When Andre Villas-Boas was brought in for £13.2m from Porto, Roman Abramovich expected to get something for his money. Goals would be nice. Great attacking play is paramount. Clean sheets would be pretty handy too. AVB did all that at Porto. He won everything possible in just one full season. He’s had half here at Chelsea so far, and two are in danger, with one already gone. The fourth is to come, though you suspect a similar fate if Chelsea do not address the issues. AVB cannot rework some Portuguese magic this time. Two games. Nine days. Different starting XIs. Same winners. Kenny Dalglish 2-0 Andre Villas-Boas. Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool the first time round. We could not even manage a goal this time round. Desperately disappointing night. Incredibly frustrating performance. No improvements. Below are five points which Chelsea need to address:
Have a regular starting line-up
Take yesterday’s starting line-up. In a 4-3-3, McEachran was the right midfielder, Lukaku was bizarrely the right winger, and a question forever asked, but Luiz was the central defender? Yes, it is the Carling Cup, but don’t be stupid. Yes, you want to blood youth, but don’t play them out of position. How is McEachran a right midfielder? Similarly, how is Lukaku a winger? Surely if AVB wanted to play with Torres and Lukaku together, he ought to have experimented with a 4-4-2-Diamond? Half way through the match, it appeared that Torres was now the winger. Time and time again he was wandering down the flank, trying to cross into players. No, he should be the one in the middle. The Carling Cup is still one of just four trophies you can win a year at the end of the day.
Defend set-pieces properly
Take the second Liverpool goal. Martin Kelly was completely unmarked. Chelsea players such as Bertrand flapped his arms up in frustration, but who can he blame? Kelly might not have been his man, but who was his man – he seemed to be marking nobody. No Chelsea player seems to know just quite what they’re doing in defending full stop. We are caught out in open play with a high line, and we are caught out from set pieces. Go back to basics. Organise man for man. Stick to your man. Because I do not believe for a second that Andre Villas-Boas will have told his players that no-one should be marking Kelly. There are 10 outfield players to be marked, and we had 10 players to mark them. One got loose – that cannot happen. That was the goal that killed us. Had it been just the 1-0 going into the final moments, we would have tried harder, trying to force it into extra time.
Get a proper midfield partnership
Lots of people this season are blaming the keeper (for shipping in lots of goals), the defence (for allowing that), and the strikers (for not scoring enough). But it actually is the other position – the midfielders – who need most blame. the midfielders are the key to any football match. They must do two jobs: support the strikers and give them good balls so they can score; and help out at the back. Unfortunately, they do neither. There had been no set Chelsea midfield this year. We have had so many combinations it has been unreal, almost like AVB picks his team out of a hat. One match we will have a Lampard-Mikel-Ramires combination that might work well, yet the next match it will be Malouda-Romeu-Meireles etc. This is silly. The midfielders need to understand each other. Telepathically, they need to know what the other is doing. You are not going to achieve this connection by just sticking three players together. When Chelsea were successful a few years back, we had the Ballacks, the Essiens, and the Lampards that understood each other. When Lampard pushed forward, Ballack just instantly knew he could either find space, or drop deeper to make sure we do not get caught on the break. That is not happening now.
Get Mata to play behind Torres
The unfortunate thing is if Mata tucks behind Torres, it could be some fearsome partnership. At Liverpool, Torres and Steven Gerrard had great understanding. The latter fed the former and vice versa. They knew each other. There is the potential for the same with Mata and Torres. But with AVB refusing to back down on his 4-3-3, he is being wasted on the wing. Yes, he is a great winger, but there is so much more for him if he is just behind Torres. It would give defenders more to think about, and some silky footwork could happen, and create some beautiful goals.
Make sure everyone knows their duties, players and staff
Hinted on above, but the players do not know what they are doing defensively, hence a lack of clean sheets. The attackers do not know what they are doing, hence a lack of goals and wins. But if you go to the roots, AVB does not seem to know what he is doing. He talks the talk, and in training I’m sure he is really tactical. But clearly it is not working. What is the problem? Do the staff know what they are doing? The trainers, do they really know what they should be focussing on? Is AVB instructing them to work on attacking moves in training, when the coaches’ decades of experience are telling them that defensive work is of more importance? Does AVB not realise that wins should come first. Lovely wins come with a succession of wins and the confidence makes us win beautifully. AVB needs to get his priorities straight. Many times this season I feel Chelsea are being made to do one thing, and then the next match, the other. The match against Blackburn we went back to old school defending, and crucially ground out the result. Then after one win, AVB decided to abandon “defence first” and went straight to attack again, losing 2-1 to Liverpool. Bonkers. Stick to the winning methods, however “boring” we are perceived to be.
Chelsea have got to make a lot of improvements for a decent shout this year. Every Chelsea manager in the Abramovich era has won a trophy in his first full season, yet them not being here still must bide ominously on AVB. Imagine if he does not win anything? Well, I’m sure he would rather not. AVB will probably live through this one, but he needs results in league – and quick.