Slowly but Surely the Team is Evolving.

Two days ago I wrote a lovely little blog which I planned to post today on how we needed to stop playing like we still had Drogba in the...

Two days ago I wrote a lovely little blog which I planned to post today on how we needed to stop playing like we still had Drogba in the team, adapt to a new philosophy, and set out to play that way with our line up. An hour later I saw the team to face Stoke… My first thought was “Halleluiah! Ramires in the centre and Oscar, Mata and Hazard starting together in a fluid front three.” My second thought however was “bollocks, there goes the blog I just wrote!”

Instead I shall adapt what I had previously written to express how I felt we were playing / approaching a game before Stoke, and then how that match was a big step in the right direction. A before-and-after view if you will. Here is how I started my original blog pre-Saturday:

“As a couple of you may have noticed, Drogba no longer plays for Chelsea. This is very sad and I want to cling onto his memory and talent as much as the next person, but will somebody please tell the players that he isn’t standing up front anymore?!

I’ve been thinking it since game one of pre-season, but we are continuing to play as if Drogba is still at the club. By this I mean we still like hoofing it up to the front four. I’ve never been a big fan of the hoof. I never hoof in the park or on FIFA. However as Drogba’s presence began to grow over the years I began to think: “Wow, this hoofing business can actually work given the right target man”.

I’ve been using the word hoof because that’s what it just looks like we are doing now. Aimlessly kicking the ball in the general direction of whoever makes up the front four. Back in the days of Drogba we could genuinely claim that this was a calculated long-ball (not hoof) that could actually danger the opposition. This was because Drogba was so strong at bringing down the ball or knocking it onto another player. Realistically though, can any of Marin, Torres, Sturridge, Mata, Hazard, Oscar, Ramires or Bertrand consistently win aerial duels for the team? I don’t think so. I remember after Torres scored against Reading he suddenly decided he was in a good mood again and subsequently did win a lot of aerial battles, but on the whole I wouldn’t rely on him for that.

Mourinho has recently taken part in an exclusive interview with sky in which he discussed many interesting things, one being that Drogba will be a huge loss for us that we can’t recover from. I disagree with that second bit though! I think we are far more of a threat this year and can (writes the word “easily” and then quickly hits delete) recover, but only if we can adapt our game to suit the players that we have brought in. This won’t happen over night, although there are times when we have a fluidity to us I haven’t seen for a while. However we can surely cut out these overly frequent long-ball tactics at least??”

From here I went on to discuss what needed to happen in order to move away from an attack that relied on a lot of physicality, especially up front, to one that used the natural skills of the players it does have to its advantage. The reason this would have gone on to make no sense is that RDM then set out to play in this way for arguably the first time this season!

We may have only scored one goal, but we were playing against Stoke (they’re always fun…) and it was the first time these players had started together in these positions. It was the way in which we went about the game that was the big change I had hoped for. Sitting high up behind the goal against QPR the week before, I began to appreciate how big of a problem starting players like Bertrand and Ramires out of position was.  Their presence naturally meant we struggled to keep possession and take the game to QPR, forcing us to resort to long balls and scrappy attempts at silky pass play. Ball after ball went flying through the air to the other end of the pitch and time after time I would watch either Ramires, Bertrand, Torres or Hazard try and win the header. A lot of the time they failed, not for a lack of trying, but because as a team we are quite light-weight, whereas in the premier league, defenders and midfielders usually carry a large muscular presence that we don’t really have (as much as we used to anyway). That’s ok though if we don’t play like we do have these physically powerful players. Up until Stoke we were, but the approach we took against them was very refreshing!

Really it comes down to us learning how to control the game by consistently dominating possession, and not relying too heavily on tactics from the past. When I look at the players we have, I think there is every possibility we can become this kind of team. Hazard, Mata, Moses, Marin, and especially Oscar are all talented enough to produce this. Furthermore I think it is the way they naturally enjoy playing.

This is how I finished the blog I had previously written pre-Stoke:

“I realise they are trying and I appreciate their efforts but goodness gracious me could somebody ask RDM to tell the players to take off their Drogba glasses before each match and take what I hope they are trying to learn in training onto the pitch with them?! I just want the team to display more promising signs that we are trying to adapt our game.”

Looks like I got my wish less than an hour later! It was truly fantastic to see such a promising display, albeit against a very strong defensive set up. Our midfield was quick to regain position, and Ramires brought a lot to the team back in the centre. Furthermore, we produced a fast pace to the match that suited us and in the furture usually will. It’s a shame that so many media outlets and pundits focused purely on the dive and red card incidents. Furthermore, to say that Tonly Pulis is an unbelievable hypocrite is to do him a great kindness…

I’m in a good mood about Chelsea, and I hope this article produces a good before-and-after view with regards to Saturday. I look forward to seeing the same approach against a club whose team aren’t made up of kick-boxers.

(follow me on twitter: @cody_bound)


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