By Zahi Sahli
LAU Tribune staff
Never mind Andre Villas-Boas’ rants about refereeing mistakes and his insistence that lady luck is unwilling to smile for his team; the fact remains that Chelsea are currently way below the standard required of them if they are to compete with the Manchester clubs or Spain’s dominant duo for the Premier League and Champions League crowns.
To be fair with AVB though, he inherited an aging squad whose “spine” had already peaked years ago during Jose Mourinho’s tenure. And for the former Academica and Porto manager, the board’s failure to land his main transfer target intensified the difficulty of an already complicated job.
At the beginning of the summer’s transfer window, Chelsea’s plan was obvious; the club intended to make Tottenham Hotspur’s Luka Modric their marquee signing.
It all added up: Frank Lampard’s age meant that he would not be able to maintain the form of his previous seasons this term.
Lampard would have become the West London club’s version of Paul Scholes – a top class and experienced performer who can turn games around coming off the bench. Meanwhile Modric would have replaced the 33-year-old as Chelsea’s main creative midfielder.
But when Modric’s transfer was blocked by the surprisingly resilient Spurs, Chelsea rushed to complete a deadline-day deal for Liverpool’s Raul Meireles –a signing destined to fail, regardless of Meireles’ obvious talent, given that the Portuguese midfielder was only a cheap alternative for the Croatia international.
With Ramires yet to fulfill his full potential and Meireles proving his similarity with Modric does not go beyond the first letter of the two players’ surnames, Lampard’s below-par performances this season have revived talk about the lack of creative talent in the Blues’ midfield.
Another pressing issue is Chelsea’s seemingly faltering center back pair. The aggressive-but-slow John Terry has shined in previous seasons when he was aided by a quick, world-class defender.
The quality of Ricardo Carvalho and William Gallas has been missed as individual mistakes of David Luiz, Alex and Branislav Ivanovic have let the team down on many occasions.
Luiz has shown glimpses of his talent which can eventually lead him to becoming a consistent performer. By the time that he finally proves his worth, the versatile Brazilian can compete for the anchorman sport with John Obi Mikel –who put in a poor performance in his side’s 5-3 defeat against Arsenal.
If he fills in the defensive midfield spot, Luiz would aid Terry and Ivanovic as a third central defender when off the ball. Since AVB’s Chelsea favor a high-pressing game, a defender’s shift into midfield could add to the team’s defensive vigor – a temporary fix for the Blues’ current struggles.
AVB might as well learn from none other than Real Madrid’s José Mourinho who continues to get the best out of his thin squads by tinkering with the positions of his players. Madrid’s Pepe has served as both a defender and a defensive midfielder, and Luiz does not fall short of Pepe’s positional flexibility.
Another issue is the standard of wingers at Stamford Bridge. Surely, Chelsea’s squad bolsters good wingers, but these arguably fall behind their counterparts’ quality at rival clubs.
Premier League leaders Manchester City’s squad includes the likes of Samir Nasri, Adam Johnson and David Silva while Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson usually starts the explosive Nani alongside the young and potent Ashley Young.
Although the addition of Juan Mata boosted their squad’s quickness (something which must have pleased Fernando Torres), Chelsea still lack genuine talent on the opposite flank.
Daniel Sturridge remains inexperienced, Salomon Kalou nowhere near the required level and Florent Malouda past his best while Nicolas Anelka, a good makeshift alternative on the wings, thrives in his usual striker’s role.
Lille’s Edin Hazard is expected to move to Stamford Bridge in the summer while Chelsea will surely bid for Modric once the transfer window reopens in July.
With the Premier League title nine points away from the Blues’ grasps and the Manchester clubs proving they are England’s elite forces, AVB has every right to worry that he might suffer the same fate as sacked manager Carlo Ancelotti’s.
But if club owner Roman Abramovich can give AVB time to change his team’s fortunes, and if the manager can push for a few signings, Chelsea will be back to the top of their game soon.