Prior to Saturday’s 2-1 defeat against title rivals Arsenal, ‘Big’ Phil Scolari had avoided controversy during the opening six months of his reign as Chelsea manager. Scolari let his Chelsea team do their talking on the pitch, and with some fabulous football along with some good results, the Brazilian had adapted to life in England well.
There were no mind games, and no criticising referees. Scolari just seemed to go about his job nicely â€”a stark contrast to the days of The Special One, that’s for sure.
Dare I say it; people were starting to respect Chelsea, if not necessarily like them. People admired their football. They were gracious in defeat, as shown when beaten by Liverpool at Stamford Bridge, a defeat that ended Chelsea’s record breaking home record, where they didn’t lose for 86 games.
However, the pressure cooked environment of the title race has finally got to Big Phil, with yesterday’s defeat prompting an outburst more reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s days at the Bridge.
And there was nothing “likeable” about it.
Scolari accused Mike Dean, the referee in yesterday’s encounter, of “killing” his Chelsea team, and even hinted at conspiracy theories, after Dean’s assistant failed to spot Robin Van Persie was offside for Arsenal’s first goal.
All quite ludicrous really, and with the club’s four and a half year unbeaten home record now an all too distant memory, maybe it’s all starting to get to Big Phil? Has he shown the first signs of cracking under the pressure?
Because although it’s clear Van Persie was indeed offside for Arsenal’s opener yesterday, there was still half an hour of football to play after that incident. And in that period, Chelsea conceded another goal not too shortly after, and in reply, failed to seriously test the Arsenal goalkeeper, Manuel Almunia.
And that isn’t down to the officials, that is down to Scolari and his Chelsea team.
The fact is, Chelsea don’t have a plan B, and the rest of the Premiership seems to have worked this out. Much like Newcastle and Liverpool did so successfully, Arsenal stopped the Chelsea full-backs from marauding forward, and therefore negated Chelsea’s threat down the flanks.
And by stopping John Obi Mikel and Deco from starting attacks from deep, Chelsea struggle to get going, and look slow and sluggish.
Chelsea’s recent results would indicate that the Premiership has realized this, with poor results against Liverpool, Newcastle, and now Arsenal halting Chelsea’s early momentum. But Scolari continues to persist with his tactics, refusing to deviate from what he knows.
And though it’s far from a crisis on the domestic front, in the Champions League Chelsea qualification is still not confirmed, with victory needed in the final group game at home against Romanian Champions CFR Cluj to ensure qualification.
Furthermore, without Ricardo Carvalho at the heart of the back line, Chelsea’s defence looks desperately exposed. The lack of strength of depth in the Blues squad is all too evident, and with Chelsea needing a goal yesterday to equalize, there was little firepower on the bench for the Chelsea boss to call upon. The failure to sign Robinho in August increasingly looks like a missed opportunity.
It seems Scolari may well be facing his first signs of adversity as manager, though this won’t be anything new. It’s the nature of the beast, as they say, and Big Phil is indeed big enough to deal with any pressure that may come his way.
But instead of blaming match officials for his team’s failings, Scolari may be better advised to look closer to home.