Antonio Conte: Chelsea’s man of the season

Antonio Conte. Premier League winner. Yet another manager to rock up to the Bridge, quickly work out the lay of the land and turn a squad into title winners. Has anyone mentioned that he didn’t exactly go and spend a fortune to do it, either?

Conte joins quite an illustrious group following Michy’s late winner the other night. Jose won the title in his first season, Carlo did the double at the first time of asking, Rafa won the Europa League, Guus won the FA Cup and who could ever forget Bobby Di Matteo winning both the FA Cup and Champions League having taken over during the season?

What is it about Chelsea, their managers and their ability to win silverware almost immediately when others, yes I am looking at you Arsene, seem to always be waiting for their next harvest?

This isn’t a “who has won more trophies” kind of chat, we all know that Arsene “revolutionised” the modern game just after Sir Alex turned United into the modern day powerhouse and just before Roman fancied a team in blue a little bit more than a team in white.

I’m talking solely about a system that seems to break all the rules of “stability” is the best way to success. Are Chelsea successful due to the chaos, or in spite of it?

Before the more statistically minded of you start thumbing through this piece looking for facts and figures, go and make a coffee – this is all good old fashioned opinion and, dare I venture gut feeling.

To the outside world Chelsea look like a club in perpetual chaos. If you don’t win the league within a couple of seasons, you are often out of the door in the Roman era. That said, it is almost understandable. Claudio was given a lot of money and went close. Then the cult of Jose appeared and, following a somewhat considerable investment once again, a title winning side was built. Jose dominates, Jose self combusts. Sure, it wasn’t until Carlo appeared that the club went back to winning the title, but they were hardly drought years like other clubs have suffered. I mean, Chelsea have done OK if they can consider FA Cups, Europa Leagues and Champions League wins without the Premier League as tricky years, right?

So are they in perpetual chaos?

For me, no. There is something extra at play which works. Underneath the image of chaos there is a truck load of stability.

John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Branislav Ivanovic, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Joe Cole, Eden Hazard, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ramires. These are all players that have played over 150 times for Chelsea in the Premier League. As you can see, you can chart the entire Roman Abramovich era through some of these players and how they overlap. And, to be honest, they aren’t bad players are they? So, I give you exhibit A of stability – a very, very strong core of players who know the club inside out, almost like Milan used to have, or Juventus currently or, dare I mention them again, Manchester United when they used to really win things.

Exhibit B folks – clever managerial recruitment on the whole. The “board” at Chelsea have learned this football thing pretty quickly, and their managerial appointments have, generally, done the job. I’m not just talking about the fact they’ve been able to go out and attract some of the biggest managerial names out there, but they’ve typically got the managerial style right for the moment. Everything was a little cosy under Claudio. Bring in Jose, one of the most demanding men on the planet. Job done, yet you can only work that way for so long before people burn out. Avram was a more gentle soul, and let’s never forget that he was only a slip away from being in history forever. After the nice guy routine grew old with the players, they needed a drill sergeant again – Big Phil. OK, this one didn’t work out so they opted back for the gentler approach in Guus then Carlo. Notice that the players that were young and hungry and Jose and needed discipline were older here, and probably needed a more “fatherly” approach than a military approach to get success. It worked. Until it didn’t. After Carlo, Roman fancied the next Jose but misjudged the situation as the senior players were never likely to respond to a coach younger than them, not again, anyway. They’d won more than he had, for crying out loud. Di Matteo picked up the pieces by just being nice and letting JT run things, and Rafa was needed to get the inmates back under control. Which brings us back round to Jose, titles and the need for Guus to come in and be nice to everyone once again.

And then Antonio. Mad, crazy, but ultimately successful Antonio Conte.

You see, Chelsea do know what they are doing. Providing you trust the structure and don’t rely 100% on the manager being the be all and end all, you can win lots of things by changing the guy in the dugout quite a lot – providing you keep stability on the playing staff and choose the right man to manage them at the right time.

What you don’t do, Manchester United are you listening, is appoint back-to-back managers who do not fit your playing staff, when you have lost all semblance of stability in your squad.

You would not have been able to say this a decade ago, but Manchester United and Arsenal should probably take a look at Chelsea and see what they could learn.

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Assessing Antonio Conte’s problems at Chelsea

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea reign started in fine style, with four wins from four in August. But a fierce start with plenty of fight and late goals quickly went south, with a chaotic Transfer Deadline Day preceding a tepid September which consisted of big losses to Liverpool and Arsenal.

The internal inquest is clearly underway, with Conte insisting after the Arsenal loss that “we must work a lot because we are a great team only on paper… we must reflect a lot to find very soon the right way.” 

But what exactly are his problems? The Chelsea Chronicle analyses five key frailties for the current Chelsea side.

1) Half-hearted, uncommitted goalkeeper

Thibaut Courtois signed for Chelsea as a 19-year-old and was billed as the natural successor to Petr Cech. His reputation, and undoubtedly ego, was inflated with three hugely successful seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid.

But, since his return to Chelsea at the start of 2014, he has lacked the consistency he showed when in Spain, and with that caused immense frustration amongst the Chelsea faithful, particularly poignant because he dislodged Chelsea legend Petr Cech.

Last season, Courtois could only keep five clean sheets in 23 appearances, picking up two red cards along the way. The poor form was put down to a feud with goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon, and whilst Courtois won that political battle (as he did the political battle in ousting Cech), he has done little to justify his first-team spot.

The poor form has carried through to this season with Conte clearly unimpressed: “The situation now is that every game we concede two goals at minimum… It’s important to solve the situation.”

The 24-year-old has rarely looked convincing from set-pieces nor one-on-ones, two key attributes of a goalkeeper, but frustratingly his lack of command was for all to see in yesterday’s match against Arsenal, with Cahill livid he did not come out to clear a ball. Cech, as a Chelsea vice-captain too, had more authority and loyalty.

2) Aging defence

Whilst commitment to Chelsea is questionable for Courtois, commitment (or lack of) is definitely not something to pinpoint on Gary Cahill, John Terry or Branislav Ivanovic. The Chelsea trio, who have spent a combined 30 years at SW6, do genuinely care when putting on the shirt, but they appear to also be genuinely deep in decline too.

The same criticisms levelled on Courtois should equally be shared across the defence, a defence that conceded a staggering 53 goals in the league last season, and the same defence the Chelsea board decided to stick with this season.

Transfer Deadline Day was a chaotic mess to try to shore up the defence, and after a summer linked with the likes of John Stones and Marquinhos, the best the Board could muster up was David Luiz and Marcos Alonso. Still, it was no Papy Djilobodji.

The surprising element is Conte’s famed methods to instil a very disciplined defence, a trademark of his across his Juventus and Italy days, has to date not worked. But, with Mourinho, Hiddink and now Conte all failing to work on the defence, it is clearly apparent that whichever manager or system, the players are simply not there.

3) The midfield lacks an identity and are far too slow 

The Chelsea midfield of yesteryear consisted of big-name players who were ready for the big stage: Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Claude Makelele and Michael Essien to name a few. The former two could always nick you a goal in the most scrappy of circumstances, the latter two could always save you from conceding a goal in the most scrappy of circumstances.

Who are the players today? A 4-2-3-1 system, the Chelsea system for the past few years, has meant playing two deep-lying midfielders whose one and only job is to protect the creaky back-four. These tend to be Matic and Kante, and with the insurance of essentially a back six, it should in theory allow the central attacking midfielder, typically Oscar, to float and be creative.

Except for the fact that ‘the Chelsea way’ insists that the attacking midfielder needs to defend when Chelsea do not have the ball (which they never do). It stifles the point of having an attacking midfielder, and further isolates Costa. Oscar has spent his time more often than not as a third defensive midfielder, unable to trust the likes of Matic, who often can be found aimlessly wandering further forward.

This leaves Chelsea too routine in just playing one way — the counter-attack — with the Blues having no style of play themselves, meaning any opponent has an easy job of playing against them.

Furthermore, when Chelsea do have the ball, there is no injection of pace from the midfield. Time and again Matic or Mikel will be passing sideways, unable to free up the wingers. The likes of Ballack and Lampard had more of a footballing brain to instantly hoof the ball up or to pick out a killer pass. The Chelsea midfield today neither sets up the attack nor protect the defence very effectively. What is their purpose exactly?

4) Wingers are far too predictable

Eden Hazard is a sheer delight to watch when he is charging in on the opponent’s goal and weaving in and out of defenders.

But you always know what he is going to do: cut inside to his favoured right foot and unleash a shot. You always know what Willian is going to do: go wide and shoot from a narrow angle. It comes from the fact both are right-footed and hungry for goals.

The lack of inventiveness might be what is costing Chelsea, and stems from the point of identity. The role of the winger previously would have been to beat his full-back and, on his favoured left or right foot, whip in a ball for the striker to head in. This happened time and again with the likes of Malouda, Duff or Kalou for Drogba.

Not any more. With an ever-increasing world audience, it is your own scoring chances which come first. The selfless winger who does the hard work and leaves it on a plate for the towering centre forward to tuck in is no more. And because of that, Chelsea are far too predictable.

5) Striker is too unpredictable

Where the wingers may be predictable, Costa is most definitely predictably unpredictable. The Spaniard has blown hot and cold (more the latter) since his arrival at Stamford Bridge, and the sheer inconsistency means Chelsea will find it hard to score goals.

It is not all Costa’s fault: he holds the ball up well but often to no avail as no-one would be following up. His passion is also there — but it is the wrong sort of passion.

The 27-year-old was likened as the next Drogba, leading Chelsea’s front-line in inspirational style and fighting for every cause. Whilst it is true Costa looks a warrior, it is clear his energies are entirely devoted to winding up the opponents as opposed to focusing on his team, and it is this subtle difference that makes a huge difference. You will never see him come deep to start an attack if Chelsea struggle to get out of their own half, a la Drogba. Positionally he is more often than not found on the wing than in the penalty area. And he does not have the set-piece finesse as Drogba does, either heading it in from others or taking his own free-kicks.

Costa is very much his own man therefore, but if he is to be written in the Chelsea record books he must adapt his qualities accordingly.

Outlook for the future?

Whilst these are not criticisms levelled at Antonio Conte, it is clear he has a huge job on his hands. Ever since Andre Villas-Boas’ appointment, the task of the manager has been to re-build the squad from the glory days of Cech, Cole, Terry, Lampard and Drogba. Every manager’s reign has been curtailed to stop a full transformation, and it is difficult to see why no real change has come from the Board who must surely see what the fans see.

Conte might be given this chance, however unlikely if results continue to go pear-shaped. If the Italian manages to switch to a 3-5-2 formation, it will give Courtois three centre-backs as cover, who in turn will be supported by two more youthful wing-backs. One less midfielder means one less of an unclear role. One more striker gives the defenders more to think about than just winding up Costa.

Change is definitely necessary and Conte needs to be bold to implement it. Whisper it quietly, but maybe some youth could be promoted Abramovich?

What are your thoughts about the season so far? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea vs. West Brom: Match Preview

Ahead of this Wednesday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and remainder of the season with Hiddink. Here are my thoughts:


We have to start with last month’s departure of Jose Mourinho. Was it the right decision? How did the majority of Chelsea fans react to the news?

Unfortunately I think this was a decision detrimental for the long-term Chelsea, even if in the short-term Hiddink might rejuvenate the side. Mourinho knows the club inside out and bleeds blue more and it is a travesty that the players therefore got to stay. It is of no doubt that he will go on and succeed at his next club so the concern is for Chelsea itself, and yet again we go back to the short-termism view of having another 8 managers in 6 years. Only this time Mourinho won’t come back.

As for the fans, I think the older generation fans appreciated Mourinho’s work and certainly this was made very local in the match directly after (though the chants have stopped now Hiddink is in place, but Steve Holland did not have a nice game to oversee). On social media tends to be the younger generation fans who maybe started supporting Chelsea once we won the Champions League in 2012 so did not feel as much connection to a man who has brought so much joy.

Guus Hiddink is now the man in charge although only as interim boss, how did the Stamford Bridge faithful feel about his return? Is there any likelihood of him remaining long-term?

I think most are pleased to see a likeable man come in, and certainly not another Avram Grant or Rafael Benitez. Having said that, however much fans appreciate his work previously here, there is a strange bewilderment among fans at to whether Hiddink really is a better bet to turn around the club’s fortunes than Mourinho, who is certainly better than Hiddink as a manager.

If it’s not Hiddink, who would you like to see named as Mourinho’s long-term successor?

There’s only one Special One! I only see one man fit for the Chelsea job but seeing as he won’t come back, then it is tricky. I would like someone who knows the club, but promoting from within is not within Abramovich’s strategy, and managers who do know Chelsea (Rodgers etc) probably aren’t of the ilk Abramovich wants. Again we will go onto the continent but Guardiola does not fit Chelsea’s style and it would be incredibly risky for Simeone’s reputation to try his hand here. You really want someone who has won the Champions League but Mourinho and Ancelotti have both been moved on, so we are stuck in a rut, hence I never believed we should have fired him.

Chelsea’s struggles have surprised everyone this season, why have the Blues’ form and results been so poor?

Mourinho described it as a mixture of things but refused to explain in more detail during one interview. You can imagine the row with Carneiro set the season off to a dreadful start, but maybe even before that the problems were there by allowing the players two weeks extra holiday so they came back in lethargic manner to a Community Shield loss against Arsenal. Mourinho’s man-management has also come under scrunity: he has always taken any flak away from his players and whilst he tried that, it was clear that was not working, so he put the blame on the players, then referees, then just about everyone. Players clearly became disillusioned but it is disappointing if world-class players behave this unprofessionally and do not have that innate drive to work hard and be the star in any match, with Willian the only one who can hold his head high.

Are the club likely to be active during this month’s transfer window? Do they need to be?

It would be ironic if Abramovich gives Hiddink funds to spend but couldn’t wait two more weeks before sacking Mourinho and giving him the January window instead. There is continued speculation over needing more competition for Costa, whilst Hazard has gone missing all season. However, Chelsea don’t tend to be too active this window (and when they are they waste £50 million) so I cannot expect any big names moving in. As for the opposite direction, we may see young players moved out on loan, as per.

Chelsea player of the season so far?

Willian. Chelsea’s best burst of energy and the only winger who looks like he can shoot. Hazard has some wonderful feet but you would not trust him with a long-range drive or with a free-kick, and neither with Pedro. Willian, and maybe Azpilicueta, has been the only one to hit that consistency and, on a personality sense, clearly has great professionalism and drive to succeed. It’s a shame some of his other colleagues took every match as a walk-about.

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

It would be unfair to bully Hazard alone because Chelsea’s spine has gone. Ivanovic, the rock that he was last season, has been beaten time and again and Chelsea have a gaping hole down their right. But in midfield, Fabregas and Matic have had too many off days and are not strong enough or tactically aware enough to help Ivanovic out. When you mix this with the fact Chelsea’s penetration has been shocking – Hazard has tried at least whilst Costa has not and every one of his goals seem to be an easy tap-in with no work done on his part – then you make for a shocking season, however good the manager at the helm. It is clear we are missing big player presences, like Drogba.

Premier League champs?

You can trust Arsenal to slip this up and maybe Pellegrini will be motivated to go out on a final hurrah as he knows this is likely his last season.

Relegated?

It’s really difficult to predict given how close Leicester were to being relegated even in April last season but now they are near the top of the table. Having said this, it would be hard not to bet that Aston Villa will go down given Garde still has not really found that magic touch. I am not sure Bournemouth will have the legs or experience to beat the drop, whilst out of Newcastle or Sunderland to go down, I would favour the Black Cats.

Thoughts on, and prediction for Wednesday’s game? How are Chelsea likely to line-up?

Chelsea need to get moving and quickly given we have passed the half-way mark of the season, and if we extrapolate current form so far to the end of the season, the Blues would not even get 46 points. The Blues need to make up 13 points, which is roughly 4 matches, with 18 to go, but the sheer scale of hoping everyone in and around the Top Four, e.g. Tottenham, Man Utd, Liverpool, to all lose 4 matches, and crucially for Chelsea to win them all, is a tough ask. The Blues should get Europa League though and next season will be interesting to see us manage the Thursday night treks and Sunday returns.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had five years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2016. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mourinho sacked: a tribute to The Special One

“We have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, but we now have a top manager.”

June 2nd, 2004. These were some of the first words uttered by the current European champion, Jose Mourinho, who had just replaced the sacked Claudio Ranieri.

It smacks of utter irony, then, that it would be Ranieri’s Leicester City that proved to be the final straw for Roman Abramovich.

In truth, the writing had long been on the wall. Nine defeats in 16 Premier League matches renders the Champions League spot for next season a mere miraculous dream. It sends Mourinho packing, most probably off to Manchester.

Damningly, it leaves Chelsea back to square one: player power prevails and the managerial merry-go round will continue. Chelsea churned through eight managers in the six years Mourinho went away. They have learnt nothing. Chelsea will hire another Avram Grant, disguised as Juande Ramos. Mourinho will be yearned for again. But this is the end. There will be no third coming.

How times change. Just four months ago, a new four-year contract was signed, heralding the start of a “10-year dynasty” which Mourinho wanted to create. Senior members of the Chelsea board have repeatedly said Mourinho was the stability they had long been searching for, and their business model had turned to one of longevity.

Perish the thought anyone believed it. Abramovich was reported to have met with his four most trusted aides on Tuesday, with the five-strong team democratically making the decision. It was three votes to two to rehire Mourinho back in 2013. Who knows what the swing was to get rid of him today.

Forget the fact he leaves his club one point about the relegation zone, his true legacy will forever remain in tact. Taking a side in 2004 who had always underachieved to one which is now a major domestic and European superpower takes some doing. Three of Chelsea’s five Premier League crowns have his name on it. As do three of five League Cups. The Champions League was the big one missing. He would have got there, with Paris Saint-Germain recently drawn in the last-16 round. That chance has now been robbed by his own players.

Yes, the football had become tired. Yes, Chelsea had no longer become fun to watch, but Mourinho had always found a way to grind out those wins, which made matches enjoyable. Nobody knows how to do this more than Mourinho. But, this season for some reason, even the wins could not be ground out in the most dull 1-0 of fashion. Chelsea were being beat left right and centre, home and away.

It cannot be the manager’s fault. Ultimately it is always the players who set foot onto the pitch, and it would be non-sensical to think Mourinho did not warn his players that Jamie Vardy is a threat, that Mahrez is a threat. But the players could not match Mourinho’s work and, dare I say it, deliberately opted to not match Mourinho’s work. Mourinho’s blue-blooded. He loves the club, he moulded the club to its present form. So too did the Drogbas of last season. The same desire cannot be said about this new crop of players.

And yet, as illogical as it sounds, it is this new crop of players who are going to be Chelsea’s future. Whatever went on behind the scenes, Mourinho just could not bring the best out of Matic, Fabregas, Hazard or Costa this season, despite being able to last season. It would be nigh on impossible to sack them all, so the manager is the easy target and has to pay the price.

The flaw Mourinho must shoulder  is his inability to galvanise the squad and get them out of very dark times. His personal bond with players worked wonders with Drogba, or Lampard, or Ibrahimovic, and where he showed loyalty to them he received loyalty back in gallons. His loyalty to the likes of Fabregas and Ivanovic bore no same fruits this season and this die-hard tactical inflexibility would have made fringe players disillusioned also.

Some comments smacked of utter desperation. Whinging over Eva Carneiro set the season off to a dreadful tone for which Mourinho would never recover. Moaning of player “betrayal” bring echoes of the dark days of his spell at Real Madrid. Incessently blaming referees, needlessly picking fights with opposition managers and being passive-aggressive in post-match interviews were all signs something was not right in the heart of Mourinho’s mind. It did go too far and Mourinho would be the first to admit it.

But whatever Chelsea’s future holds, it will not be with a serial winner. It might be Guus Hiddink, it might be Juande Ramos. The spell of relative tranquility has ended. Same old Chelsea have reached the same old conclusion. Mourinho will not regret coming back a second time: he won two more trophies. But back in the day there was comradery and loyalty in it, and six years of service with seven trophies should have bought four months of bad form.

It has not.

Mourinho should not be concerned — he does not need to prove anything to anyone and he will succeed at his next club, arguably at Chelsea’s expense. Abramovich needs to prove he made the right decision. The players need to prove they are worthy of representing the club as Mourinho was.

José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix, we thank you for your work. Chelsea will not be the same.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Chelsea crisis: what is going wrong?

All around the world, there is crisis. The economic crisis in Greece. The humanitarian crisis in Syria. The financial crisis in China. And in SW6 there has been another crisis brewing over the last weeks: the Chelsea crisis. What has happened over the last month?

Like with the economic crisis in Greece and stock market crisis in China, the footballing crisis at Chelsea HQ follows a similar path. With any boom comes a bust. The bubble pops. Greece had a decade of elaborate spending; pop. China had a few years of substantial stock market growth; pop. Chelsea secure the league and Capital One Cup in emphatic style last season; pop this season.

And yet, like with these two mentioned, the problems are all of our own doing.

(1) Short pre-season

Mourinho opted to give his players a substantial period of time off, partly in reward for a triumphant season, but also partly in recognition that previous summers have been short owing to many of Chelsea’s stars playing international matches at the World Cup or respective competitions. This summer was a chance to rest, a good five or six weeks for substantial rest. But the generous gesture may be a blessing in disguise, for Chelsea have looked sluggish and certain players have lacked match sharpness. Opening-day jitters are expected, but to drag this poor form onto Matchday 5 is intolerable.

(2) Eva Carneiro

Mourinho has been a PR hero for Chelsea over many years, protecting the club and his players, often at the expense of himself. However, he has dropped a real clanger here, one which he no doubt deeply regrets.

What appeared to be innocuous words about his medical staff, calling them out for racing onto the pitch to treat a tired Eden Hazard, has blown up into a sexism row. Women do not understand football, they interpreted. Mourinho is just making an excuse to get rid of female distractions.

The bottom line is a medic is a medic and is qualified in their practice, and the calling out was wrong by Mourinho, but if it were two men it would have been no more than a line in a newspaper. Instead we have overblown mass attention on Carneiro who is said to be taking legal action. This was a needless drama and even more shockingly handled, at a club not exactly great with handling big racism or sexism issues.

(3) Transfers

Chelsea were not slow off the mark, they were purposefully complacent. The list which Mourinho had of players he wanted in for this season, which he says he gave to his seniors in April, was no doubt tossed in the bin, with Roman Abramovich keep to save some money for the future stadium extension plans.

The thinking was that this was a squad and a manager who are already at the top, and need no additions. Mourinho insists that staying the same is going backwards in this world, which has elements of truth, so the shocking start has no doubt exacerbated his cries for new personnel. Stones (another PR disaster), Pogba and Griezmann were the big names rumoured; instead we have Pedro, Rahman and Djilobodji. The transfers were rash and passive, with Chelsea reacting only if a player left, contrary to the very active style implemented last season, starting the summer straight away with Costa and Fabregas, who had the pre-season time to buy into the Chelsea way. Coupled with bad luck to Courtois and the selling of Cech, the whole transfer dealings of this summer have been a shambles.

(4) Tactics

Whilst Mourinho does have some sense in saying that you go inadvertently go backwards if you stay put, the other part to his words must be addressed to himself. New blood or not, these are world-class stars with fantastic previous seasons and good experience. Mourinho himself is a manager with world-class pedigree and a substantial track record and trophy cabinet. Why is he letting this happen?

In part, it can be put down to continually tried-and-trusted, but very rigid, methods. The defence-first methodology has come up trumps many times through Mourinho’s career and he undoubtedly believes in it. But with an evolving world, more focus should be on attack. This very passive approach relies too heavily on nicking the one goal from a set-piece or counter-attack. Furthermore, it rarely comes, because teams are now well-drilled against the Terrys and Cahills.

The defence-first approach does not kill opponents either psychologically. Manchester City can score plenty in a game due to nicking one early, the opponents getting deflated and the Citizens scoring more. Chelsea hold out, and with time gives the opponents more belief. Damningly, if the opponents actually break the deadlock, you can often see Mourinho go into panic mode. For such a good strategian, there is rarely a Plan B. Mourinho boasted of one this pre-season — the 3-4-3 — but it is a desperate attempt to lump the ball forward and home a penalty is won. There is no rhythm and no culture, and Chelsea scraped away with it towards the end of the last season, but it is not working now.

(5) Inflexibility

Mourinho talks a good talk but everyone knows he does not trust youth, and it is this lack of variety which is astounding. Mourinho trusts his core men so much that you can never really get a look-in into the first team. Moses was the best player in pre-season: loaned out. Ivanovic has had a shocking start: no Rahman. Matic has been poor: no alternatives. Fabregas lacklustre: always starts. Hazard lacking creativity: he is the star man.

There are alternatives. Cuadrado and Moses could have filled the right-wing spot, but no, Chelsea must spend. Upcoming youngsters could deputise for Terry or Cahill, but no, Djilobodji and Hector must come in. The line-up rarely changes week-on-week. You can see why the likes of De Bruyne and Lukaku were frustrated. For a team in form, that is fine. For one that is not, it smacks of ignorance and irrational belief.

With any boom, there is a bust. But with any bust, there is government policy and steady growth, eventually leading to new highs. Greece will need to sort themselves internally and spend less. China will need to be more transparent and find new income streams. Chelsea need a bit of both.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

West Brom vs. Chelsea Preview

Ahead of this Sunday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and season ahead. Here are my thoughts:


Firstly, the Eva Carneiro controversy, your take on it?

Totally unnecessary. Unfortunately it’s been a dreadful week for Chelsea, on and off the pitch. The Blues have never done fantastically on the PR front in terms of racism and sexism etc, and this has not helped. Mourinho’s words seemed innocuous enough – he criticised his “medical staff” – but the ensuing media furore, which predominantly surrounds Carneiro only and not Fearn, has meant the saga has gone into a battle about gender and how Mourinho had ulterior motives. This will not help relations and Mourinho will surely, deep down, be angry with himself for unknowingly causing this mess because it’s detracted Chelsea away from footballing matters. It is ironic that he blamed medical staff for being slow when reacting to Petr Cech’s head injury in 2005, and whilst there is some sense in that physios have to understand the game, first and foremost they have to do what is medically right. (Besides, Chelsea would have only been down to 9 men for around 30 seconds… Mourinho is clutching at straws!)

It’s not been the best of starts to the season for Chelsea, just a blip or something to be worried about?

Probably a bit in between. I can’t imagine it going on for too long, but it shows that this season will not be a canter. City are strong, United strengthened. It’s Chelsea’s worst start since 1998/99 but expect Mourinho to pull through. However, if things get messier behind the scenes with transfer rows or internal strains in relations and all of a sudden there’s a falling out with Abramovich, then there could be real, real danger.

Much has been made of the decision by Jose Mourinho to substitute his captain John Terry at half-time during last weekend’s defeat to Manchester City. Might this be the beginning of the end for the Blues’ legend?

I’m shocked at how much this has been talked about. Mourinho made the tactical decision to take off JT because he was getting pulled apart. I bet Mourinho was toying with the idea of playing Zouma from the off, as he has the pace, but felt Terry’s other attributes, e.g. reading of the game or leadership, will compensate. The reality is it didn’t and Sterling and co beat Terry for pace. Things had to change. But expect Terry to be back in the line-up and dominating; he’s not gone yet.

Looking back at last season, how did it compare to previous championship-winning campaigns?

Whilst Chelsea were good, last season was won mainly because rivals failed. Chelsea weren’t extraordinary – they were good because they were at the top of the table after every single match-day – but it relied heavily on City and United capitulating. We saw pretty football and then tactical football. In other championship-winning campaigns, it’s tended to be the more tactical.

How confident are you that Jose Mourinho’s men can retain their title?

Not very. We have not really strengthened – and in this world that means going backwards. The start we have had is not a good omen at all, and expect City to be fired up. It might be tight, but I’m not so confident as I was last season. There is no match-winner, all pretty stuff but all too careful.

Happy with the club’s summer transfer dealings? Anything more the Blues need to do before the window shuts?

No. Whereas last season we were quick with Costa and Fabregas, this season we have decided to do nothing. The imminent signing of Pedro smacks of panic, which is a disastrous way to manage the market. It was clear Abramovich was trying to save money for a new stadium, but recruits are needed. I’d personally quite like another defensive midfielder: Matic is our only competent one, as Mikel offers nothing and Ramires and Fabregas both have deficiencies to man this position with authority.

Prediction for Albion’s season?

Tony Pulis is a good manager and with the likes of Rondon and McLean in, I can probably expect another season of mid-table mediocrity, well clear of relegation.

Premier League champs?

Manchester City

Relegated?

Bournemouth, Sunderland, Watford

How are Chelsea likely to line-up at The Hawthorns on Sunday?

Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry (c), Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Ramires, Hazard, Willian; Costa. If Pedro comes in time, I’d expect a substitute appearance from him and maybe Rahman.

Prediction for Sunday’s game?

Chelsea need to get going. Expect some fire: 3-1.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

West Brom vs. Chelsea Preview

Ahead of this Monday’s clash with West Brom, I spoke to AlbionTillWeDie.co.uk, outlining my predictions for the match and season ahead. Here are my thoughts:


It’s been a fantastic season for the Blues, culminating of course with clinching the Premier League title. How does 2014/15 compare to your other recent title triumphs?

As title triumphs go, this can surely be one of the more satisfying. To have it wrapped up with a good number of games to spare, and then see us given a Guard of Honour by our nemesis Liverpool, it capped off a fantastic season in which we were brutally efficient. It feels a long time ago when we last won in 2010 and even though we secured it with a 8-0 thrashing of Wigan, it was done on the last matchday, so this one is sweet. It also rewards the hard work of the players and manager so we can be equally proud of this one as Mourinho’s first in his return. After no silverware last season, we can confirm he is still special: the knack of being unbeatable at home, never losing the six-pointer games against your main title rivals, getting the job done with the 1-0s or 2-1s… Jose knows best.

Despite Chelsea’s dominance of the Premier League, you failed to progress past the last 16 of the Champions League. What do the club need to do to improve on that next season?

Mourinho blamed his side’s “mental toughness” when PSG eliminated us, which was a most peculiar excuse, for his sides tend to exert the most mental toughness! Mourinho teams always tend to have a psychological edge but it was strange to see us not defend better some sloppy goals. It did help our march for the Premier League crown, granted, but the Champions League is now a bigger motivation for next season now there is less pressure of Premier League again. The quality is certainly there and maybe the players, a la Courtois and Hazard, need to really understand what the big Champions League games are like. Other than that, improvements could be made in Mourinho’s strategy. It is not safe anymore going back to a home second-leg with a goal-less score-line in the away first-leg. You need that away goal yourself.

It appears that former Albion academy star Izzy Brown will be making his Chelsea first team debut at The Hawthorns on Monday evening. Does he stand a genuine chance of becoming a regular for the Blues long-term?

In the foreseeable future: no. Mourinho has publicly said he wants to place more emphasis on young Chelsea stars but it is hard to see this as anything but good rhetoric. A rough patch next half-way through next season and we’ll be back to the siege mentality approach of parking the bus! Brown, and the other Chelsea prodigies in Baker/Bamford/Loftus-Cheek etc, may get the odd minutes of the odd game, but I cannot see Chelsea as a club to progress youth. There is too much pressure and too much competition to afford game-time to blood youngsters anymore.

Highlight of the season?

It’s difficult to pick one main one out! The League Cup final win against Tottenham stands out, of course, because we attained silverware at the end of it. The title triumph is equally satisfying, but this was a culmination of months of hard work, so there is no main highlight to pin-point it on. The fact that we have been top of the league after every single match-day is a staggering feat that even I forgot going week by week but hard work pays off and the highlights will no doubt occur in a couple of weeks’ time when we pick up the Premier League trophy and look back on a very successful season.

Moment you would rather forget?

PSG was our worst game of the season. The strategy was all wrong and you somehow never sat comfortably. Ibrahimovic’s sending off didn’t appease any nerves and you just had that feeling an away goal (or two) would do it.

Other than that, Lampard’s equaliser for Manchester City to deny his true side all three points will long haunt the memory. Whilst rendering irrelevant all-told, it was a dark moment for Chelsea fans. All can be forgiven now.

Player of the season?

John Terry and Eden Hazard, I cannot pick one, because both do opposite jobs and both were so vital for the club. Terry is Mourinho personified, the leader on the pitch and no doubt the first name on the team-sheet. It helps he lives and breathes Chelsea Football Club and this passion exudes in his play and his team-mates’ play. And then we have Eden Hazard, who has come to life this season. £32 million was an absolute steal and he looks a genuine gem of a boy, no ego, married with kids, and he dug his side out a lot with his goals, assists, and all-round creativity. Both cannot go unnoticed, so the fight for Chelsea Player of the Year will be interesting!

Villain of the season?

Not sure anyone really put a foot wrong consistently over the season, or has caused anyone troubles. I always feel players should fight for their position and not chicken out and leave and Andre Schurrle opted to take this easy route back home, but he was a very worthwhile player in the first half of our season.

What team and tactics are we likely to see from Chelsea on Monday?

With nothing to lose or gain for both sides, I expect a very different, inexperienced Chelsea side. I imagine Cech and Terry at the back will steal mean it is a very disciplined performance, and perhaps we will see some (youthful) naivety with the likes of Loftus-Cheek/Brown who should get some game-time. I can’t imagine a thrilling game; it is probably just going to turn out to be a professional training session.

Prediction for and thoughts on the game?

1-1. Can’t imagine Chelsea really going for it, and cannot imagine a clean sheet as we are really for the taking here, if Mourinho does put as much youth out as possible. But we have earned that right to.

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Post written by Martin Li. Martin has had four years’ blogging experience, writing for the likes of Bleacher Report and SWOL. He runs his own Chelsea blog — The Chelsea Chronicle — which has match reaction and analysis from every Chelsea match. You can follow him on Twitter.

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© Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle, 2011-2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this Blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Martin Li and The Chelsea Chronicle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.