New Chelsea boss has defensive dilemma
Published: 04.06.12 / Written by: David Gold
Chelsea have been quick to add to their attacking talents this summer and lay the foundations for a more creative, dynamic forward line.
Hulk appears close to joining Fernando Torres and Juan Mata. Marko Marin has already arrived and Eden Hazard will follow. The potential is there for a forward line of immense skill and creativity, with goals aplenty, and in the style Roman Abramovich craves, too.
But to get the best out of these players, Chelsea’s overall style needs to change. Creative stars such as Hazard need to have players who move in every direction around them, creating space and opening the field. The staid defensiveness of the last few weeks would not get the best out of him, Torres or the other stars in the Chelsea attack.
They could also do with adopting a higher pressing game, to win the ball in the opponents half and thus catch their rivals on the break earlier. This too would get more out of their forward line. And a short passing game is required to play the ball through the centre, rather than relying on wide players crossing from deep.
All in all, it is basically the game plan Andre Villas Boas wanted to impose. Yet he is gone now, and Chelsea need to find someone else to put in place the plan the Portuguese conceived. But this creates a new dilemma.
What about the defence?
It is notable how much they have improved at the back since Villas Boas’ departure. It really has been back to basics. David Luiz and Gary Cahill looked all at sea before his departure, but since they have appeared transformed. What is the difference? It is really rather simple. They have played a deeper defensive line. It means they are almost always looking ahead, rarely behind, and are defending in a reactive way, not a pro-active one.
Particularly for Luiz this suits, as he is used to such a system from his time in Brazil, where defenders tend to play deeper lines. John Terry too suffered the same problems playing further forward, with much space behind him. Chelsea’s improvement defensively is directly related to that narrowing of the space between the attack, midfield, defence and goalkeeper.
Yet to play an expansive game that gets the best out of their forwards, they need to attack more. And Abramovich will demand that too, as if he brings in Hulk and Hazard, as seems likely. That will mean his forward line of Torres, Hazard, Hulk and Mata cost in the region of £140 million to assemble. But doing this whilst getting the best out of the defence is a dilemma.
This is the problem for Chelsea. They are stuck in the middle of two eras. Between the old and the new. Between defence and attack. This is summed up by the lack of a manager. Abramovich craves attacking football, but he needs to give someone the remit he gave Villas Boas and this time trust them enough to let them run with it for years. If he fails to do so then Chelsea may never truly emerge and make the transition that Alex Ferguson has managed so brilliantly at Manchester United. They may be European Champions, but for Chelsea this is a crucial, and potentially defining, summer and season ahead.