A Tale Of Tactical Gaffes And No Passion
On Sunday, Chelsea failed to become the first English team since Manchester United to lift the Club World Cup. The result left many fans dejected and angry, as the team seemingly gave in without a fight. However, the fact is we were doomed the minute Benitez picked his starting XI. A seemingly lopsided starting XI combined with zero passion is a recipe for disaster, and that’s exactly what the final was for Chelsea: disaster.
Benitez made a few changes to the team that played Monterrey. Cesar Azpilicueta, Oscar and Jon Obi Mikel dropped to the bench. In came Ramires, Frank Lampard and Victor Moses, with David Luiz playing as a defender. Dropping Azpilicueta didn’t make much of a difference to the game. However, dropping Oscar and Mikel certainly did.
A double pivot of Ramires and Frank Lampard was never going to work. Both are attack-minded players and we clearly missed the calming presence of Mikel in the middle of the park. With Mikel absent, Ramires seemed to sit back and defend while Lampard played as a deep-lying playmaker, occasionally covering when Ramires went forward. But while Lampard put in a decent shift, Ramires seemed to struggle.
It was unclear to many why Benitez chose to play both Ramires and Lampard in the same team. Only one reason comes to mind, and it’s not a very good one. With Mikel, Romeu and Ramires out for the Capital One Cup clash against Leeds, we have only one fit midfielder available, making it clear that Luiz may get another chance in the middle of the park. The Lampard-Luiz combination is just as imbalanced as the Lampard-Ramires one and Benitez wanted to experiment with an imperfect midfield and see how it worked. Word of advice, Rafa: a cup final is the last place to conduct such experiments.
The other mistake was dropping Oscar for Moses. Moses has been impressive as of late, but one thing is amply clear: he’s still an unfinished product. He has amazing pace and can beat players but his final balls are lacking and his decision-making is poor. Starting him in a cup final when he’s never faced such pressure in his career was a bad decision on Benitez’s part. Oscar may have been poor in the semi-final against Monterrey but he’s played in the Club World Cup before and was desperate to win it, having previously lost with Internacional. Moses clearly needs more time to reach his best.
Tactics aside, Chelsea lacked any spirit, something that irked many fans. The players appeared lifeless for most of the second half and despite having a fair share of possession, very few clear cut chances were created. The few chances we did create weren’t converted, the best one falling to Fernando Torres towards the end of the 2nd half when he somehow managed to hit the ‘keeper from 4 yards out. No one seemed to make that additional effort or put in that extra mile needed in such situations. While there’s no guarantee that we would have scored even then, most people would have preferred that we went down fighting. Instead, our Club World Cup ended with a whimper.
The loss was undoubtedly a harsh one, but there’s nothing left to do now except learn our lessons and move on. A win over Leeds United on Wednesday in the Capital One Cup would be a good start.