Two successive 0-0 draws later, I’m clutching at straws to find anything positive from these two performances. Arsenal were the visitors at Stamford Bridge for the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi-finals. Despite the intense rivalry between the two teams, they somehow contrived to produce a damp squib of a spectacle. The result leaves Chelsea with no option other than to go for the kill in the return leg at The Emirates.
Here’s what we thought of the game.
#1 Strongest Lineup?
No Cahill, no Bakayoko, no Pedro and no Willian. No problem? Hardly. Conte put out what many would call the strongest Chelsea lineup from the available personnel. Without the usual scapegoats, there weren’t too many obvious candidates to throw under the bus for fickle-minded supporters, but I’m sure they must have found someone regardless. But you couldn’t blame them for wanting someone to vent at, considering how poor we played. Many chose to call the setup defensive, conveniently omitting the fact that Fabregas needs a screen behind him to play closer to the front two otherwise you’re just asking for trouble. Danny Drinkwater partnered Kante in midfield, and it was Kante who drove at the Arsenal defence time and again. If these eleven players cannot trouble the scoreboard operator despite the multitude of chances created, you could hardly blame the manager.
#2 Racking Up The Misses
A familiar story, with a now familiar ending unfolded under the lights at the Bridge, yet again. Chelsea had an astonishing 21 shots at the Arsenal goal and managed to score a grand total of zero goals. It didn’t help that a majority of those shots were aimed at spectators in the stands rather than the Colombian in goal. One attempt from Danny Drinkwater seemed to be aimed towards an overhead satellite! Morata continued his woes in front of goal and Eden Hazard was having one of those days when he would rather be somewhere else. A trio of missed free headers ensured that the deadlock remained unbroken. Conte could, and should, use this as another plea to the board for a Plan-B striker and maybe another winger. Ross Barkley might prove to be useful once he is fit, but he should not be the only incoming transfer in January.
#3 Willian Cameo At Centre Mid
That was a new one. Willian, usually found hugging the right touchline, came on as a substitute and played in midfield. It nearly worked, too. His speed and trickery could be a potent weapon against any side not used to a midfielder running straight at them. Is this how Barkley will be used, as a midfield runner? Perhaps. Until then, maybe try Willian in there again, shall we? He seems to be the only attacker showing any sort of form in a Chelsea shirt.
VAR – short for Video Assistant Referee – made its debut in the Carabao Cup in this game. Apart from giving the man in the middle someone to talk to in case he feels lonely, it brought puzzled glances from the players and the spectators, who seemed unsure if it was being used every time the referee was on his microphone. VAR was used towards the end of the game to decide whether Welbeck had fouled Fabregas in the Arsenal penalty area. No penalty was given, but at least it removed one controversial decision from overshadowing everything else. Full marks to Conte, gesticulating on the touchline for VAR to be used by drawing a rectangle with his hands, the way an umpire in cricket calls for the third umpire to have a look.
#5 Transfer Tattle
Ross Barkley’s transfer seems to have riled up the mayor of Liverpool for some reason, but despite the hilarity of an elected public official complaining about a transfer between two clubs, Barkley is not the saviour. Conte needs at least a couple more players, considering Michy, Musonda and Kenedy are on the verge of being loaned out. Andy Carroll, the equine ponytail, is one name cropping up repeatedly. Alex Sandro is still playing hard to get, while Sanchez would rather sit on the bench and earn obscene amounts of money in Manchester. Whatever the transfer plans are, they need to be put into action sooner rather than later. No more 0-0 results, please.
Chelsea welcome Leicester City on Saturday in the Premier League, hoping for a first win in four games in all competitions. Second place is up for grabs, so the players better bring their shooting boots along.