A match which ought to have been a mere formality for the away side turned into a lucky escape. Swansea left knowing that they blew it. AVB’s sheer relief at the stoppage time equaliser spoke volumes. Swansea were all over Chelsea from minute one. Chelsea had to clear off their line three times in quick succession, first Ivanovic, then Luiz, then Cech, but the signs were there. Former Chelsea man took advantage of poor marking to hook in a superb goal for the Swans. His reaction, Brendan Rodgers’ reaction were muted in respect at their former clubs. But how Chelsea will rue they let go of such talents. The second half was better possession-wise for the Blues, but there was only one goal to show for it. And even that was an own goal. Chelsea’s title aspirations are a fantasy. And a top three finish appears more and more out of Chelsea’s hands.
Five things we learnt from the game
1. Nothing without Ramires.
The announcement that Ramires would be out for potentially a month sent shivers down all Chelsea fan’s backs. Easily, he had been the best performer for us. Light-weight some would argue, but his bags and bags of energy carried us through matches to the very end. He pushed and pushed and we often found ways through. Out for the whole of February is a big blow. Not only did we miss him tonight, but Manchester United on Sunday, and Napoli later in the month look daunting prospects now. Truth is, there is no spark. No-one was willing to bring it forward. The midfielders tend to sit back. Last night, Romeu was the main anchorman, but his two fellow midfielders – Malouda and Meireles – were not helping out attacking-wise. Had Ramires been in the side, you could guarantee a much easier path.
2. We need JT back.
The reason was an injury, though that may well have been a pretence given the fact he had a court hearing the morning after. And so David Luiz and Ivanovic were at the back keeping guard. And what a rubbish job they did. No connection, no communication, no partnership. They did not know where the other was, and the line was never maintained, meaning the likes of Nathan Dyer could always sneak behind, knowing that one would always be playing them on. JT and Luiz’s partnership had begun to strengthen with a string of clean sheets: four. A whole four games without conceding, which in AVB’s regime, is a miracle. That went tonight. We need JT back. If not as a defender, as a Captain. He instills leadership and belief. He galvanises the team. He was missing from the back dearly.
3. AVB needs to select his XI better.
It stunned me that one month in and Gary Cahill still has not played a minute for us. Why did we sign him, to rot on the bench? Why on earth did AVB trust his compatriot Bosingwa, a liability everywhere. Cahill needs to start. He and Terry could form a stunning partnership. Shift Luiz out as a full-back, competing with Ivanovic for the right-back slot. Maybe Luiz could even play left-back in Ashley Cole’s absence against United on Sunday. But central defence is not his position. And not playing an England international you paid millions for is strange.
4. Torres needs to try harder to score.
Fernando Torres has passed 1000 minutes without scoring for club or country, an embarrassing stat for a once world-class striker (see my post on him here). One could argue he hasn’t been given the support. That could be true to some extent. But a striker cannot rely on crosses, on the service of others. And if the striker cannot score, he cannot blame his team-mates. It is his role to score. If the opponent’s defenders are doing a good job marking Mata and Sturridge, so no crosses can be fed in, work for it. Drop deep, a brilliant characteristic of strikers like Rooney. Drop to your own half. Take it from your defender and say “that’s mine”. Then run and run with it. Sometimes, he needs to start things himself.
5. We were taught a lesson – and we need to learn.
It’s interesting how for all Chelsea’s investment, from the millions spent on our academy and the £15m spent on luring AVB across from Porto, it’s two former people in Sinclair and Rodgers who did the damage. How Chelsea let go of them defies belief. In Rodgers is a special manager who learnt his craft under Mourinho. In Sinclair is a future England international who is a pacy winger also. Rodgers clearly knew from his time working with Sinclair in the Chelsea Reserves that he was good enough to play in the Premier League, and how right was he. He is good enough to be at a top club himself. Swansea were nearly out of the Football League just a few years ago. Everyone predicted them dead certs to be relegated at first attempt this season, yet they are flying high, exceeding expectations. They play a brand of football Roman Abramovich craves – pass your way out of trouble, pass the ball into the goal. Rodgers admitted himself that this philosophy will mean his team will make the occasional mistake, but that he was more than willing to compromise that. Chelsea might just need to take a leaf out of their former employer’s book.
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