Posts tagged ‘chelsea’

May 27, 2012

How Much Does Di Matteo’s Success Prove?

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An FA Cup and the club’s first Champions’ League win represents a remarkable success for any manager, in any season. Yet for an interim manager in charge for the remaining three months of an abject season it is nothing short of brilliant. Ironically, Di Matteo brought  to owner Abramovic the one elusive trophy that he had been looking for, just when nobody thought it possible, and whilst his back was turned looking for future manager’s who could build a team to do this. However, it is important to deconstruct Di Matteo’s performance objectively to decide whether Di Matteo is the right man for the next Chelsea era.

Firstly, the case for Di Matteo being reappointed. Abramovic’s dream has long been winning in Europe and after it cruelly eluded him in Moscow at the hands of a Jon Terry slip in 2008, it looked like the best opportunity had been and passed. Yet Di Matteo’s cautious and considerate approach ensured they could level the playing field and compete against Barcelona. This, coupled with a good FA Cup final win, has seen Di Matteo earmarked as deserving to continue as manager next season, cutting short Abramovic’s search for a long term successor. However, whilst Di Matteo’s wins are of course wins, the circumstances of them suggest the victories were less a result of managerial nous and skill than we are giving credit.

Abramovic’s investment is loosely suggested to be £1bn since his takeover, and as such Chelsea have become a firmly established club side in Europe, with this season seeing the first real decline in player ability from previous years. However, in spite of establishing themselves in Europe’s elite, and given the tremendous outpour of resources the owner has provided, the style of play exhibited by Chelsea approaching their games in Europe is utterly different to the big club style that is expected, to the extent that Chelsea resembled a relegation threatened team playing away at top of the league. As we are continually reminded football is a results business, yet it might be more worthwhile to consider intentions, as these are constant and cannot be influenced by luck. Thus, Di Matteo, rather than go out with the intention of beating the opposition, was in fact exercising a damage limitation system, intending to contain the opposition at all costs and forgoing much of their attacking threat.

Crucially, this is not to suggest that good defensive play is bad football. It isn’t. Mourinho has consistently garnered results through strategic defensive play, sitting deep and exposing the opposition on the break. And whilst there are echoes of Chelsea vs Barcelona in that, there is in fact a big discrepancy between the two. Mourinho’s set up against Barcelona, as admittedly nullifying and defensive it was with Inter, and now is with Madrid, dramatically reduces Barcelona’s chances. It contains them and blocks them, makes them look as if they lack incision and prolificacy. Yet Chelsea in neither of the semi finals nor the final did this; theirs was just meek and ineffective attempt at it. Even with every player possible forming a shield in front of the penalty box, Barcelona had a plethora of good opportunities and a handful of clear cut opportunities, and of course Bayern too had gaping chances to seal the match. This illustrates that Chelsea’s defensive tactics weren’t even effective, as it was error and mistakes from the opposition players in finishing that ensured Chelsea weren’t comfortably brushed aside. Similarly, Greece’s Euro 2004 win saw them contain and negate the opposition whilst breaking on the counter and winning set pieces. However, they were successful in preventing the opposition from having good opportunities, effectively keeping their destiny in their own hands somewhat, whereas Chelsea relied predominantly on freakish happenstance ensuring two of the world’s best players spurned match winning penalties. This does not come down to effective systems and tactics, but simply a reliance on luck.

Whatever Abramovic ultimately decides, and he’s never been one to pander to fans and media pressure, Di Matteo’s remarkable success should be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, when your success hinges on whether a man with 73 goals in one season will score a penalty or not, you’re largely helpless.

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May 21, 2012

I felt huge disappointmen…

I felt huge disappointment when I saw the starting line-up, maybe the biggest disappointment of my life

-Torres on Drogba’s selection ahead of him for the Champions’ League final.

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April 25, 2012

Guadiola Gets It Wrong Vs Chelsea

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I don’t necessarily think you have to posses a towering number 9 at all for Barca to add another dimension. I’m not sold on that personally.

Rather, I think that as long as you have variation on the pitch in the build up and in other areas, you don’t need that number 9. Theres nothing legitimate about pushing Pique up top, or Keita. If Barca play 4-3-3 like the devastating past few years last night, then the match would have been an entirely different one. Busquets holds, Pujol and Pique at centre back playing on the half way line, pushing Alves up wide to support Cuenca and cause an overload and give Drogba problems, who surely must be thinking that defending is the easiest thing in the world given how little he was exposed when he tucked in left-wing (which his ego categorically does not need).

Same on the other flank, Adriano could have pushed further up to create space on the wings, seeing as Chelsea are compact and denying space in the middle. Also, the 4-3-3 would be anchored by Busquets, not by Xavi as has been suggested in discussions, which would be suicidal when you’re dispossessed. This would leave you with decent numbers against a counter. A wide centre pairing of Pique and Pujol with Busquets centre and in front of them I think could cope with an on rushing Drogba and Ramires, and lets not forget Dani Alves is normally extremely competent at getting back himself, with Adriano being sensibly aggressive.

The Mascherano at centre back thing makes sense in La Liga where teams generally offer little from a number 9 and much of his defending is going to be on the ground, which he is extremely adept at. However, against a physical striker like Drogba who is there solely to disrupt you in the air and jostle on the ground, i literally have no idea why Mascherano was selected for the match up here in both legs, when Pep should have sacrificed playing out from the back in exchange for a player that could compete with Drogba better.

Barca wish to have one fluid movement of players, one fluid formation, this is Guardiola’s ideal and this is what he’s being striving for this season; little or no specialised players and one fluid formation of midfielders throughout the pitch. However, the reality is that this does not work against teams equipped and geared to counter attack you with power whilst parking the bus. You need specialised centre backs at the very least. Unless you’re going to have 100% possession then you need specialist centre backs when the team pose a physical threat.

The most confusing thing is that Barca attempted to attack after going 2-0 up, when keeping the ball for the victory is bread and butter stuff for champions. Barca themselves i recall kept the ball away from Man Utd as easily as imaginable in the ’09 final, with Carrick Scholes and Giggs pretty much waving a white flag to the midfield carousel. However, Barca this time did not do this. I have no idea why, I personally would have Pujol and Mascherano exchange passes a thousand times if it meant the score staying the same, or dragging Chelsea out of position so you could expose them. This is really basic stuff though and surely Guardiola is aware of it.

Interestingly, I wonder if the managers were switched for the tie last night who would progress and i overwhelmingly think it would be Di Matteo, who himself mastered this victory over Barca, which was helped by both Guardiola’s naivety as well as a sizable amount of luck in both legs. Which brings us lastly to whether you can completely eradicate luck from a match, which you can’t, you simply play the percentages so to speak, choose the smartest option that gives the BEST CHANCE of victory, and im not sure Barca did that in either leg.

Guardiola himself said “That is football, you have high periods and then you have low ones”, however you can’t help but feel this was an avoidable low.