Ancelotti oversight has Chelsea counting down the days until New Year

Will November 16th be looked upon as the date when this season’s title race was blown open? Since just about the first minute of their dismantling of West Bromwich Albion in August, Chelsea have looked like champions in waiting. But following Sunday’s clatter to earth against Sunderland, today’s revelation that both John Terry and Alex will be missing until 2011 takes on huge significance.

6-0 thrashings are all well and good, and the frontline trio are still formidable, but such victories are based on the confidence that concession will not be an issue. Without their captain Terry on Sunday, as well as the hugely underrated Alex, the Blues looked like a side scared of their own shadow and, put into wider context, that was Chelsea’s first league defeat in what one might call a ‘routine’ Premier League fixture since 2003 and the Ranieri era.

It may be too early to be blaring out the word ‘crisis’ but seven weeks without the injured duo could see Chelsea’s fine defensive record forgotten faster than a Liberal Democrat pledge. Branislav Ivanovic, fine defender though he is, is no leader but he is tasked with helming the Chelsea backline for the foreseeable future, and Paulo Ferreira is hardly a source of comfort in his own position, let alone someone else’s.

They were the pairing torn apart mercilessly by Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan, Sunderland’s enterprising, but limited strikeforce. It may be that Carlo Ancelotti calls upon Michael Essien to drop back into defence on his return from suspension; the Ghanaian has plugged that lifeboat in times of choppy waters before. However, his presence was acutely missed from Chelsea’s lightweight midfield on Sunday and Ancelotti now has the quandary of deciding where his powerhouse will be least missed.

Besides which, Chelsea must travel to Birmingham and Newcastle before Essien’s return. After that they face a list of Everton (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester United (h), Arsenal (a), Bolton (h), before the Hootenanny and the – projected at least – returns of their two stricken defenders. By which time of course, the race for the top prize will have changed dramatically.

Blues fans could quite reasonably ask how a simple twist of fate (or two) could look like providing such a cataclysmic blow to their season. It’s the first real miscarriage of Ancelotti’s tenure and he can now only provide answers to critics with results to prove his elaborate West London palace has not been built on sand. Carlo’s label at Stamford Bridge may be ‘The Real Special One’ but it’s hard to imagine Jose Mourinho at the root of such a careless oversight.

Perhaps in the miserly Mourinho era Chelsea could have coped with a drought of centre-backs but Ancelotti’s strategy is one of expansion. He lets his full backs maraud, cosy in the knowledge that the two men inside them are capable of sweeping clean any danger. But following Sunderland’s riotous disregard of this gameplan, messrs Cole and Bosingwa may feel inhibited in flying too far from the nest; and so would go Chelsea’s best chance of width.

While this summer may well have been the right time for Ricardo Carvalho to move on, the query remains why Ancelotti failed to replace him. Perhaps the Italian’s confidence in Ivanovic and Ferreira to adapt from full-back and in young Jeffrey Bruma to fulfil his promise was reason then and perhaps it still is now, but it’s not the sort of faith that is likely to withstand the difficulties of some of the worrisome fixtures on the horizon.

If it seems that two wounded defenders is hardly cause for alarm, it may be worth a leaf through the Premier League archives. Manchester United’s first unsuccessful attempt in three at defending their title came without Ferdinand and Vidic for large chunks of the season, while Arsenal were undone by their lack of an organiser at the back.

The last fifteen years have provided such no nonsense title-winning partnerships as Pallister and Bruce, Adams and Keown, and then more recently Carvalho and Terry himself. The centre-half pairing is the foundation on which Premier League empires are built.

How relieved Ancelotti must therefore surely be that the other Holy Grail, the Champions League has been combated with ruthless efficiency and any major test avoided until February at the earliest, even giving some of the youngsters who may be called up for duty a chance for much needed time on the pitch.

As things stand, Chelsea still hold a lead of two points and can undoubtedly boast the most convincing start of any side masquerading as title challengers. But they will be relying on cunning tactical amendments from the boss and Spartan-like resistance from the stand-ins to keep them there until January. Then the transfer window opens and surely Ancelotti will rethink his back-up plan.
6-0 thrashings are all well and good, and the frontline trio are still formidable, but such victories are based on the confidence that concession will not be an issue. Without their captain Terry, as well as the hugely underrated Alex, the Blues looked like a side scared of their own shadow on Sunday and, put into wider context, that was Chelsea’s first league defeat in what one might call a ‘routine’ Premier League fixture since 2003 and the Ranieri era.

It may be too early to be blaring out the word ‘crisis’ but seven weeks without the injured duo could render Chelsea’s fine defensive record as one for the history books. Branislav Ivanovic, fine defender though he is, is no leader but he is tasked with helming the Chelsea backline for the foreseeable future and Paulo Ferreira is hardly a source of comfort in his own position, let alone someone else’s.

They were the pairing torn apart mercilessly by Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan, Sunderland’s enterprising, but limited, strikeforce. It may be that Carlo Ancelotti calls upon Michael Essien on his return from suspension; the Ghanaian has plugged the lifeboat in times of choppy waters before. However, his presence was acutely missed from Chelsea’s lightweight midfield on Sunday and Ancelotti now has the quandary of deciding where his powerhouse will be least missed.

But Chelsea must travel to Birmingham and Newcastle before he returns. After that they face a list of Everton (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester United (h), Arsenal (a), Bolton (h), before the Hootenanny and the, projected at least, returns of their two stricken defenders. By which time of course, the race for the top prize will have changed dramatically.

Blues fans could quite reasonably ask how a simple twist of fate (or two) could look like providing such a cataclysmic blow to their season. It’s the first real miscarriage of Ancelotti’s tenure and he can now only provide answers to critics with results to prove his elaborate West London palace has not been built on sand. Carlo’s label at Stamford Bridge may be ‘The Real Special One’ but it’s hard to imagine Jose Mourinho at the root of such a careless oversight.

Perhaps in the Mourinho era Chelsea could have coped with a drought of centre-backs but Ancelotti’s strategy is one that lets his full backs maraud, cosy in the knowledge that the two men inside them are capable of sweeping clean any danger. But following Sunderland’s riotous disregard of this gameplan, messrs Cole and Bosingwa may feel inhibited in flying too far from the nest.

If it seems that two wounded defenders is hardly cause for alarm, it may be worth a leaf through the Premier League archives. Manchester United’s first unsuccessful attempt in three at defending their title came without Ferdinand and Vidic for large chunks of the season, while Arsenal were undone by their lack of an organiser at the back.

The nineties provided such no nonsense partnerships as Pallister and Bruce, Adams and Keown and more recently Carvalho and Terry himself. The centre-half pairing is the foundation on which Premier League empires are built.

How relieved Ancelotti must therefore surely be that the other Holy Grail, the Champions League has been combated with ruthless efficiency and any major test avoided until February at the earliest, even giving some of the youngsters who may be called up for duty a chance for much needed time on the pitch.

As things stand, Chelsea still hold a lead of two points and can undoubtedly boast the most convincing start of any side masquerading as title challengers. But they will be relying on cunning tactical amendments from the boss and Spartan-like resistance from the stand-ins to keep them there until January. Then the transfer window opens and surely Ancelotti will rethink his back-up plan.

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2 Comments

  1. The Big Yank 18 November, 2010
  2. crashbang 18 November, 2010