Talking Points: What's the Problem?

Where to even begin dissecting last night’s Champions League defeat to Basel is beyond me. There was such a multitude of things wrong f...

Where to even begin dissecting last night’s Champions League defeat to Basel is beyond me. There was such a multitude of things wrong from front to back, left to right. Oscar was, undoubtedly, our brightest star. Beyond that, I fail to see many positives. Eto’o was off his game, losing possession like his shirt said “Torres” on the back; Hazard looked lethargic and predictable, none of his trademark maneuvering was able to incise the Basel back four, and he was often forced to dribble back towards midfield and play a simple back-pass to the center-halves; Willian looked overwhelmed and downright confused much of the time, unsure to whether play direct or more technically, and not doing much of either very well; Ivanovic, for his part, played well enough, but the rest of the squad failed to support by getting the ball to him out wide so he could deliver a cross; Van Ginkel’s passing was solid, but his first touch let him down on many occasions, and I found myself missing Ramires’ energy in place of him or Lampard. Overall, it was a truly dreadful performance, succinctly characterized by our inability to break down the opposition and take our chances.

Which is, of course, the biggest, most frustrating thing that I’ve observed over the past two matches (Everton & Basel) – our complete incapability to split open a defensive-minded team, a team that “parks the bus”, so to speak. Both Everton and Basel (previous to the equalizer) were playing a very defensive style, often keeping 9 or 10 men behind the ball, looking to strike quickly on the counter. It’s tough to put the blame
 solely on Jose Mourinho’s shoulders, yet I can’t stave off this disconcerting notion that he really just doesn’t know how to break down a team that’s playing precisely how he would in that position. He’s always been the posterchild of fast-paced counter-attacking football. Playing with your back to the wall, giving the opposition a set amount of space, then when they encroach too far, hit them hard, fast, and make them pay.

Put simply, the squad we have at the moment is not set up for this kind of football. We’ve set up to have a highly technical, possession-based side. And I’m not convinced Jose knows how to be successful in that style. People will point to how many goals his Real Madrid team managed and how attacking they were at times. I will point to two facts: 1) They have Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best goal-scoring players, EVER to have played the game. 2) The Spanish league, apart from Barca, and to a lesser extent, Atletico Madrid, perfect for a Mourinho-esque counter-attacking side to throttle.
is not even remotely comparable to the quality of his squad at Madrid. Furthermore, most Spanish teams emulate a very possession-based, technical, and pass-heavy style, which is

In his previous spell, his team was comprised of, quite literally, physical beasts. Power, agility, and pace were all valued over technical dribbling abilities and fancy footwork. The latter are qualities a majority of the players in our current side boast. His previous Chelsea side’s modus operandi was to slaughter on the counter-attack with speed, aggression and heart. This current side that we’ve built over the last few seasons has been prepared to be surgeons, crafty little surgeons making incisive movements and deft interchanges to boggle and outsmart opposing defenders, rather than beat them into submission.

Essentially, the main question is this: Can Mourinho win with this type of style? Or is he simply going to re-construct the team into what’s served him so well in the past?

Which raises more questions: What would YOU, as a supporter, prefer to see? The traditional Mourinho powerhouse, or a swashbuckling and stylistic side? Are you willing to endure results like last night and at Everton, waiting for Mourinho to perfect his tactics and adapt to the more technical style?

I’m not sure I can even answer these myself. I really like where we have been heading the last few seasons – a move towards stylish, rumbustious, exciting football. And although we have had some mixed results, playing well in Europe but not so well domestically, there’s no denying it’s been really enjoyable to watch some of the younger, more technical players thrive in that system. On the other hand, Mourinho is here to stay. He needs to deliver success, and whether or not he can do that playing in a technical fashion has yet to determined. If the past few results are any indication, it’s going to require a very steep learning curve, the primary concern being the inability to break down the opposition when they’re playing defensively.

Let me know what you think about some of these talking points with a comment below (rants are acceptable and in fact, encouraged). Let’s hope we can get back on track with a full-on demolition of Fulham at the weekend. Up you Blues, and KTBFFH!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@blakehewitt) and SWOL for Chelsea-related news, commentary, and updates on postings to both ChelseaDaft and Soccer Without Limits (SWOL).

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