In the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, Chelsea beat Leicester City 1-0 with a second-half goal from Ross Barkley to book their spot in the semi-finals at Wembley, where they will face Manchester United.
Every football team has a philosophy and style that defines them. There is an innate and intrinsic quality about them that engenders a distinctness and aura that evokes a certain level of threat and intimidation.
Spain, Barcelona and principally Arsenal define the tika-taka style that represents the very essence of the game through short passing, perpetual movement and possession foootball or in a nutshell “pass and move”.
Brazil are famed for “Joga Bonito” playing mesmerizing and dazzling attacking football. Contrastingly, Stoke City and historically Norway are renowned for their dour and dogged “long ball” game reveling in physical engagements.
Germany of recent years have been excellent exponents of “Counter attacking football” combining compactness, discipline and the luxuary of dynamic and versatile offensive players to perform lightning counter attacks from seemingly anywhere on the pitch at almost will.
As we enter the busy month of December, which is often seen as a critical juncture every season due to the stack of fixtures, Chelsea go into this pivotal month not knowing who they are nor what they stand for.
Stamford Bridge is no longer, well, Stamford Bridge. The Champions League knockout rounds is no longer a formality. Its status as an elite club dwindling as a result of the uncertainty of its ambitions as internal power struggles off the field, which has plagued the team for years looms ominously and uncharacteristic performances on the field leading to new lows.
Chelsea began life under an ambitious and enterprising young manager in Andre Villas-Boas. There was so much optimism and belief that this young tactician, who represented a new direction and era for the club was the man who would lead the blues to the promised land by delivering a maiden European crown and re-establish its domestic dominance.
After all, this was a man who had just won a European treble with a top notch club in FC Porto, remained undefeated in the league, rekindled an old connection with the club having worked as opposition scout during his managerial apprenticeship and hailed as the new Jose Mourinho. Big, big and I repeat big raps on someone young enough to be a player and his tenure started encouragingly enough.
However, Chelsea have hit a snag if not a slump and finds itself with a bigger problem than a 10 point deficit in the title race or a cut throat European clash against Valencia in a group that they were supposed to stroll through.
Right now, AVB is playing a delicate balancing act that has distorted the clubs image and reputation as a powerhouse at home and on the continent, by thrusting a style upon his team that it is not comfortable with and subsequently struggling to get the results. If the new high defensive line and emphasis on playing attacking football that is supposed to make Chelsea a more attractive team in the Barcelona mould is not working, then who exactly are they?
This season they appear to be nothing like the powerful behemoths they are renowned for but rather a team that is bereft of ideas and spark besides the artistry of Juan Mata and explosiveness of Daniel Sturridge, especially against the top teams. Its leaky and almost suicidally open defence is looking increasingly second-rate, while the midfield has no idea who is in charge nor what it is supposed to do.
Most pertinently, the fact that it’s best XI is still unknown due to the continual mixing and matching and experimenting that has occurred over four competitions. It seems as if AVB’s utilisation of depth for rotational purposes and as a means to stir competition has backfired as few have put their hands up to sketch a best XI for the manager.
No continuity, cohesion and chemistry due to a lack of an extended run with a consistent XI has left a team so often used to having a reliable spine to lead and inspire the team in the form of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, looking more and more clueless and disillusioned as Nicholas Anelka and Alex’s imminent departures attests to.
Villas Boas must be commended for laying down the law immediately and unyielding in his stance that there are no “untouchables” in the team and that games are given out on merit and not reputation. His strong management of the big egos and decision to demote his stars to the bench regularly has been strongly caused by the waning powers of this so called “spine”.
Terry has been called into question for his susceptibility to the high defensive line and sub par performances as a consequence, while Lampard has failed to exert anywhere near the same influence on games as he once did despite still contributing on the scoreboard.
Drogba has in and out of the team as hot competition in attack and his own poor form has led to numerous transfer rumours for a man who will undoubtedly leave the Bridge as a legend. Of course, this is an aging team and therefore the time has come for the baton to be handed down as the principles and reputations of yesteryear cannot co-exist with the “new” Chelsea that AVB is attempting to construct.
Pensively, do Chelsea need a mindset change from Mr Abramovich right through to the fans in order to safeguard a successful future on the pitch as well as laying down the foundations for a new era of supporters off it?
Manchester City of today and Chelsea during the embryonic stages of its “Blue Revolution” share remarkable parallels – big spending, big name players, big ambition and most importantly renewed belief. For the citizens a new chapter opens in their history having taken a leaf out of Chelsea’s book and looking to rewrite the history books through an aggressive transfer policy.
As for Chelsea, where to now almost a decade on from its transformation from a modest English team to European giants?
The next move is perhaps the most critical stage in its revolution. No longer are they aspiring to be a “big” club. They are exactly that. While they can see themselves in Manchester City, they are at a more advanced stage and therefore the time has come for a shift in focus from the immediate/short-term to the long term.
Splashing the cash for a quick fix is something that must end, and so is its astronomical wage payments. Gone are the days where they have to entice players and teams with wages and transfer fees that are above and beyond the market price. An elite status, commands respect, credibility and leverage.
Hence, the time has come for sensible investments in long term projects such as the newly acquired Oriol Romeu, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois on top of the existing young talents being groomed for the future.
Chelsea could do with the Arsene Wenger transfer manual adopting a miserly, frugal and tight policy in order for a smooth transition into building a team from the ground up by phasing out the older hands and replacing them with the faces of tomorrow to have the opportunity to have a sustained period at the top at a lower cost.
This, of course, cannot be possible with the continual criticisms and whinging and whining of fans who seek trophies and success at all costs. That is the precisely the type of attitude that needs to be erased and shifted to a mentality that pays heed to the importance of methodically and sensibly constructing teams much like Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich do.
That ability to calmly build with the trust and backing of all associated with the club, without having to resort to exorbitant spending out of desperation is what separates the established and truly great teams with the rest. Chelsea must aspire to reach those managerial and professional heights.
Chelsea are stylistically an enigma. They are a well balanced team renowned for having one of the most impenetrable defences in the premiership and most famous for its “powerful” football. All across the board, Chelsea possess physical specimens such as Terry, Drogba, John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien, Branislav Ivanovic, Romelu Lukkaku, Sturridge and the list goes on and on. Its greatest strength lies with its dynamism.
While it lacks the visible flair and finesse of other top teams, it has always operated off the back of a rock solid defence and a functional and dynamic midfield led by Lampard and Essien while the front line has been led brilliantly for almost a decade by Drogba.
Industry, energy and class has defined its football, having broken countless records over the years. Whilst the never ending changes in management, the team maintains its core traits of grit, determination and a fighting spirit that is inherent, as the will to succeed is infectious.
However, in light of the current state of the team, it is only fair to suggest that Chelsea is facing an identity crisis, and that every effort possible has to be made to ensure Villas Boas is given the time and shown the faith necessary to implement his youth policy and continue his gradual formation of “his” Chelsea and lead it into a bold new era, characterised by attractive, attacking football.
Whilst they were fortunate, there is no denying the manner of victory over Newcastle, is only a peak into what is possible, and while there will be greater challenges that lie ahead, concerted efforts that endeavour to enhance Chelsea’s brand and image as a true worldwide powerhouse on and off the field will ensure that the “Blue Revolution” reaches its intended climax.