In the 2004-2005 season, Chelsea, under the stewardship of new manager José Mourinho, won the title by a whopping 12 points and conceded a meagre 15 goals in the process. It’s a current Premier League record and one which is testament to the solid defensive platform that was formed at Stamford Bridge around the outstanding central defensive partnership of captain John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.
In his first season at the Bridge, Mourinho made Chelsea sturdy, efficient and extremely hard to break down. They weren’t always pretty on the eye but the 11 men he fielded week-after-week almost always bore results and it was, more often than not, with a complete shut-out. The club’s first title in 60 years heralded a new era and with the flamboyant management style of Mourinho and Roman Abramovich’s millions; the future in West London looked blue.
Of course, José’s rein came to an abrupt end at Stamford Bridge amidst claims of disagreements amongst the club hierarchy. Carvalho defected to the mighty Real Madrid at the start of the 2010-2011 season and Russian oil tycoon, Mr Abramovich, has since appointed – and sacked – three different managers (the temporary appointment of Dutchman Guus Hiddink not included). Chelsea are now being led by young Portuguese manager André Villas-Boas who was snapped up in the summer on a three-year contract from Primeira Liga Champions, FC Porto.
Villas-Boas has given the players freedom to express themselves and Chelsea do adopt a very slick, build-from-the-back passing game. One slight snag with the way which they’re set out to play, though, appears to be the defensive frailties of this system. The midfield, whilst littered with star quality a la Lampard, Ramires and Meireles, is quite attack minded and not a lot of protection is given to the back four. The men at the back also have problems of their own.
Chelsea’s current defensive line-up of Bosingwa, Terry, Ivanovi? and Cole is licking its wounds after a Robin van Persie inspired Arsenal came to the Bridge and romped home to a 5-3 win last weekend. It was a game which saw the Blues look very dangerous going forward but very shaky at the back, highlighted by two shots (Santos’ goal to make it 2-2 and van Persie’s hat-trick strike), both of which goalkeeper Petr Cech should have saved and one wayward pass from Florent Malouda which saw van Persie score his second and Arsenal’s fourth.
This was the first time Chelsea had conceded five at home since 1989 but it wasn’t the first time they’ve looked uncertain in defence this campaign. Their match with Man United at Old Trafford in September also springs to mind – a game in which they conceded three before half-time and could have let in more. Admittedly, going forward in said match the side created a host of chances and looked very dangerous but losing 3-0 at half time left them with a mountainous task.
Captain John Terry, currently in the midst of a racism row with QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, was particularly suspect in the second half of the Arsenal trouncing and it was his slip which led to van Persie putting Arsenal 4-3 up as he tried to latch on to Malouda’s loose ball. His leadership – and concentration in particular – is needed more than ever as Chelsea try to keep pace with the top two.
Villas-Boas is a fledging in the Premier League and he will need to learn very quickly from two defeats in a row (a 1-0 defeat to QPR preceded the Arsenal debacle), which have seen Chelsea’s normally irrepressible defence look very suspect indeed. With both Manchester clubs seemingly fighting a two-way battle for Premier League supremacy, the boys in blue need to buck up at the back in order to catch up.
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