Chelsea’s December From Hell

26 December 2009

Since defeating Arsenal 3-0 on November 29th at the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea have achieved the following results:

Blackburn 3 Chelsea 3: Triple sub backfires as Chelsea are eliminated from the Carling Cup in kicks from the penalty mark.
Manchester City 2 Chelsea 1: Chelsea can’t keep possession beyond minute 15 and pay the price in one of Mark Hughes’s final games in charge.
Chelsea 2 APOEL Nicosia 2: Chelsea treat the second half like light training and APOEL find the equalizer.
Chelsea 3 Everton 3: Chelsea forget what playing defense is like and if not for Drogba and Anelka are humiliated badly.
Chelsea 2 Portsmouth 1: Portsmouth were on their way to a draw before Portsmouth give away a ridiculous penalty and Lampard converts.
West Ham United 1 Chelsea 1: Matthew Upson was clumsy, but Chelsea should have never been awarded an equalizing penalty.
Birmingham City 0 Chelsea 0: Birmingham City’s perfect tactical set up frustrates Chelsea and were screwed twice on offside calls…one should have been a penalty, the other should have been a goal.

Yes my friends, it’s Christmas time and per the Blues norm, Chelsea are struggling yet again. One win in their last seven matches in all competitions, with their last two goals coming from the penalty spot, does not instill confidence at all in the club currently top of the table staying there for too much longer. Yet despite their form, Manchester United have struggled themselves and have not severely threatened Chelsea’s place. In fact, it is Arsenal at the moment who threaten Chelsea’s place the most. That threat could very well be Aston Villa as well if they win tomorrow.

While it has been written here before by other authors about Chelsea’s struggles, this Chelsea fan has bit his lip for too long. Now it’s time for both guns to come out blazing. While it’s been said that I am way too critical and harsh about my own team’s performances, I would counter by saying if they want to be treated like one of the world’s biggest clubs, they have to take the harsh criticism with all the faint praise they receive. So where is it going wrong for Chelsea right now? Let’s take a look.

1) Chelsea Are Only Truly Two Deep in the Attack
If Didier Drogba or Nicolas Anelka aren’t scoring goals from open play, the only way goals are being scored is from Frank Lampard’s foot from the penalty spot. That’s just not winning football. This season in the Premier League, Anelka or Drogba have only come up empty in three games. Anelka has been injured for the last two games, and will miss Monday’s clash with Fulham.

Chelsea’s other forwards, Salomon Kalou, Daniel Sturridge, and Fabio Borini (Gael Kakuta and Florent Malouda are midfielders by trade despite their advanced roles in the midfield), have yet to score this season in the Premier League. Now with the African Cup of Nations coming up, Chelsea lose two of their forwards in Drogba and Kalou. This should be the time Daniel Sturridge is getting confidence, but has not had enough chances on goal to get that confidence. Furthermore, where the midfield early this season was getting into the attack…

2) Chelsea’s Midfield in the Month of December is Defending Way too Deep
The midfield is always a tricky place to play. When you move forward in the attack, how much time do you spend defending. Furthermore, with Ancelotti’s diamond, how often do you get wide? The answer is not very often.

Since Petr Cech has lost a bit of confidence, Carlo Ancelotti has moved the defensive line higher, while moving the defensive midfielder and two wings further back to help cover for those frailties. Even the selections by Ancelotti have indicated a more defensive midfield, playing Deco, Mikel, Essien and Belletti in the center of the park. Yes, Essien is known for long distance rockets, but his aim has been terribly off of late. As for Frank Lampard, he has trouble enough from the spot. His shooting from distance has been poor to pathetic being kind.

The midfield has got to find it’s way back into the attack. If it doesn’t in January, Chelsea could very well see them out of first place and out of the FA Cup by February.

3) Ancelotti’s Substitution Pattern Has Been Highly Suspect
Only three of Chelsea’s last twenty substitutions have been defense moves. Two of those three were to bring on Juliano Belletti for Ricardo Carvalho. As mentioned above, the move to bring on all three subs after halftime bit Chelsea in the backside as they ended the game on ten men simply for not having a substitution to use late. While it was obvious Ancelotti felt he could get the result inside of ninety minutes, the lack of foresight in the potential of extra time escaped him. Against City, not bringing on Joe Cole and saving Florent Malouda until late threw away the shot at a point or three. Against APOEL, Ancelotti failed to bring on a defensive minded player in the second half to ensure their 2-1 halftime score line. While Ancelotti could point out they were already through and the result didn’t matter, it’s still an inexcusable decision to not go out wanting to win every game possible.

Against Everton, the first fatal flaw was not bringing on a defender at halftime. The second fatal flaw was not even considering shoring up the back immediately after Drogba put Chelsea in front 3-2. Instead, it wasn’t until the 85th minute that any substitution was made in defense. When you have defensive minded players on the bench like Ferreira, Belletti, and even Zhirkov to a smaller degree, that is something that should have been done. Against West Ham (the first game without Anelka up front), Sturridge should have started instead of replacing Kalou at halftime. As I will continue to argue, Kalou is much better in Premier League play as a forward coming off the bench, not as a starter. In today’s game with Birmingham City, Joe Cole sitting on the bench for 79 minutes is just not wise. Furthermore, while Frank Lampard did not have even a below average game, Malouda should have been the one coming off.

It could be argued that the only game Ancelotti got his subs right was against Portsmouth; the only win Chelsea have had in the month of December.

Chelsea’s season for a lack of a better word has stalled. With the winter months settling in, and games fixing to start coming thick and fast, Carlo Ancelotti has to adjust and adapt his tactics. It certainly does not help him the African Cup of Nations is coming up, but that is not an excuse for Chelsea. If they want to consider themselves title contenders, this is the time to show your worth, not to say we’re playing good football on the Chelsea FC website. Right now the football coming from Chelsea is not good. It’s not even average.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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