclays Premier League Title is in the Blues’ future this season. However, the journey to this title will be more important. Many football experts are tipping Chelsea to dominate English football for the next decade, along with gaining results in Europe.
The Blues are best equipped to do so when they correctly implement strategies based on their opponent. If Chelsea can rediscover this skill by the end of this season, the next few years should be ones for fans to sit back and relax, because their team will be making history.