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AVB : HT Appraisal


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It's been just over 7 months since Porto's treble winning managerial prodigy became the latest in a long line of footballing luminaries to walk through the revolving doors of Chelsea Football Club. Entrusting the then 33 year old with overseeing a much delayed overhaul of an aging, stagnant side and making him the custodian of Chelsea's second coming as bona fide domestic and continental contenders was a move met with skepticism by some but welcomed by most others. The winds of change had seemingly arrived, though the young appointee himself made clear his desire to bring about 'evolution, not revolution', his mantra for success.

Villas-Boas' time at the helm has been a trifle bumpy, although one could argue that the team's current league position is an accurate reflection of the Chelsea squad's intrinsic abilities combined with the threat of competition the likes of Man City and Tottenham have provided.

Let's take a look at the manager's performance on some vital parameters that constitute his job description, albeit tampered with the caveat that it might well be just a little too premature to conclusively judge him one way or another.

I Transfer signings

  1. Juan Mata - A breath of fresh air. The diminutive Spaniard has proved to be a roaring success in his short Chelsea career so far, especially at home. Often the lone bright spark in an attacking triumvirate upfront, his intelligence, poise, close control and technical ability has bagged the team several points already. While he has been having a lesser effect on games recently, it can be blamed on being played on the left wing, away from advanced centre midfield which is his most penetrative position and fatigue. All in all, one of the jigsaw pieces so sorely missed in seasons past.
  2. Romelu Lukaku - The big Belgian is clearly one for the future, as explicitly stated by the manager at the time of the transfer. Impressive in physical terms but still raw at this level, he has found opportunities hard to come by. A loan move in the summer is plausible, although the absences of Ivorian pair and the continued tribulations of Fernando Torres might just provide him with the stage he obviously craves.
  3. Raul Meireles - A deadline day joinee, the former Liverpool midfielder attracted attention after the Modric saga reached a frustrating conclusion. Capable of being played anywhere in central midfield, the Portuguese has turned in steady but unspectacular performances. While being a useful, enterprising squad player, he is certainly not the answer to our creativity problems and adds to an already crowded list of workhorse midfield options.
  4. Gary Cahill - Brought in recently to offset Alex's impending transfer, Cahill on paper is a useful player. More suited to AVB's high line and playing-from-the-back philosophy than the departing Brazilian, he provides decent backup to David Luiz. With questions hanging over captain Terry's fitness and the possibility of a lengthy ban from the FA by no means a small one, he might just find himself playing week in, week out more regularly than some would think. Helps with the homegrown quota too.
  5. Oriol Romeu - 20 year old Romeu has had the sort of impact few would have predicted, barring the manager himself, that is. It's not difficult to see why AVB had wanted to sign him from back during his days at Porto. Displaying calmness that belies his age and anticipation that lays bare his astute understanding of the game, the youngster has settled in admirably well at the base of the midfield, displacing Mikel for good in the process. A return to Barcelona is often talked about in the media, although to the relief of Chelsea fans, the manager has clarified that any eventual transfer cannot take place without Chelsea's approval. We have a gem in our hands.

Rating : 7/10

II Tactics

Villas-Boas arrived on English shores having picked up a reputation as being somewhat of a tactical genius, a notion fueled by a past of working under Jose Mourinho and of course his success with teams of limited quality like Academica and Porto.

  1. The most noticeable of his initial attempts to change Chelsea's tactical setup is the notorious high defensive line. A self-confessed fan of Guardiola-led Barcelona's style of play, the thinking behind his philosophy is clear for all to see. Deny space, pressurise the ball, work hard off it, win possession high up the pitch and create chances with quick incisive vertical passing. The problem arises when you realise that this Chelsea squad is simply not built for his ideals, not currently anyway. Individual concentration is paramount for the kind of play this style demands and for one reason or another, it hasn't worked consistently. That is not to say that it has failed completely, indeed Zonal Marking's Michael Cox confirms that while Chelsea are conceding fewer scoring chances than before, the nature of the chances granted (one-on-one) mean that they still end up conceding a fair few goals, most spectacularly against Arsenal at home. (http://www.zonalmark...-boas-pressing/)
  2. What has been more lamentable though, is the manager's reluctance to switch things around when it's obvious they're not going well. It took the crunch game against Valencia for Chelsea to revert to the tried and tested low block, concentrated defending that was a hallmark of seasons past. It was no coincidence that the old guard had arguably their best game of the season and we had a vintage performance to boot.
  3. Formation wise, not much has changed. Most matchdays sees Chelsea line up in the now familiar 4-3-3. While benefiting the likes of Lampard and Drogba, it has failed to bring the best out of key players like Juan Mata and Fernando Torres. Brief flirtations with a 4-2-3-1 have shown promise and is arguably the way to go, especially against defensive minded teams when playing a specialist holding midfielder is detrimental to the need for dominating play and creating gilt edged chances.
  4. Substitutions - The one major disappointment of AVB's reign. Ranging from like-for-like to ineffectual to negative to the downright farcical, the vindications are outnumbered by back-fires. Some could argue though that this is merely an affirmation of the starting lineup being spot-on most weeks, something hard to get wrong with the limited quality in the ranks.

Rating - 4.5/10

III Man Management

  1. 'I'm the Group One' proclaimed AVB at the time of his appointment, thereby laying bare his will to focus on the squad as a combined entity rather than a collection of individuals. He has stuck by steadfastly to his belief, refusing to take media baits in blaming or praising singular players during his interactions. Staff and players have spoken about his jovial nature and love for a laugh during training, portraying someone who wishes to truly bind with a feeling of esprit du corps.
  2. While wanting bonhomie and friendly relations among the staff and the playing personnel, he also hasn't shied away from letting them know that even though only 34, he still is very much their boss. Flirtations with other clubs famously brought total isolation from first team affairs for Alex and Anelka, while a drop in form and contributions saw the previously undroppable Frank Lampard duly consigned to the bench, even the season-shaping fixtures against City and Valencia not featuring him as a starter. Malouda's frequent media railings against lack of playing time haven't secured him a swift apology in the form of pitch minutes, while Kalou was unceremoniously hauled off after a poor 35 minutes in an early league game, unheard of during Carlo's time. Player power is a definite issue at Stamford Bridge and the manager has set about breaking it up in small but firm steps.

Rating : 7/10

IV Youth integration

  1. On the face of it, more could have been done. Josh hasn't featured for any significant amount of time, though the loan to Swansea is timely and should benefit him no end. Lukaku, as outlined earlier, is earmarked for the future, though he would have hoped for greater involvement considering the ouster of Anelka and Drogba and Torres' lack of form. Someone who has a cast iron case for feeling frustrated though, is Ryan Bertrand. Ashley Cole is in obvious and painful need of a rest and Bertrand is more than an able option. The decision to exclude him from the Champions League squad in favour of Paulo Ferreira is mightily disheartening.
  2. There is a silver lining in the form of Sturridge and Romeu. The two when fit and available are automatic starters, and no less than deserving for it. Confidence is gained only by getting chances to prove yourself and they certainly have it in plenty.

Rating : 4/10

V Media interactions

More of a Jose than a Carlo, AVB's media handling style is definitively no-nonsense. Saying it as it is and not shying away from standing up for his players has proven popular with fans, though understandably not so with men from the fourth estate.

Rating : 6/10

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Fair analysis Jai, refreshing thread if I'm honest!

In terms of 'youth policy', it's only going to happen with longevity. It's like an article, I posted, said.. No managers have been able to integrate any kids because they haven't had a chance to really try. Each manager ear marks a few kids to break through, like Ancelotti had Borini et al. But the problem is the pressure of the job within the first 2 seasons mean they don't get the chance to do it. On that front I'd be inclined to give a n/a rating.

Everything else, I agree with :)

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