By Kieran Lovelock
At one stage it looked as if Chelsea couldn’t be stopped. Watching them win the first two games 6-0 reminded me of my history lessons when I was taught about how the Romans trampled all over the poorly equipped Celts when invading Great Britain.
Now however it appears that the army of one of London’s favorite Italian’s isn’t quite as strong as people thought it to be. After losing past two games there are a few small cracks beginning to appear in Chelsea’s armor as the Premiership’s homegrown quota rule kicks in as well Roman Abramovich’s reluctance to spend like he once did.
Having lost to Manchester City last week away from home for the second season in the row one could argue that there is a worrying trend starting to appear. Manchester City are undoubtedly a team that like to soak up pressure by getting men behind the ball and then attack on the break, hence the reason they have so many low scoring games.
Roberto Mancini has installed a strategically defensive Italian mentality to his side that Chelsea found extremely difficult to break down. With Gareth Barry and the superb Nigel De Jong protecting the back four Chelsea couldn’t find a way through as Drogba was forced to come deeper and deeper to get the ball and was eventually substituted for it.
Despite all the goals they have scored this year, if there is one criticism of the players Chelsea have bought since Roman Abramovich took over it would be that they never managed to purchase a Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo style of player. One who could dribble their way through a seemingly unbreakable wall to get in behind and score a goal when it just didn’t seem possible.
Sir Alex Ferguson always insists that Ronaldo’s best contribution for United came away to Fulham towards the end of the 2008-2009 season where his team had not performed well against a very defensive minded Fulham side. In the 85th minute of that particular match Ronaldo produced something out of nothing in managing to dribble through the whole Fulham team to give United a crucial 1-0 win in the bid for Premiership glory.
This isn’t the first time Chelsea have succumbed to these kinds of tactics. Last year they were knocked out of the Champions League by arguably the master of defending deep and winning on the break- Jose Mourino. Inter Milan and City use the same tactics and have similar kinds of players in the defensive midfield and lone striker positions, in turn exposing Chelsea’s weakness of being able to unlock an extremely well organized and experienced backline and then getting caught on the break.
On top of this the goal at the weekend also exposed John Terry’s one weakness as a defender. Terry is a quite magnificent player who’s positional sense is near enough flawless. Because of his superior football brain he has never had to be particularly quick and therefore can find himself exposed in a one on one situation- much like he was with Tevez at the weekend and as he was against Germany this past summer.
What Manchester City’s win this weekend proves is that Chelsea are still susceptible to being caught on the counter attack and don’t be surprised if for the rest of the season teams work out a way to draw Michael Essien forward in an attempt to get in behind him and in front of John Terry and Alex.
One look at Chelsea’s bench at Eastlands may also reveal where potential problems lie. Ross Turnbull, Daniel Sturridge, Patrick van Aanholt and Josh McEachran are not household names in comparison to the kinds of names that would be found on the bench of United, Tottenham, Arsenal or Manchester City. Arguably one of the biggest mistakes Chelsea ever made was selling Carlo Cudicini to Spurs, because Middlesborough youth academy product Ross Turnbull simply isn’t a Premiership goalkeeper.
Chelsea’s other loss last week came against a weakened Newcastle side in the Carling Cup. Chelsea almost had a stronger version of their team out than Newcastle with Terry, Alex, Ferreria, Benayoun and Anelka all featuring and yet they still conceded four goals, including another one from a one on one situation with Shola Ameobi this time outdoing Alex to score from 20 yards out.
This was the first time Chelsea had conceded a goal at home for ten hours and this result could be a sign of Chelsea not having the strength of squad they should have given the amount of money they have at their disposal. Newcastle put on a display of strength and power leaving Chelsea’s young players somewhat exposed and they went on to win the match 4-3 with the somewhat goal shy Shola Ameobi scoring twice.
So will Chelsea be able to manage if the spine of their team ever gets seriously dismantled this season? Can they work out a way to overcome high quality teams that set their stalls out simply not to concede? If they can then, given what they have already done this year, the top of the Premiership could have a very familiar look about it come May.