Today’s 2-0 defeat to Everton marks a run of four games without a victory for Chelsea and AVB. Much was made of Roman Abramovich’s reported visits to Chelsea’s training complex, but is this really as harsh as some people felt?
Abramovich is a man who is known for firing managers at the slightest sign of poor form, but having watched Chelsea go from potential title chasers, to dropping out of the top four, surely he must now be running out of patience with AVB. Of course new managers need time but recent performances have been far from good enough lately.
The 3-3 with Man United highlighted everything that is good, but also everything that is bad with Chelsea this season. Having gained the lead it seemed that closing the game down should have been relatively straight forward. Of course the two penalty decisions were arguably soft but it’s the sort of clumsy defending we have come to associate with a side that is short on confidence.
The big decision was the strange substitution of Daniel Sturridge who was proving an absolute nightmare for Evra who not only had been booked, but was at fault for the first goal as Sturridge skinned him to square it for the own goal. The substitution was also strange as it meant moving Chelsea’s most influential, and tactically astute midfielder Juan Mata from the middle of the pitch, out wide where he was unable to exert the same level of influence. Juan Mata struggled to impact the game from out wide and the decision to bring on Romeu led to Chelsea losing the impetus in the middle of the park which eventually swung the game for Manchester United as they went on to equalize.
Against Everton we saw a multitude of odd decisions. First and foremost we have seen a relentless loyalty towards Chelsea’s Portuguese contingent throughout the season which continued today. Bosingwa starting despite having had an awful season was odd especially as it meant Cahil was on the bench and Ivanovic, Chelsea’s best right-back, was playing in the middle. As well as this we saw the strange decision that led to Mata being replaced by Lukaku which led to Chelsea lumping balls up the pitch rather than attempting to break down the Everton defence with any craft or skill.
Tactics under AVB have been questionable at times. Initially the decision to play with such a high line despite not having the players to do it was a horrendous error that cost Chelsea dearly at the beginning of the season. The 5-3 loss at home against Arsenal is the most obvious example of this. As well as this the use of a rotating holding player in Meireles appeared to back fire as Chelsea were incredibly open in the midfield during their opening fixtures which saw them drop out of the title race and seemingly lose all confidence, this is however a tactic that AVB has since abandoned.
With regards to the aforementioned favouritism to the Portuguese contingent we have seen Luiz relentlessly backed despite playing badly which means Cahil is only back-up. As well as this, Chelsea’s most successful player of their recent era, and joint top goal-scorer Frank Lampard has been marginalized in a way that lacks respect for such a fine player.
Lampard’s contribution to this season has been excellent despite not playing regularly, he has scored 9 goals in 18 starts this season as well as recording 4 assists. Not bad for a player who is reportedly playing badly. Meireles on the other hand only has 1 EPL goal and 1 assist yet is continuously preferred when all players are fit.
There are of course other factors at work which contribute to Chelsea’s poor form. Injuries play a part but all teams suffer from them and clubs should have squads capable of mitigating for the worst injury crises. The squad of players he was left with as stated did not fit the tactics he is used to working with such as those at Porto, however I’d argue that AVB did not adapt quick enough to the failings of his tactics and continued to employ them until only recently.
The Torres situation is a huge problem as Chelsea do not have a centre-forward scoring goals. Torres and Drogba between them have only 5 league goals in 35 games, a shocking statistic, but one must sympathize with AVB as he did not sign either player. The lack of quality in the final third has been masked by the attacking contributions of Mata, Sturridge, Ramires and Lampard.
It’s worth emphasising again how the current crop of players are not AVB’s and how he needs time to overhaul an aging squad that is not suited to his style of play. He has certainly transformed the style of play more than any other manager post-Mourinho. This season Chelsea boast the third highest average possession per game, the second highest pass completion rate and play the 4th highest number of short passes per game which is a far cry from the perceived negative football Chelsea played under Mourinho. Even under Ancelotti when the club were scoring a lot of goals it was more methodical and work-man like than creative. AVB is trying to emphasis a new approach based around technical play and precision rather than power and muscle.
In this sense he must be lauded as someone who has the potential to change the whole make-up of the Chelsea side that has been in a sense of stagnation since 2007. If he is given time to overhaul the squad the future could be bright for Chelsea, the problem is the medium-short term could be very gloomy indeed as Chelsea have now dropped out of the top four and appear way, way short of form.
Managers deserve time there is no doubt about that and I would not for one minute suggest AVB should be fired. However by Abramovich’s standard he has had plenty of time and results are yet to improve. Clearly there are long term structural problems with the way Chelsea is ran from top to bottom which negatively impacts on their long term success on the field, such as youth development and the continual changes in management. However perhaps AVB needs to offset his long term plans with some more short term solutions. For example rather than excluding Anelka and Alex when Chelsea were playing badly he should have kept them involved as Redknapp did for example with Pavluychenko despite his intention to sell the forward.
Any change at Chelsea, or any club, has to be an evolution and not a revolution, especially as most of the personnel are the same as last season. His long term goal is essentially to do away with Chelsea’s old guard and revamp the side into an expansive attacking side, the problem is with the short term results going so badly he may not be in the job come the end of the season.
Many Chelsea fans would honestly settle for fourth place and a new transfer window for AVB to continue to evolve the squad into something more similar to what he would like. At just 33 he could viably be a real long term manager for Chelsea, however it is so reliant on the erratic and trigger happy Abramovich not firing him.