An air of discontent is swirling around Stamford Bridge at present after a spell of form not quite up to the very high standard set by Chelsea in the Abramovich era. Here are ten observations from an important game for both sides:
Everton’s gameplan when in possession was to focus their attacks down the left hand side. Perhaps perceiving Chelsea to be weaker down their right, occupied by Jose Bosingwa as opposed to Ashley Cole, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines all combined regularly to cause Chelsea problems. Ostensibly a central midfielder, Fellaini spent far more of his time playing passes from the left than right as demonstrated below. Likewise, Baines played 54 passes during the game down that left side compared to Phil Neville’s 39 while Pienaar attempted 63 passes to Seamus Coleman’s 27. The plan worked, with Everton’s equaliser created by Baines down the left.
Having said that, when it came to defending Everton’s axis swung back to the right. Again recognising the threat posed by Chelsea’s left hand side, this time by Florent Malouda and Cole in an attacking sense, the visitors often overloaded their right hand side when not in possession to restrict the space. Everton attempted more tackles down their right hand side despite focussing possession down the left, and Tim Cahill, Jack Rodwell and Phil Jagielka all contributed in helping Coleman and Neville defend the right by creating an overload to cramp Chelsea’s left.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that infects and poisons red blood cells in the human body. In severe cases it can lead to hallucinations, coma and even death. Is it any wonder then that Didier Drogba is not quite up to his usual imperious standards having spent a chunk of the last few months fighting off the disease? It is therefore somewhat unrealistic for Chelsea fans to expect the Ivorian international to be in supreme condition right now. Since returning to action he remains a number of percentage points short physically – seeing Sylvain Distin brush him off the ball so nonchalantly was somewhat disheartening for those who have come to enjoy Drogba’s domineering style. Yet the signs are there that, as the games go by he is nearing a return to full form.
Speaking of which, the inability of Chelsea’s strikers to retain possession in high areas was a striking element of this fixture and one which only increased as the game went on. Drogba and Anelka were particularly guilty (Drogba misplaced 15 passes compared to Kalou’s 4) and as the game wore on Chelsea’s carelessness was punished.
Chelsea are currently 16th in the form guide with 5 points from their last six league games – only Everton, Fulham and Wolves have worse records. Yet despite this it was a surprise to learn just how unhappy the crowd at Stamford Bridge were throughout the match, with loud boos at the final whistle a cathartic expression of their collective discontent. From the early stages the crowd were clearly tetchy. Misplaced passes from Nicolas Anelka and John Terry were welcomed with audible groans, while the mutters and moans directed at Salomon Kalou were evident throughout. Granted, poor form is poor form. But the level of animosity directed from crowd to players was surprising considering these are the reigning champions and double winners.
It was the presence of Distin covering nearby that prevented Tim Howard from seeing a straight red card for his block foul on Anelka for Chelsea’s penalty. But despite cries for a sending off from some quarters Carlo Ancelotti chose not to single out the referee, actively playing down any insinuations of a refereeing error. Somehow you doubt a certain previous title-winning Chelsea coach would have been so magnanimous…
Singing the Blues
Nonetheless, there do appear to be deeper underlying issues affecting the current champions. One win in six league games is an unusually long-running blip by Chelsea’s standards, but rather than the drop in form it is the manner of Ancelotti’s post-match public dressing down that hints at more serious problems.
“We have to change our behaviour at the training ground. There is no reason to smile now at the moment. This is a serious business. The players are afraid, they are scared and they not performing. I’m angry, disappointed – and not just for the result.”
“We played a poor second-half. In the first-half there was a good spirit but in the second it was totally different and we looked scared. We lost our idea of how to play football and started playing long balls.”
‘Afraid’, ‘scared’, ‘angry’. In his pre-match press conference Ancelotti had also accused his players of lacking desire. Signs of a deeper malaise?
6 of the last 8 games between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge have ended in draws. As such, was this game really the ‘shock’ and ‘surprise’ some have made out? Everton have been a strange outfit this season, playing notably good football in a number of games without being clinical enough to register the points to reflect that. Despite their lowly position and terrible result against West Bromwich Albion a week earlier, this was never going to be the walkover some had assumed.
Jermaine Beckford was publicly criticised by his manager David Moyes after fluffing a great chance to win the game in Everton’s 2-2 draw at Sunderland in November. “Let’s be fair to him, we weren’t getting any chances before he came on, and after he did, we had lots,” said Moyes, “but he needs to convert them, and as a team we can’t keep missing them.” In a roundabout way there is some praise in there, but Moyes’ words only served to pile further pressure on Everton’s newest striking acquisition. Yet despite this, Beckford’s record so far is promising. The former Leeds man has played 349 minutes and score 2 goals, which matches up more than favourably with Yakubu’s (1 goal in 625 minutes) and Louis Saha’s (0 goals in 559 minutes) records. Of Everton’s 18 attempts on goal at Stamford Bridge only 4 were on target – and two of those, including the goal, came from Beckford.
Jack the lad
Jack Rodwell is one of those young players regularly touted as the future of England’s national team. But where is his best position – in central midfield or in defence? Against Chelsea he showed two facets of his game with varying success: encouraging heading abilities, hitting the post in the second half, and less than impressive shooting (two shots off target, one in particular was dire). He is regularly touted as a centre back in the long-term and he has excelled there for England at junior international level. On the other hand he possesses all the dynamism and presence of a marauding midfielder. What do you think?
(photo by Samuel Ericson on Flickr)