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Chelsea are like Arsenal, winning only admirers

Monday, 19 November 2012 - 8:58am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Di Matteo must get balance right with flair and defence or they will come up short at home and in Europe.

Just as Chelsea face the biggest week of their season, with crucial games in the Champions League and Premier League looming, they are discovering that playing eye-catching football does not always guarantee results when it matters.

Even when things were going well for Roberto Di Matteo's team earlier this season, they were vulnerable against opponents because of the attacking nature of their formation.

So when things begin to go badly, as they have been doing recently, they become even more vulnerable and susceptible to teams exploiting their weaknesses, just as Manchester United did in their 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge recently.

It is hardly an ideal situation ahead of games against Juventus and Manchester City this week, but it is difficult to see things getting better quickly because Di Matteo does not have the defensive options to call upon which have been key elements to Chelsea's success in the past.

The team lack balance at the moment because it is too heavily-weighted with players whose first instinct is to go forward - a direct contrast to the Chelsea team who won the Champions League last season.

Without question, the attacking trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar have been fantastic to watch at times this season. They are hugely creative, brilliant on the ball and extremely fluid in the way which they move around in the attacking third of the pitch.

None of them goes chasing the ball, but they all want it, yet when Chelsea are not in possession, they offer little in a defensive sense and the problems are compounded by the personnel behind them.

Ramires might line up as a holding midfielder in front of the back four, but he always wants to bomb forward and he exacerbates the problem because he leaves John Obi Mikel as the only man left to protect the defence.

Without Frank Lampard's experience in the midfield, there is nobody around to tell Ramires to pick and choose his runs or stay back.

If this was the Chelsea team that had John Terry and Richard Carvalho at centre-half, and the Ashley Cole of five years ago, then perhaps they could get away with the offensive nature of those players in front of them.

But there are now problems in the Chelsea backline. Terry has been suspended and injured, David Luiz is unconvincing and Gary Cahill, for whatever reason, does not seem to be regarded as a first choice by Di Matteo. You also have to factor in that Cole is still one of the most attacking full-backs in the game.

If Chelsea are to get the results they need this week, though, Di Matteo must find a way of getting the balance right.

Only City and Barcelona have so far been able to show that the system of playing with such attacking flair can be successful and the lessons are there for Chelsea to learn from both of them.

In Barcelona's case, they are not the best defensive team you have ever seen, but the likes of Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta work incredibly hard to win the ball back when their opponents are in possession. They work in packs to retrieve the ball and they help out their defensive players in a manner which Chelsea's do not.

The strength of City's system when they won the Premier League last season was that they had two rigid holding players in between the defenders and attacking midfielders.

Whether it was Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry or Nigel de Jong, Roberto Mancini had players who would be disciplined enough to allow the likes of Samir Nasri and David Silva to go forward.

At the moment, Chelsea are more like the Arsenal team of recent seasons - great on the ball in an attacking sense, but lacking the defensive mindset to win it back.

As we all know, Arsenal won nothing with that approach other than admirers for the quality of their football. That is all well and good, but it is all about winning trophies rather than admirers and Chelsea will not want to go the same way as Arsenal.

Against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, Di Matteo left Mata and Oscar out of the starting line-up, so you would assume that he is saving the pair for the game against Juventus in Turin tomorrow (Tuesday).

If that is the case, the likes of Ramires, Mikel and the Chelsea back four have to be strong defensively. And certainly, if Chelsea are still in the game in the final 20 minutes, somebody has to tell Ramires to sit back and not leave his team exposed at the back.

It is crunch time this week, in Europe and domestically, so Chelsea and Di Matteo have to get it right.
 


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