The sooner Frank Lampard returns the better
Yesterday’s 2-0 defeat highlighted a number of key issues with regards Chelsea’s midfield make up- particularly when Michael Essien and Frank Lampard are not available. In deploying Jon Obi Mikel, Ramires and Yury Zhirkov, in central midfield Carlo Ancelotti relied heavily on one of those three players to play a more creative role a la a Lampard or Michael Ballack. Considering that all three of the players in question remain without a goal in the Premier League, and do not possess the physical presence required to control the midfield in these contests, this lack of threat was not a major surprise.
However, at the very least, Chelsea would have expected the trio to keep the ball far better than they did. Zhirkov, looking increasingly like a left-back being played out of position, was fortunate not to have been sent off in the first half as he brainlessly tripped the returning Dirk Kuyt, before sliding in unnecessarily on FernandoTorres. Mikel won the ball with similar regularity to the manner in which he usually does, however his distribution was sloppy, whilst Brazilian Ramires looked overawed.
Ballack was allowed to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of last season, after it appeared that the German was showing signs of poor motivation and physical decay in Chelsea’s engine room. Even the half-fit, disinterested Ballack that we saw in patches last season would have been an improvement on two of Chelsea’s midfield trio yesterday afternoon. Meanwhile Frank Lampard’s various injuries continue to linger.
Ramires lacks the forward momentum of his fellow countrymen
Ramires is quickly becoming a real concern. He has looked good in a number of games this season, however is quickly resembling a couple of Arsenal midfielders in that he looks great when players back off and allow him time to pick his passes, yet looks weak and naïve when he is placed under physical pressure.
In both this game and the Manchester City fixture he gave the ball away with frightening regularity. In other games he has had Michael Essien to cover for him, however here his errors in possession were punished. The bigger concern, however, was his inability to pick a pass. On several occasions he would be forced into a corner instead of playing an early ball and without Essien’s body strength would end up conceding possession- this was key to Chelsea’s second half momentum stalling after the hour mark.
Carlo might need to strip off to get extra cover
Last season, it was widely acknowledged that Chelsea were maybe a couple of players light with regards creating a title winning squad. When the Blues were freed up to make signings in the January transfer window after their transfer embargo was lifted, Carlo Ancelotti famously promised that he would run around Chelsea’s Cobham training base naked if he reneged on his claim that he would not sign any further players before the season was out.
As we approach another transfer window, Ancelotti must surely be re-thinking his suggestions that he would yet again refrain from getting out the Abramovich chequebook. With only a handful of injuries to their squad, Chelsea already looked very stretched yesterday afternoon.
The worrying aspect of this is that Chelsea do not have a raft of high quality players to come back. Undoubtedly, a fit Michael Essien and Frank Lampard would improve their shape and discipline considerably, however it is the lack of options during the inevitable periods of player absence that must surely concern Ancelotti and Ray Wilkins. If the Blues are to finally triumph in Europe, a creative central midfielder is an absolute must in the January sales.
Josh McEachran not trusted yet
For all the talk of the promise surrounding young midfielder Josh McEachran, it is clear that Ancelotti does not quite trust the boy in big games. This is indicative of where the boy really is in terms of his standing within Chelsea. Very few footballers would look out of place spending a handful of minutes in a team packed with world-class talent, passing the ball around at the end of a game where the result has already been decided.
Whilst making regular appearances for Chelsea is not to be scoffed at, the real stamp of approval for McEachran will come when Ancelotti brings him into a game where the result is not yet settled and backs him to change the match- something that very few players are actually able to do. That Chelsea’s central midfield area was so poor yesterday and that McEachran was not given this chance speaks volumes about how close he really is to figuring in one of these big games.
Petr Cech returning to his best
Over the last few weeks Petr Cech has begun to make the sort of contributions between the sticks that Jose Mourinho used to brag would win his Chelsea side ten points a season.
Last week at Blackburn he made a number of crucial stops to prevent a slip-up, and whilst Chelsea were already 2-0 down before his key contribution came in this game, a genuinely brilliant save with the outside of his right boot prevented further embarrassment for the league leaders. If Cech has suffered from a run of poor games over the last two years, this season his performances have been back to the quality we saw before his accident at the Madejski in 2006.