MAXIMUS TACTICUS: Chelsea

It is homecoming for the Special One. He might have become the Happy One but José Mourinho’s tongue-in-cheek attitude has not deserted him. Back in Chelsea with a much younger squad, Mourinho has started to put his stamp on the team. These might be early days, but signs are promising and silverware does not look to be a very far-fetched target. Debojyoti Chakraborty dissects Chelsea under José Mourinho – (happily) re-loaded

Chelsea, under José Mourinho, created history as they won the domestic league after more than half a century. But Mourinho departed after failing to win the continental glory for Roman Abramovich. He returns after six years at Stamford Bridge to complete some unfinished business. Is his squad good enough? Has he evolved enough in these years to rectify his earlier mistakes? Let us have a look.

Last season, Chelsea looked awesome going forward with their array of attacking midfielders. Even with a misfiring front man Fernando Torres, Chelsea were able to create havoc with their three attacking midfielders – Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar. But they looked quite vulnerable in the back. This was largely due to the indecisiveness in the centre-back pairing. John Terry looked clueless at times, Gary Cahill simply not able to handle the pressure of playing in a club like Chelsea where every minute mistake is magnified, and with David Luiz – you are just a whisker away from disaster. Nothing much has changed this season, except the captain looking more assured of him. Petr Čech is not the same goalkeeper following his head injury – especially his outing remains questionable – but is still one of the better shot-stoppers in business. Two side-backs have been exceptional – Branislav Ivanović has played in all the games for Chelsea this season while Ashley Cole seems to run the clock behind with every performance. Their effectiveness is not a mere coincidence; it owes a lot to Mourinho’s midfield shape, but more on that later.

Mourinho has always thrived for a midfield supremo to dictate the terms in the middle of the park. He started his Chelsea days with Claude Makélélé who was soon replaced by an incredible Michael Essien. Not sure if he has managed to get a similar sort of player in this Chelsea team. Ramires offers great stamina up and down the pitch. But Ramires is more of a ball player, a box-to-box midfielder than an engine room, and is rightfully playing a bit higher in the double pivot system to utilize his driving runs from deep to greater effect. Frank Lampard is deployed in regista role, but he is yet to make the place his own. John Obi Mikel has been used sparingly in the holding midfielder role, but he certainly lacks the quality.

Mourinho wants his teams to be compact even at the cost of sacrificing his attacking edge. In his previous reign in London, he masterminded numerous 1-0 wins. While people criticized his team’s lack of goals, his defensive stubbornness cannot be neglected. In Inter (Italy) and Real Madrid (playing against Barcelona) Mourinho cherished his counter-attacking style and he looks to implement the same in Chelsea. After tinkering with 4-3-3, Chelsea looks settled in a 4-2-1-3 formation. Oscar is given the pivotal role playing as Number 10. Hazard is tucked in the right while André Schürrle is preferred over Mata in the other flank. Part of the reason might be José wants his wingers to provide width and track back giving cover to his fullbacks. Mata is not exactly proficient at either – even if deployed at the flanks, he tends to cut inside. This makes his side-backs vulnerable against the opposition where they can create a 2-vs-1 situation with a winger and overlapping fullback. One might argue, Mata would have been perfectly suited to play behind the striker, but there is a saying – Boss is always right!

 

Chelsea – looking compact under Mourinho
Chelsea – looking compact under Mourinho

Up front, it has been a strange season so far for Mourinho. He feels, and he might be right, Demba Ba is not able to carry a team to championship on his own shoulders. Fernando Torres has shown glimpses of form but he is far from his own devastating best. So the most likely starter should have been the young and raring-to-go Romelu Lukaku. But he gets loaned out and in comes an ageing Samuel Eto’o. Maybe Mourinho was certain of adding a top striker to his squad before the transfer window closes but now he has to make the best of what he has got.

And it seems, Mourinho is starting to get things right. He started a few games with Demba Ba – especially where his physical presence would be essential (against Norwich). But he has zeroed in on Torres to be his main front man and has tweaked Chelsea’s play to suit the Spaniard’s play. More through balls are being played from the deep so that Torres can run onto them like his Liverpool days and take on defenders on the run. And more often than not, he will find young wingers from both flanks racing with enthusiasm in his support. So much emphasis has been given, quick passing and playing through balls that Oscar, most advanced among the central midfielders, often drops back to control the pace of the match.

A few things have been quite eminent in Mourinho’s tactics so far. His fullbacks are not serving as an attacking option; they are merely the supporting cast. Both Ivanović and Cole are hardly overlapping their respective flank men, rather staying back to keep the shape intact. This adds stability to a shaky centre-half pairing. This in turn frees up Ramires as he has to bother little about spaces vacated by one of his defensive teammates and hence we are seeing a much improved and effective play from the Brazilian. Only thing, he needs to be a bit more consistent with his passing in the final third as shown below.

Ramires against Manchester City (2-1)
Ramires against Manchester City (2-1)

Another aspect of Chelsea’s play has been their discipline. Even though Mourinho has awesome attacking midfielders at his disposal – it would be interesting to see if he jampacks his starting XI with them sacrificing an out-and-out striker somewhere down the line in the season – he has restrained himself from floating them around. Look at Hazard’s movement in the following graphic. He started on the left flank, hogged the touchline and seldom floated elsewhere in the pitch. It was against a weak opposition (Cardiff) – but José’s instructions paid dividends as Hazard scored a brace.

Hazard sticking to the touchline
Hazard sticking to the touchline

There are still a few problems. Defence is not oozing with confidence and any team – like Newcastle – looking to take the game to Chelsea could trouble them. But it cannot be denied that Chelsea is a great team, especially in the attacking sense. Such has been their squad depth that players like Juan Mata, Willian and Samuel Eto’o are warming the benches. José Mourinho is a seasoned campaigner and he knows how to win a trophy. It is no coincidence that Chelsea have started strongly both in the league and in Europe – they mean business this time.

Britannian Fields – A Look into the Future and a Shame of the Present

Krishnendu Sanyal writes about St George’s Park national football centre, opened by the English Football Association in the hope of restructuring English football and the John Terry-Ashley Cole soap opera that has brought shame to English football

A step towards the future

The English national team, if you believe a few, are perennial underachievers and some will say they never even had the setup to be a top international team. The 1966 World Cup at home, was their last success on the international stage and they played some good football in Euro 1996, again held at home. Other than that, they have been a team who play mediocre football and get knocked out on quarter-final and semi-final stages of the big tournaments on penalties (mostly against Germany). The opening of St George’s Park (SGP) national football centre at Burton, on October 9, is a step in the right direction taken by the Football Association to wake English football up from its morbid state.
 
The national football centre was first discussed by the FA in 1975 and the land purchased in 2001 to build this state-of-the-art facility that the FA hopes, will bring out a new generation of English footballers who can bring success to a long suffering national team.

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Roy Hodgson, the current England manager, believes that the FA had its priorities wrong way round in concentration of the £757m revamp of the Wembley stadium before the national football centre. England needed a structure for its game before the New Wembley. Certainly, history will remark that the revamp of the national stadium sucked time, resources and energy of the FA, which could have been better utilised for the national football centre.

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The facilities at SGP are top-notch, including the best sports medicine and science centre in England, 12 full-sized pitches including one indoor, two Hilton hotels with 228 rooms between them, offices of the LMA (League Managers’ Association), the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) among others. Although, the FA admits that the hard work begins now and they need to make sure that it doesn’t become drainage of funds as the Wembley had. For that, they need to make sure that they maintain a steady flow of its own elite coaches but also other sports, who wish to use these facilities.

The FA has finally set up a facility that is consistent with their Future Game rhetoric.

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To make this new and exciting adventure work, FA needs full co-operation from some hostile factions. The FA’s new mantra of coaching the coaches will need to be tailored with the professional game’s elite player performance plan, under which the biggest clubs have invested millions into their own facilities to attract the best young players from around the British Isles.

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Although the FA is gleaming with joy in finally getting the facility out, they know that the facility’s effects on the broader English game will be felt in around a decade. While blowing the trumpet, the FA is playing for time. A cradle for English Football is ready, let us see what the future holds.

Terry and Cole have shamed England and Chelsea

Most public or private corporations would sack a leading figure who was found guilty of racism by an independent commission board as it brings unwanted filth on the corporation itself.

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John Terry was acquitted in a criminal trial at the Westminster magistrate’s court but the judge remarked that Terry’s defence was unlikely but he doesn’t have enough evidence for criminal conviction. The independent commission set up by the FA found him guilty of using racial language against a fellow professional. They concluded that Terry’s defence (that he was repeating Anton Ferdinand’s words) was “improbable, implausible and contrived“. They said there was “no credible evidence” for Terry’s defence.

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Suppose, a CEO of a big corporation was found guilty of saying, “You f***ing black c**t … f***ing knobhead!” to a competitor in public, by an independent commission, what will the corporation do?

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They will sack him.

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Chelsea has other questions to answer too. The independent commission detailed how Ashley Cole’s evidence evolved over time to further support Terry’s defence. The FA is accusing Cole (Terry’s principle witness) of lying in front of a commission. In his first statement to the FA, Cole had made no mention of the fact that he had heard Ferdinand using the word “black”. In a revised statement, he had the word inserted to corroborate with Terry’s defence.

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The club secretary, David Barnard, facilitated Ashley Cole’s change of evidence. The commission remarked that they had “very real concerns” on Barnard’s evidence and said that it was “materially defective”. This is a damning indictment of the club secretary. What would Chelsea do? What would any big corporation do?