Groundhog Day At Stamford Bridge

I said in my blog last Friday that if I never saw Didier Drogba again it would be too soon. Watching us at Stamford Bridge yesterday was a real Groundhog Day experience. 

I didn’t see the game live as I was on my way from London to Strasbourg via Paris on the train for work. I watched a full re-run of the game in my hotel last night however.
First the positives. We had the lion’s share of the possession and moved the ball well. Unfortunately our old weakness of not an insufficient cutting edge in the attacking third of the pitch let us down. Marouane Chamakh also had one of those days when he could have played until midnight and still not scored, for all the hard work he put in. It will come right for him I feel sure. His work rate and movement are both excellent. I’m developing a real affinity for him. Let’s not forget the excellent save that Petr Cech made from Andrey Arshavin in the first half too. Łukasz Fabiański also had a decent performance in goal, although he pushed his luck on a couple of occasions.
You just sort of knew what was going to happen though, as our chances to go ahead came and went. Up popped our nemesis Didier Drogba from an Ashley Cole cross with an excellent finish to put the Pensioners one up as the second half drew to a close.
Chelsea went into their shell a bit at the start of the second term, seemingly content to sit back and try and hit us on the counter-attack. As the second half wore on we got more and more desperate for an equaliser. Then up pops Alex with an absolute Howitzer of a free-kick to put Chelsea 2-0 up. Game over.
Bill please.Our defending of the free-kick was inadequate and sloppy. Andrey Arshavin was poorly positioned adjacent to the wall as the charge-down man. Credit to Alex, who has absolute siege-cannon of a right foot. We still haven’t found an answer to Didier Drogba. Both Sébastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny were guilty of poor positioning and being too keen to show Drogba that they wouldn’t be bullied physically by him. Coming super-tight on a player like Drogba is just inviting him to “roll” around you. You’re better giving him half a metre provided you’re positioned right to make to attack the ball in the air before he can get to it or make the tackle if it comes in to feet.
It is little details like this that make all the difference. Getting it right depends on continual work on the training ground and the players being switched on mentally at all times. We were guilty of too much sloppy defending once again yesterday.
Lee Dixon, who I think is a breath of fresh air amongst ex-player media pundits. He’s intelligent, considered and articulate in what he says, unlike some who clearly haven’t engaged whatever intellect they have before opening mouth. He now writes cogently and informatively for The Independent. Here’s a link to his column in last Saturday’s Indy.
His concerns about our defending are spot on I’m afraid. I’ve said before in this blog and I’ll say it again, there are many, many ways we can improve our defensive cohesion and effectiveness when we don’t have possession and at defensive and attacking set-pieces without affecting the overall attacking style favoured by the manager. We should bring in Steve Bould who is already at the club as a youth coach to work on these issues with the players on their personal and team tactical and technical defensive skills, particularly at set pieces but also when not in possession of the ball.  It’s an old football cliché but attack wins games, defence wins trophies.
I believe we need to strengthen, particularly in goal. Our weaknesses are however principally tactical and mental rather than to do with the technical qualities of our current players however.
It’s also only fair to mention that we were unable to consider for selection yesterday through injury Thomas Vermaelen, Nicklas Bendtner, Cesc Fàbregas, Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey, half a team. If we don’t address our tactical and mental weaknesses however, we’ll continue to be a good team condemned to be the eternal bridesmaids when it comes to the game’s top prizes.
I’d love to be proved utterly wrong in that view. Nobody would relish the consumption of extravagant portions of humble pie with second and third helpings more than me.

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