We’ve pussy-footed around the issue, confused by Chelsea’s strong showing in the Champions League and their ability to leave 18 other Premiership teams behind them biting dust.
Any team (and manager) that wins two titles in a row (in such comprehensive fashion) cannot be underestimated.
But when you have a squad not playing to their potential, and 8 points behind (5, if Chelsea beat Newcastle) the Premiership leaders in mid December, there really is cause for concern.
Shevchenko’s and Ballack’s history afford them an almost-mythical status as demi-gods amongst men, a reputation forged by years of domination in Europe. Ballack lorded over Bayern Munich, Shevchenko spearheaded AC Milan’s reign. So if these two don’t fire, there’s a problem.
Sheva and Ballack DON’T need more time
On one hand it seems fair to give players time to adapt to new playing conditions – Drogba took time, Essien took time, why not these two? On the other hand, these two are not two young kids. Giving Kalou a season to get to terms with Chelsea and the Premiership sounds fair, giving Shevchenko the same time is a waste.
You only have to look at Makelele to understand why. A seasoned professional doesn’t need a full season to ‘adapt’. Makelele dropped into Chelsea, knew his role and while you can argue that his position doesn not require pace, it IS the same fast-paced league that Sheva and Ballack are having ‘troubles’ adapting to. Shevchenko’s problem is not that of pace – he is good enough to not let something like that bother him. Same goes for Ballack.
But they’re not the ones to really blame. Yes, they’re not firing in the way expected of them, but both players are being badly misused by Mourinho, and it is to their credit that they haven’t bitched about it like Gallas.
Chelsea need to put Sheva, Makelele and Ballack on the bench
Formation-wise, a diamond 4-4-2 is not such a bad thing, and not so limiting in width as you might think. If the full-backs are attacking enough, if the base midfielder is a Vieira rather than a Makelele and if the left and right mids are able to go wide when needed, AND if one of your strikers is really fast, then it works.
However, Chelsea don’t have Vieira. They have Essien, and he’s being shunted between right midfield and right-back because of Makelele’s place as the holding midfielder.
Chelsea don’t have attacking fullbacks either – Ashley Cole does not go forward enough, nor does Geremi. Ballack can’t play wide, neither can Essien. Drogba is a battering ram, needs a fast striker next to him. Sheva is a clinical finisher, who also needs a fast striker next to him.
Chelsea are unbalanced – for all of Mourinho’s efforts, they are caught between two very difficult choices. Play Ballack/Sheva with Makelele and have an unbalanced team, or ditch Ballack/Sheva and go back to 4-3-3 with 2 fit wingers.
Right now, Chelsea’s best bet to accomodate all their key players is to start Essien at right-back and play a 4-3-3 with Robben supporting Sheva and Drogba, and Ballack and Lampard playing central ahead of Makelele. It gives Chelsea Robben’s pace, pushes Sheva/Drogba out wide in an unfamiliar position and makes life difficult for Essien, but it works.
But a better option would be to be bold, drop Makelele, Ballack and Sheva to the bench and play a 4-4-2 with Essien and Lampard in central midfield, Robben out left, SWP out right and Kalou supporting Drogba. It’s not pretty, but if Joe Cole is fit he can play up front with Drogba, or in a roving role behind him in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Chelsea lack pace, they lack flexibility and the only way they’re playing good right now is if they return to 4-3-3.
So either Mourinho does that, or shifts to a proper 4-4-2, or Chelsea will continue to cripple their chances of winning the Premiership.