As Chelsea’s season draws to a close, there is much to look back upon. Even by Chelsea’s standards, this season has been extremely topsy-turvy. From making a flying start to the season to sacking a manager who was much loved by the Chelsea faithful and replacing him with one who was and is hated by them, from seeing games that either made fans want to pull their hair out in frustration or doff their hats in appreciation to seeing the team lose chance after chance of winning silverware, Chelsea Football Club and their fans have seen it all. In the midst of all this, one of Chelsea’s major problems has been largely overlooked: lack of defensive stability.
I say it’s been overlooked because although the problem has been identified, it hasn’t been resolved. Most Chelsea fans will point to Benitez’s appointment as one of the main reasons the team lost their defensive stability. While it is true that under Benitez the team haven’t looked much better defensively, the fact is that Chelsea’s defensive problems have been around since the start of the season when Di Matteo was in charge and it was a poor defence that eventually cost him his job.
Lets have a quick look at the stats then, shall we? Di Matteo was at the helm for 20 games this season (excluding the Community Shield and pre-season). In those 20 games, Chelsea only kept 6 clean-sheets and conceded 30 goals in total, averaging 1.5 goals per game. A lack of clean-sheets aside, 1.5 goals a game is alright if the no. of games played is high. But 20 games isn’t too much. The fact that Chelsea’s defensive stability only deteriorated towards the end of Di Matteo’s reign is evidenced by the fact that Chelsea conceded 21 goals in his last 10 games in charge, averaging 2.1 goals conceded per game. Under Benitez, the defence has been slightly better. In the 45 games that Benitez has taken charge of, Chelsea have conceded 46 goals, conceding an average of 1.03 goals per game. Even then, Chelsea have looked far from solid this season.
There are 2 major reasons for Chelsea’s defensive problems. The first reason is a lack of a proper style of play.
Current Spurs and former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas made this particular statement in a recent press conference prior to his team’s game against Chelsea. While the comment may have irked many Chelsea fans, there is an element of truth to it. What exactly is Chelsea’s style of play? It’s not exactly tiki-taka, neither is it attacking in the mould of a Bayern or Dortmund. At times Chelsea’s style has been pragmatic in nature while it has also been devoid of any real intent and direction in many games.
With no proper style of play to adapt to, how exactly should the defence line up? Should they choose to press with intensity and play a high line or look to sit deep and defend? Can the defenders come forward and kick-start attacks if necessary? These questions have been asked by the defence but unfortunately for Chelsea, they haven’t been answered. The result? A defence that finds itself at sixes and sevens most of the time.
It hasn’t helped that none of Chelsea’s defenders have really looked up to par this season. John Terry struggled at the start of the season and then found himself out injured for long periods. Even after his return, he has found game time hard to come by mainly because he’s not been in form. The few games he has started he’s looked far from convincing. Gary Cahill tends to makes too many mistakes (ball-watching is the most common one) and relies on correcting those mistakes with last-ditch blocks and headers. While that works for him sometimes, it doesn’t really change the fact that he must not commit basic mistakes to begin with. Branislav Ivanovic seems to have lost a good 2 yards of pace and seems unable to defend the spaces behind him for that very reason. David Luiz has looked solid over the past few months but started the season poorly.
It’s clear that the next Chelsea manager’s first priority next season should be to tighten up the defence. Spending big is not a necessity given that Chelsea have defenders like Kenneth Omerou, Tomas Kalas and even Jeffry Bruma out on loan although considering their age, buying a top-class centre-back wouldn’t seem like such a bad option. Developing a concrete style of play would certainly help the defence organise themselves better. Whatever happens, Chelsea fans can only hope to see a team that is a lot harder to score against next season.
Do let me know what you guys think!