How can Chelsea improve?

Chelsea Football Club

Think back one year. This time last year. Ray Wilkins was fired, and the superb start Chelsea, under Carlo Ancelotti, made was already history. One year ago came that barren run which lasted the best part of two months. Points dropped. Half a dozen points ahead going into November, and at one point in March, one and a half dozen points behind. All due to the ‘blip’. Now, we are one year ahead. That was history. But history often repeats itself. And Chelsea, under the new helm of Andre Villas-Boas, haven’t started this season in the scintillating fashion of Ancelotti last year. But will they go through the same period? How can Chelsea improve to make sure they have enough grit to steer them through the icy roads?

Under Ancelotti, Chelsea often won big, the 6-0s, 8-0s, 7-1s. We were on fire, and people were scared. 103 goals is the Premier League record goals scored in history, a feat which was set by Chelsea under Ancelotti. This season, we’ve scraped a few 1-0s, 2-1s, and we’ve lost quite big, 5-3s, 3-1s. Villas-Boas is trying to make us more attacking. Funny, because what I’ve just said proves the opposite. Let’s rephrase it: Vilas-Boas is trying to do things his own way. The man knows his stuff, we all know that. It wasn’t luck which brought him all four trophies last year at Porto. Tactically, he is genius.

But how can we start winning the way Manchester City are winning, the 5-0s, 4-1s, again? A lot are saying it’s down to time. Villas-Boas has ‘just’ come in, give him time and give the players time to gel together. Well hold on. It’s been nearly five months since AVB was announced as the new man in charge. If five months (that’s nearly half a year) is not enough time, how much is enough time? I do not think that time is an issue, at all. AVB seems to be working well with the players, and the players are receptive to his ideas.

But what I do think the problem is, is the formation. Chelsea have been 4-3-3 through and through. AVB is 4-3-3 through and through. But that does not mean that Chelsea’s best formation is 4-3-3. In my opinion, 4-3-3 will not get the results Abramovich craves.

Let’s take Manchester City, a team on fire this season who certainly look capable of surpassing the 103 goals set in 2009-10. This is the team Manchester City set out on that blissful day at Old Trafford:

Their formation is a quality 4-2-3-1. They have an abundance of attacking players, and they are allowed the freedom to attack. Clichy and Richards can support them as wing-backs too. This still leaves them with four at the back. Lescott and Kompany provide the defence. Should one decide to go up, they still have Toure and Barry to anchor things and keep the play under control. Check out Chelsea when they lost 5-3 to Arsenal:

This 4-3-3 formation is not good enough. Ashley Cole and Bosingwa both like to attack, the latter rather hopeless at defending. If those two go up and Ivanovic is also supporting (with Luiz it’s worse…), Terry is the last man. JT is a true leader, but his pace nowadays is questionable. Mikel doesn’t anchor well enough, and when you have an Arsenal side with pacy Walcott and skilful van Persie, you’re bound to be sliced in half, which is why we shipped in five.

What Chelsea need is the 4-2-3-1. We need two holding midfielders who do nothing other than free our attackers and support our defenders. We need Essien back, and someone like Makelele. Therefore if Cole and Bosingwa attack, and Luiz goes walkies, Terry is not the last man. It’s working at City, it will work at Chelsea. This will allow the attackers to free their potential, a phrase AVB uses time and again. But with a 4-3-3, often we’re stuck defensively. Such a high line is suicidal, and as I’ve said, the results haven’t shown tremendous attacking play.

Chelsea need to improve. Sterner tests will arise. Two that have come so far have been catastrophic: against United, we lost 3-1, against Arsenal, we lost 5-3. The Liverpools, Tottenhams and Manchester Citys come in these next two months. And if AVB doesn’t address our defensive frailties, it could be deja vu all over again.