Second-Guessing Ancelotti A Mistake

carlo-ancelottiFootball FanCast columnist Ross Mooring feels that second guessing Carlo Ancelotti is a mistake.

After Wednesday’s late Carling Cup quarter-final penalty defeat to Blackburn Rovers much of the reaction has focused on Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to make a triple-substitution at half-time. After a disjointed opening period in which Chelsea went a goal down and looked unsettled at the back, the Italian decided that the best approach was to reshuffle the team and in taking three off show them just what he thought of the performance.

Now, half-time triple substitutions are quite rare (and rightly so) but I have nothing against them, even with the resultant lack of a fall-back plan. The manager, seeing his team playing poorly and in Wednesday’s game, Blackburn playing rather well, has to do something and in bringing three players on (especially when one is named Didier Drogba) he drastically changes the team’s mentality more than he is able to at any other stage of the game. While a tacit admission to all that the starting eleven was not quite up to the task he is also letting the remaining players know that if they do not buck their ideas up they won’t be playing first team football for a while.

In terms of the risk of making all three substitutions the case for injury is overstated (although Jose Mourinho may disagree, he pulled the same trick when 1-0 down at Newcastle in a FA Cup tie in 2005 and finished the game with 9 men when Wayne Bridge broke his ankle and Carlo Cudicini was sent off, not to mention Damien Duff and William Gallas hobbling around the pitch by full time) as the majority of games do not see players go off as a result of match-ending injuries. Indeed, to take if further, had Ancelotti made one sub at half time and then two more before the 70th minute – not an unreasonable assumption – nothing would have been said regarding Kalou limping off.

Furthermore, the substitutions should really have won Chelsea the game at that point and in fact precisely showed their power when Chelsea came from behind to lead 2-1 just seven minutes into the second half. Salomon Kalou should really have put the game out of sight when he headed straight at Robinson – echoing an earlier miss – and it is a bad piece of luck when the equaliser comes from a deflected cross that goes through the goalkeepers’ legs. At the very least it’s not something a manager accounts for. To put any emphasis on the half time decision after a penalty shoot-out defeat forgets that the Blues could have easily lost inside 90 minutes had the switch not been made.

Essentially, Ancelotti’s biggest mistake of the night (and it is hard to criticise him for it since he evidently does not value the Carling Cup very highly) was sending out a team mostly made up of squad players. Talent-wise they were still the better team on paper, but when you fudge a bunch of match-unfit players together for the first time there is going to be a drop-off in performance. The back five, Branislav Ivanovic apart, had 16 first team starts between them this season and Paulo Ferreira really is not a centre-half.

However, as much as I enjoy trips to Wembley and shots at silverware, as I said earlier this year on the Chelsea Football FanCast it makes the final segment of the season much easier when the team does not have two extra fixtures in January and a cup final in February which displaces a league fixture toward the end of the season. One only has to look at the barnstorming run by the Blues last year after the 4th round exit to Burnley (one defeat after January) in comparison to Manchester United (the League Cup winners) who looked relatively tired in their Champions League final defeat. For a club so desperate to win Europe’s biggest trophy I will take any extra percentage of match fitness in Madrid next May that I can get.

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