The craziness and frenzy that surround the entire Europe, apart from the usual snow during the month of January, in the name of transfer window had came to an end at the midnight of 31st January. Although, to be precise, this window only gains momentum in the last 7 to 10 days. Being aware that getting players won’t be easy, clubs try to procure suitable deals to plug loopholes in their team for the remaining season. Looking across the different leagues, Riddhi Ray Chaudhuri at Goalden Times points out the major movements happened in the last month.
THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS:
Manchester United: Undoubtedly the transfer that grabbed the headlines was Manchester United’s capture of Juan Mata from their fierce rival Chelsea for a club-record fee of £ 37.1 million. It is not very common to see a club selling one of their best players to their direct rival. Although Mata’s future became untenable under Jose Mourinho, still the selling of a player of Mata’s calibre has raised eyebrows. On the other hand, it is a huge shot in the arm for David Moyes and his side to revive their season that is becoming increasingly difficult. If Moyes can device a system to accommodate the trio of Wayne Rooney-Robin van Persie-Juan Mata, it will propel United to their battle for a ‘top-four finish’.
Chelsea: Chelsea’s decision to sell Mata was staggering to say the least. Probably due to their unwavering trust in Jose Mourinho, Chelsea fans have accepted such a decision without much rancor. Given Mata was a fan favourite, similar decision by any other manager would have certainly raised a furore among Chelsea faithfuls. Along with that, they also let Kevin De Bruyne move to Wolfsburg for £ 17 million. But Jose Mourinho has played his cards very well; he used the money from Mata and De Bruyne’s sell to strengthen his squad. With the signing of Nemanja Matic from Benfica, Mourinho has rectified the central midfield of his team which was probably the achilles heel till now. Along with the signings of talented winger Mohamed Salah from FC Basel and centre-back Kurt Zouma from Saint-Etienne, Chelsea is now only a quality striker away from building a world-class squad.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT TRANSFERS:
Yohan Cabaye has ended his time at the Tyneside and returned to his country after signing for Paris Saint-Germain. This move will provide him the next level in his career where he will get to test himself at the highest level of club football in the UCL. The toon fans will remember Cabaye fondly as their midfield talisman. This move is going to be significant for the 27-year-old midfielder especially with the World Cup coming up. Cabaye is not going to walk into PSG’s midfield, rather he has to prove himself against the likes of Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi to get his chance.
Dimitar Berbatov has moved to Monaco for the rest of the season. With their frontman Radamel Falcao out for the season and Lacina Traore out on loan, Claudio Ranieri’s team is in serious need of some firepower upfront. After spending almost a decade in the BPL, this will be the final frontier for the Bulgarian and he will have his task cut out to boost Monaco’s chances of securing a spot in UCL.
The last day of the transfer window didn’t turn out to be like that of the summer for the Gooners. Rather in an anti-climax, Arsene Wenger concluded his business with only the loan signing of 31-year-old Swede Kim Kallstrom from Spartak Moscow. So far it is not foreseen that the Emirates faithful will see a lot of Kallstrom unless some drastic changes occur. He will remain way behind in pecking order for a midfield spot. Unfortunately, Kallstrom suffered an injury in his very first session with Arsenal. There are rumours that he was carrying an injury during his medicals.thus undermining Wenger’s motive behind this signing.
Clarence Seedorf has begun the rebuilding work of AC Milan with the capture of the trio of Keisuke Honda, Michael Essien and Adel Taarabt. How much Seedorf can revitalize Essien who seems to have passed his prime remains to be seen. Same goes for the erratic yet talented duo of Honda and Taarabt.
After four successful seasons with Lazio, Hernanes has left Rome for Inter Milan. This is going to be very significant for both Hernanes and the Nerazzuri. Walter Mazzarri will welcome Hernanes in his midfield who might turn out to be the necessary force for Inter’s quest for a UCL spot. On the other hand, with Paulinho not enjoying the best of the season in Tottenham colours, this will be Hernanes’ golden chance to stake his claim in Brazil’s starting 11 in June.
Pablo Osvaldo will be relieved to end his dreadful stint in England and return to Italy in the colours of Juventus. However it is going to be an uphill task for Osvlado to outperform Carlos Tevez, Fernando Llorente, Mirko Vucinic and Fabio Quagliarella to get regular chance in Conte’s first 11. Spending time on bench won’t be ideal to boost his chances in Ceasare Prandelli’s World Cup Squad.
Rafael Benitez’s Napoli has signed the highly impressive Jorginho from Hellas Verona. The dynamic Brazilian was one of the top performers in the first half on the season. He can prove to be the missing piece in Napoli’s midfield jigsaw.
MLS once again flexed their economic muscle with the double capture of Jermain Defoe from Tottenham and Michael Bradley from AS Roma. Both of them have signed for Toronto FC. From the players’ perspective, it is difficult to see anything other than money to be the motivation behind their moves. But for MLS, these are fantastic advertisements of their fledging reputation
Fulham has surprised everyone with the signing of Konstantinos Mitroglou form Olympiakos on the last day of the window for a fee of £ 12.4 million. Mitrologlou was one of the star performers in the group stages of the UCL. What prompted the 25-year-old striker to move to Fulham is difficult to gauge. If he have waited till summer, he surely would have get a chance to move to a better club than Fulham who are having a below par season. If he can adjust to the life of Premier League, fans are in for a treat. Capture of Mitroglou and Lewis Holtby can prove to be the turning point for Fulham in their otherwise stuttering campaign.
Arguably the shrewdest piece of business in the last transfer window was the capture of Diego from Wolfsburg by Atletico Madrid. Diego has unfinished job at Vincente Calderon from his last stint and he will provide a cutting edge to Diego Simeone’swell-oiled machine. When on song, Diego is a delight for every football fan.
THE TRANSFERS THAT DID NOT HAPPEN:
Arsene Wenger was keen to add Schalke wonderkid Julian Draxler to his already impressive group of midfielders. But an injury that ruled out Draxler for about six weeks along with Schalke’s extortionate asking price has put Wenger’s pursuit on hold. It is expected that Arsenal will comeback in summer.
Liverpool’s manager Brendan Rodgers underlined in several interviews how much his squad was in need of some reinforcements. But club failed to acquire their targets of Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplayanka leaving Anfield hierarchy red-faced. It is going to be a tremendous job for Rodgers to carry on his fight for a top four spot with the injury-depleted squad.
Juventus’ attempt to prize away Fredy Guarin from Inter Milan proved to be futile after the Nerazzuri fans took a strong stance against the move. Inter’s new owner Erick Thohir has to back off from the deal, which also involved Mirko Vucinic coming to Inter, fearing fans’ backlash. However the capture of Hernanes probably indicates that Inter are willing to part with Guarin when the right opportunity arises.
Manchester City wanted to sign Porto duo of Fernando Reges and Mangala on the very last day of transfer window. However, Porto didn’t want to part company with these two vital members of their squad in the mid-season which could have proved to be debilitating. Rumours are that Manchester United also wants Mangala as replacement for Rio Ferdinand next summer. It can be one of the long drawn battle between the neighbours come next summer
Maximus Tacticus : Manchester United
With the retirement of legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, things were going to be different. But the change has been rather dramatic. From being title contenders to mid table dwellers – it has been a fight this season for Manchester United to keep their reputation intact. David Moyes’ boys are going through the worst season in the Premier League era. Debojyoti Chakraborty scrutinises the Red Devils to find out the reason.
In his farewell speech last year, Sir Alex Ferguson asked for the support and patience of club loyalists towards the newly appointed manager, David Moyes. The then Everton boss was preferred over all other big names being speculated upon at that time and thus has been labelled the Chosen One. There was an air of retrospect around Old Trafford. Everyone admitted Moyes was not handed over the best of squads and with the departure of Chairman David Gill as well, it was going to be a transition period for the champions. I acknowledged the same in my Season Preview and scaled down their target to a podium finish.
But it was really hard to predict that this transition would be so painful (may be even the legendary Paul the Octopus, who made a name for himself in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, would agree). It is like a workplace where the newly appointed Board of Directors – Edward Woodward, the Executive Vice Chairman along with the owners, Glazer family – are not able to draw out a smooth change management plan and, in turn, are suffering from low productivity. They might have expected a trophy-less season – notwithstanding the pointless Community Shield – but certainly not a free fall like this.
Manchester United are 7th in the table, a position they have never seen in the Premier League era at such an advanced stage in the league. Their league standing makes it obvious that Red Devils’ stats this season will be pretty poor. But in fact, they are even worse! Before the last match against Cardiff City, Manchester United were the only team, along with Fulham, who had failed to score in the first 15 minutes of any match in the league. So it is clear they are not able to dictate terms from the onset. This becomes quite obvious when one gets to know that Moyes has not even once fielded the same team in any two consecutive matches.
David de Gea, between the sticks, has been one of the very few players who has improved from his last season. But Patrice Evra’s rapidly diminishing form – mainly due to his loss of pace which has impeded him from creating a right balance between attack and defence – has overshadowed the Spaniard’s good showings. To add to the misery, there is no preferred centre back pairing. Or so it seems. Joining Evra in the aging defence are Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic who do not bring in an air of assurance even when they are playing. Their understudy, Johny Evans and Chris Smalling appear to be playing in a club too high for their abilities. But Right Back might be the position which has seen maximum changes this season. Rafael, Smalling, Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia – none have given a run of consistent performances.
Moyes has tried to adapt to United’s favourite wing play with two strikers up front, which does not come naturally to him. He was more accustomed to play 4-4-1-1 where inevitably it would drift towards a compact five-man midfield rather than being too adventurous. But he has been let down by the awful display of wingers. Valencia and Ashley Young have been pathetic. They have averaged 27 crosses per game, better than any team in the league but their successful cross ratio remains one of the lowest. Take for example the loss against Chelsea on 19th January, 2014 – United managed to cross 26 times but only 4 of them were successful. Age has caught up with Ryan Giggs and one must admit he has outlived himself. Things have been so bad that a once-in-a-blue-moon performer Nani has been awarded with a five-year contract extension.
But United’s main problem has been their central midfield. Sluggish movements have meant fewer options for making a key pass in vital moments. Lack of pace and indecision in possession has either forced them to pass backwards or have left them bereft of the ball by their opponents. Michael Carrick has endured an injury hit season and even then he has tried his level best to dictate terms in matches he has played. But lack of creativity from his midfield partners – Tom Cleverly, Kagawa or Marouane Fellaini (playing in double pivot or more advanced role) – has hampered Manchester’s overall build up.
This lack of penetration from the midfield has forced Wayne Rooney to drop deeper and deeper. He is always very enthusiastic and likes to get involved in the build-up. But for his and more importantly team’s benefit, he should have been playing upfront just behind the striker – not in a tranquilista role. Just glance at his overall action areas in the home loss against Everton on 4th December, 2013 and you will know how much out of position he had to play.
But amidst all this, one thing has stood out – Moyes has very good game reading sense. His strategic alterations – mainly during the interval or even during normal playing time – have injected life into Manchester’s play. Take for example the game against Swansea on 11th January, 2014 at Old Trafford. United looked clueless, lacked energy and were going nowhere in the first half. Moyes pushed Shinji Kagawa in a more central role and asked Januzaj to take on the opponent Right Back, who was already on a yellow card. This tactical switch turned the game in United’s favour. But how one wishes – and not only for this match during the season – that United could have started like that!
In his defence, Moyes can rightly point out that Manchester has been hit hard by injuries to key players, especially their highest scorer last season Robin van Persie. His partnership with Rooney upfront was lethal last year but they could play together only nine times this time round – and RVP was in the field for a mere 33 minutes on one of those occasions. It is no surprise that United has drawn only two and lost none out of those eight (excluding the curtailed appearance of RVP against West Bromwich Albion) matches. Without them? Moyes has been frustrated as United have laboured to only 20 points out of the remaining 15 games.
As Uncle Ben said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. And how harshly David Moyes is realising the truth! Could he have done something different? Could he have tried a false 9 featuring both Kagawa and Rooney up front? This would have been a viable proposition in the absence of RVP and especially considering the lack of creativity United have suffered at the central areas. But Moyes is not known for being too adventurous and, as we all know, it is easier said than done.
Things did not look too promising even from the outset. The disastrous summer transfer season saw Manchester come close to signing quite a few players but inexplicably failed to land any major stars. Their only signing was Fellaini, but United definitely needed more than that. While the champions stagnated, their opponents became stronger with the influx of new blood and the results are there for everyone to see. Now with the addition of the midfield maestro Juan Mata, Manchester United are looking to get things back on track. But it is too little too late for at least this season.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A Touch of Flair
Who else to feature for today’s Page 3 entry other than Chelsea’s creative spark Juan Mata – who netted the injury time winner against Wigan to keep Chelsea for the Champions League fight. Undoubtedly Blues’ best creative weapon this season has scored already 12 goals and 15 assists in his very first season in England. Enjoy his Flair photo shoot for Esquire to celebrate the late winner !
Those who missed the Goal against Wigan have a revisit –
Triviela – Beyond Trivia
The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these.
The Spanish Armada has completely overpowered the cream of World and European competitions. They currently own the European Cup, the World Cup (only the 3rd team ever to have this distinction after West Germany of ‘72 and ‘74 and France of ‘98 and ‘00), and in 2011, their youngsters have shown that the supply line is truly brilliant. The different Spanish age group sides have gone on to win the UEFA U21 European championship (3rd title) and the UEFA U19 Championship (5th title). Only a tiebreaker loss to eventual champions Brazil in the quarter finals of the FIFA U20 World Cup prevented a 3/3 scenario. The 4th global age group tournament – the FIFA U17 World Cup, did not have a Spanish team though.
The talking point of this article though, was the first age group tournament that took place – the U21 Championship. The squad included two players – star man Juan Mata and Captain Javi Martinez who were parts of the victorious Spanish team from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Both had also made identical 20 minute appearances in the group stages – Javi against Chile and Mata against Honduras.
It is not unique enough that a player wins an age group tournament along with a World Cup, it is the ordering of those wins which is slightly confounding to say the least. Incidentally the youngest member of 2010 Spanish World Cup team was Sergi Busquets at 21 but he was not part of the U21 team that won the Euros. This achievement is so rare, that in European age group football, Javi and Mata are the only two to have achieved it. It may be pointed out here that a host of victorious Italian members from the 2004 U21 Euros would also win the World Cup two years later but that was in the right order of progression.
Our research of South American U20 Championships hasn’t thrown anybody either who won that tournament after being in a victorious World Cup team. Since no other continent has won the World Cup, this sets Mata and Martinez as truly unique players, probably of all time
Talking Point: Javi Martinez is surely the world’s only player ever who has won three continental/world tournaments without ever winning anything for his club. Playing for a club like Bilbao has something to do with it though, and till now he has two runner-up medals from the 2008-09 Copa del Rey and the 2009 Supercopa de Espana. In contrast, he has the winning medals of UEFA U19 European championship in 2007 as well as the World Cup in 2010 and captaining the 2011 Spain U21 team to European glory. It might be a matter of time before this is rectified though, as a move to a bigger club may be in the offing.
Winning without Playing in National Colours
Our tryst with the Spanish players’ unique records continues and this one was pointed out first by Andrew Thomas (@twisted_blood) so a big thanks to him for initiating this research. We will not consider men who never appeared for their country and won laurels. Neither will we take wins made in lower divisions.
Victor Valdes has won all that can be won at club and country level. But he only made his 6th appearance in the Spanish colours in the loss to a young Italian at the San Nicola stadium in Bari. Valdes came in as a half time substitute for the man who has made 125 appearances since his debut as a 19 year old in 2000 – Iker Casillas. Valdes has won 5 La Ligas, 1 Spanish Cup, 3 Champions Leagues, 5 Spanish Super Cups, 2 UEFA Super Cups, 1 FIFA Club World Cup and 1 FIFA World Cup – 18 team trophies. With his 6 caps, we can give him a resultant total of 12 (18-6). We will try and find players whose tournament wins for club (in top division and continental tournaments) and country far outnumbers their individual appearances for their country.
For obvious reasons, it is goalkeepers who hold onto the topmost positions because more often than not, it is that position where if there is an established keeper, it is difficult to dislodge him, like it was for Valdes to take the place of Casillas.
20 wins for Vasco, Porto & Brazil
Victor Valdes (Spain)
18 wins for Spain and Barcelona
Dejan Nemec (Slovenia)
13 wins for NK Domzale and Club Brugge
Lionel Charbonier (France)
12 wins for Auxerre, Rangers and France
Alan Kennedy (England)
13 wins with Liverpool
Mauro Tassotti (Italy)
17 wins with Milan
Albert Celades (Spain)
14 wins with Real Madrid and Barcelona
Chris Sutton (England)
9 wins with Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and Celtic
14 wins for Corinthians, Arsenal and Barcelona
9 wins for Benfica and Portugal
[*In case you have a name who fits this bill, do let us know. We’ll include it with your name]
Talking Point: One current player, who can win a lot and whose national career has ‘ended’ is Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. He already has 8 trophies with Milan and has chances to win more. His national cap count is 4 and is not expected to increase, considering he is 34 and not in Prandelli’s plans.
Maximus Tacticus – Chelsea
Chelsea are fast changing. Even by the fast paced standards set by Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of the London club, there is a buzz around that things are changing fast at Chelsea. There is a new coach at the helm of things, Andre Villas-Boas(AVB). AVB, is only a year or two older than the old custodians like John Terry or Frank Lampard, but that has not intimidated AVB from stamping his authority at Stamford Bridge. Here is a look at how things are shaping up at Chelsea on the field.
Jose Mourinho, as the boss of Chelsea did two noteworthy things – he led them to their first league title for over 50 years; and he did not bother to change his boring but effective ways of winning 1-0. The famous 4-3-3 formation had 3 spines in the form of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. Times have changed. Old war-horses are no more spring chickens. Many a famous manager has come and gone after the “Special One” but have failed to replicate the same level of success. However, it seems like history is repeating itself as another Portuguese has won 4 titles with Porto and was promptly snapped up by Roman for the managerial post of Chelsea, although he lacks exoerience and is only 33! Incidently he was the understudy to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and then at Inter Milan – and hold on – the 4-3-3 is back.
Each coach has his own interpretation of the system and AVB is no exception. His mentor, Mourinho, used a 4-3-3 formation with classic wingers and asked the wide players to track back forming more of a 4-5-1 without the ball. Villas-Boas is more inclined to use modern-day wingers, or wide forwards, who would drift inside as a major goal scoring threat, themselves. Defensively, Chelsea are set for a more pressing game this season. They have bought in new players, who are younger, and they have the energy to press higher up the pitch. AVB has openly expressed his admiration for Pep Guardiola and it is not strange that he has strong influence of his pressing game, but under this new system, John Terry, the centre half, has been too vulnerable for his own good – the slip leading to Robin van Persie’s 2nd goal during the 3-5 defeat to Chelsea can have a paramount impact on Chelsea’ title claims. Hence, Alex and Ivanovic have a chance to step up and lay claim for that spot. It will be nice selection dilemma for the coach. The pivotal point in attack remains Fernando Torres. Many believe the old system did not suit him as Torres cherishes through balls played along the ground in front of him (a certain Steven Gerrard will second that). Torres thinks it is the lack of pace in Chelsea’s passing that has augmented his poor form. To counter this problem, AVB has Raul Meireles and Ramires holding the central midfield together along with the ageing (and sloth, some may say) Frank Lampard. Meireles is preferred to guard the ship sitting back, Ramires is seen as the engine of the team bursting forward on every opportunity, while Lampard tries to have telling contribution playing between these two younger players. It is a fluid midfield where anyone can stay back and the other two can advance forward. In the wing, AVB has bought in fresh players – Juan Mata from Valencia (transfer) and Daniel Sturridge from Bolton, after having finished his successful loan stint there. Ashley Cole from the left and Jose Bosingwa from the right flank would burst forward to drag away the opposition full backs. Combine all of these in a short, quick triangle of passes in the final third of the pitch and Everton will validate their ruthlessness in their recent 3-1 defeat.
Good Old Days of 4-3-3
I Have a Plan B
The above system has its fair share of blemishes. Without an able holding midfielder – Michael Essien is on injury list for a while and he is not getting any younger, John Obi Mikel is good at playing square passes only and thus slowing down the pace of the game, Josh McEachran is too young to pitch in a solid performance week in week out – at his disposal, AVB has deployed Meireles at a deeper role. The recruit from Liverpool likes a more advanced role which is occupied by Lampard. Can he be eased out by the new kid, err boss? Early signs suggest that yes, he can. Lampard can be seen more of an impact player, come the business end of the season. FlorentMalouda can be swapped with the young Sturridge if need be. Didier Drogba – yes, he still is registered with Chelsea – or Nicolas Anelka, can be seen in a fringe role in what seems to be their swansong season. Also, Chelsea traditionally like to play a high defensive line when in possession. With ageing stalwart Terry at the back, it can backfire against teams having a pacy counter attacking option.
Hybrid 3 Forward
That is where AVB would look to reshuffle the pack, as he had done at times in the Champions league game against Valencia. He has a wealth of strikers at his disposal and none better than Drogba to partner Torres up front if Chelsea go with two up front. The midfield will shape up like a standard diamond with the wide players providing the width. The striking feature with this attacking diamond formation is that, both Drogba and Torres can start upfront. A defensive shield is provided in the form of Mikel in front of the defensive duo. AVB likes to play a short, quick and central passing game near the penalty area of opposition box,hence he will be tempted to feature all of Mata, Meireles and Ramires in the first team, even at the cost of earning the wrath of the Lampard faithfuls. Both the “wide” players would look to drift in and cause problem for their markers. The fullbacks will overlap and draw the opposition fullbacks away, thus creating the space. One of Torres and Drogba will time and again sway like a pendulum, drawing one of the centrehalfs towards the sideline while the other will act as the focal point of attack. To break away from shackles, Chelsea can change to a hybrid three man forward line with the likes of Mata, or Sturridge pushing up considerably.
Man to Watch (1) – Juan Mata
Juan Mata, summer recruit from Valencia, is a typical new breed attacking midfield player. He starts on the left hand side of the midfield as suggested in the team sheet, but rarely chalks down the sideline like traditional wingers. He is more prudent in dropping to the “hole”, shifting position with the overlapping sideback, switching to the other flank seamlessly. He is a perfect replacement for the ageing FrankLampard, though they are as similar players as chalk and cheese!Lampard made his mark as a box-to-box industrious midfield player who can contribute 20 goals a season. More importantly, he turned up in almost every game of the season. Mata is more of a creative force, and like every other creative player, is not so eager in tracking back. He loves to create goals and AVB’s short-n-slick passing game perfectly suits this Spanish playmaker. It is like a breath of fresh air – the creativity which Chelsea lacked so dearly for the last 2 seasons.
Mata Settling into England quickly
Man to Watch (2) – David Luiz
David Luiz, 24 year old Brazilian centre half who arrived at Chelsea in the summer of 2011 from Benfica. Assured with the ball at his feet, he is a very good passer of the ball. Besides, he reads the game very well and is an ideal ballplayer at the back to kick-start any attack. Often he is instrumental in making bursting runs through the middle and can provide an additional attacking edge. Hailed as the future Chelsea captain, he is slowly but surely taking it over from the old war-horse John Terry. What has been impressive is his link up play. Andre Villas-Boas prefers a short passing game, but Luiz brings in a bit of variety to the attack. Just look at the graphic below – how often he has tried to play a traditional English long ball to the overlapping fullback. Although he has a very poor success rate at that but don’t forget it is his first season and it is a newish set up at Chelsea. With time, he is bound to improve. He has already shown his mettle with the assist to Daniel Sturridge against Bolton. Another glaring feature is that barring these long balls, he has not put a foot wrong – almost 100% accuracy in passing is awesome for a centre half.