As Chelsea contemplate the end of their title challenge at this relatively early stage of the season, the Blues and British media appear at a loss to explain how the free scoring league champions have become so vulnerable. Whilst I have long questioned the release of Michael Ballack from Carlo Ancelotti’s squad, it is undoubtedly the move of Ricardo Carvalho to Spanish superpower, Real Madrid, that has had the biggest impact on the fortunes of the side.
If there was any doubt as to how crucial Carvalho’s exploits were to the regaining of the Premier League title last season, the struggles of the Blues’ defence this term have hammered home the importance of the Portuguese international.
Despite starting the season well, the autumn represented the sort of downturn that Chelsea simply haven’t experienced in the Roman Abramovich era- injuries to key players undermining a threadbare squad.
At the height of the Blues’ defensive struggles, Carlo Ancelotti was forced to employ a half fit Alex and an underused Paulo Ferreria in the heart of the defence- far cry from the solidarity that once represented the Blues 1,000 minutes without conceding a league goal back in 2005.
Since moving to the Bernabeu to link up with former manager Jose Mourinho, Carvalho has again displayed the qualities that made him such a valued part of the Chelsea squad- immediately operating with the sort of flexibility and unheralded strength that only defenders of the highest class possess.
Carvalho operated as the perfect foil for John Terry, and worked well at organising the Blues’ defence- an unheralded presence of great stability. With Terry out of the side, Carvalho would excel when stepping out of his captain’s shadow. These performances had a knock on effect on his international team mate, Paulo Ferreria, a team mate at Porto and a man that responded brilliantly to playing alongside his fellow countryman.
There were moments towards the end of Carvalho’s spell in West London that his place in the team became a point of contention- an omission from the side for Chelsea’s extraordinary 4-4 draw with Liverpool in their 2009 Champions League quarter-final looked to confirm the defender’s exit.
Yet Carvalho emerged the following season a resurgent force. Seemingly keen to team up with Mourinho whilst the Portuguese tactician was in charge at Inter, the Blues managed to keep their defensive glue for another year.
Despite being an ever present across nine months of the season, Carvalho’s desire to leave Stamford Bridge was hardly a secret. The West London club’s failure to land that elusive Champions League title seemed to settle the decision in the defender’s mind, and as he joined in the club’s vociferous celebrations after the FA Cup final win over Portsmouth, the sense that the game would be Carvalho’s last was inescapable.
If further proof was needed as to just how much Chelsea have missed their defensive colossus, the 21 million pounds spent on David Luiz, a fair indication of the gaping hole left by Carvalho’s departure.
Short-term, the loss of a defender of Carvalho’s stature is an inevitable body blow and could be a major factor if the Blues do the unthinkable and finish outside of the top four. Optimistic Blues fans might argue that the acquisition of Luiz could go a long way to plugging that hole. It is such a credit to the Brazilian’s predecessor that filling those shoes is an almost impossible task.
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