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Sweet Mis-position?


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The Chelsea of 2013/14 are as consistent as they were the first time José Mourinho was at the helm - this time round, however, consistent in terms of glorious inconsistency.

You never quite know which Chelsea side is going to turn up - the one capable of humbling the likes of West Ham, Arsenal and Schalke on their own turf, or the side that relied on a dubious refereeing decision to rescue a point off of West Bromwich Albion, the side that just about hobbled over the finish line against a lacklustre Sunderland, or, indeed, the one humiliated at the Britannia Stadium by Stoke on Saturday.

At times, the Blues are capable of sparkling - whilst Sunderland very nearly nicked a point last week, as they were edged out by the odd goal in seven, some of Chelsea's attacking quality was, quite simply, frightening - but recent inconsistency has highlighted that the Blues perhaps lack the necessary quality in key areas of the pitch to put up a sustained title charge.

José Mourinho changes his team as frequently as most people change their underwear - wholesale changes or otherwise - and the consequence of this means that his side can quite often be imbalanced from the word go. For whatever reason, (chiefly the fact that certain needs simply were not addressed in the summer transfer window,) Mourinho has been forced to field a number of players in impromptu positions - this case of square-pegs-in-round-holes is something in desperate need of changing.

The Special One's incessant chopping and changing points to the idea that he has absolutely no idea what his best eleven is. I will not presume to coach Mourinho on the notion of what is his best team - instead, this (somewhat lengthier than planned - my apologies!) article hopes to shed some light as to what (perhaps) would result in greater success on the pitch, in terms of both results and performances, in the solitary hope of gaining some closure on what would be a prudent investment (or two) come the January transfer window.

Mark Schwarzer

The very shrewd acquisition of Australian international keeper Mark Schwarzer back in June was a signing to delight many Blues fans. Haphazard-goalkeeping extraordinaire Ross Turnbull was farmed out to Doncaster Rovers, and fellow fumbler Henrique Hilario (despite signing a new contract in the summer, for some unknown reason) seems to have been consigned the the vast void of footballing anonymity.

Schwarzer is Premier League goalkeeping royalty - only David James (169) has kept more clean sheets in the competition than the former Fulham man (148; Petr Cech is third, with 146 and counting). Not since Carlo Cudicini left in early 2009 has there been such a calibre of back-up goalkeeper on the books at Stamford Bridge, and with Cech going through something of a bad patch (the Czech is the latest casualty of a goalkeeping-brainfart endemic, that has already cost Joe Hart his place in the Manchester City team, whilst Hugo Lloris' position as Tottenham's number 1 is under increasing pressure) it may well be worth giving the Australian stopper the chance he deserves.

Two clean sheets in as many games in the League Cup demonstrates his pedigree, and the idea of dropping Cech - though controversial - can be of huge benefit to the Czech international. It would remind him that his position is certainly not infallible, especially with the impending return of Thibaut Courtois, a man who, arguably, is every bit as talented as Cech himself was when he arrived in 2004. Schwarzer is vastly experienced and there is no longer the fear of either Turnbull or Hilario coming in and cocking up - perhaps it would do Cech well to spend a few games on the bench considering his form, his position - and his Chelsea future?

Branislav Ivanovic

BranislavIvanovicjzPq6b96H2Om.jpg&w=200&Choosing between David Luiz or Gary Cahill is a tough, tough choice for José Mourinho - though Luiz's prolonged absence through Injury has certainly helped make the selection a little easier. It's like deciding between having to walk on a bed of nails or have your teeth pulled out with applying any anaesthetic first - whilst both men will give you absolutely everything, sadly, their everything isn't quite Chelsea standard - I point here to William Gallas, Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf, and, the best of the lot, Riccy Carvalho.

Thankfully, this situation is resolved more simplistically than you might think - just put Branislav Ivanovic in there! It is criminal that the man who is, perhaps even clearly, our best centre-back is forced to operate in the right-back berth. Try as he might, Ivanovic is no Dani Alves nor Philipp Lahm - he can whip in the occasional odd good cross and he's as stoic as you could wish a defender to be, but right-back is certainly not the position where you will get the best out of the Serb. His positional awareness isn't the best - as Mohamed Salah's winner for Basel last month demonstrates - and his sheer refusal to close down wingers, instead granting them time and space to cross - is simply infuriating.

But when you look at those drawbacks, you can see a clear reason for his deficiency at right-back - he is a ready-made central defender. Whilst much of his Chelsea career has been played on the flank, his best games for the club have been when he has been sat alongside John Terry at the heart of the Blues' defence. With Luiz capable of calamity and Cahill, try as he might, just simply out of his depth playing at Champions League level, wouldn't it just be common sense to put the Serbian destroyer in alongside the Chelsea skipper?

Cesar Azpilicueta

The man Chelsea fans call “Dave” is enjoying something of a renaissance under José Mourinho – left out at the start of the season, he has made the left-back slot his own in the absence of Ashley Cole; another who has been bang out of form this season.

Azpilicueta is an energetic full-back and he has done justice to the role playing out on the left – in fact, he has shown considerable dexterity by demonstrating he is certainly more than capable of operating on either side of the defence. What is refreshing, also, is the fact he just wants to play for the club, regardless of the position.

So whilst "Dave" has done moreorless nothing wrong in his cameo spell at left-back (the only qualm being the fact he is sometimes a little too narrow, and thus a little too over-reliant on his pace to close down the opposition, who are able to enjoy a lot of time and space in the left-back zone), moving him to his more natural right-back berth would allow Mourinho to utilise Branislav Ivanovic more effectively.

As to who would replace Azpilicueta is up for debate. Ashley Cole has looked a shadow of his former self and Ryan Bertrand has barely kicked a ball in Chelsea blue this term, but if reuniting Terry and Ivanovic in the centre results in greater defensive rigidity - and then moving Azpilicueta over to the other side, and bringing Cole or Bertrand back into the fold - would be a pertinent change of personnel by Mourinho.

Frank Lampard

A brief mention should be made of Frank Lampard, also. Lampard has played far more games than a lot of people would have reckoned at the start of the season, and some of his performances have been terribly poor - making painful viewing for a lot of Chelsea fans.

However, the fact he is now far and away the Blues' top goalscorer with a mammoth 208 strikes from midfield means he remains Blues royalty regardless of his performances - yet the truth is, for a 35 year old, Lamps isn't doing too badly at all. The failure to secure a central midfielder in the summer (Daniele de Rossi and Xabi Alonso were both touted to move to Stamford Bridge, but nothing materialised), coupled with the long-term loss of promising starlet Marco van Ginkel, meant that the Blues were left with just Lampard, Ramires, John Mikel Obi and Michael Essien (who can't even take part in UEFA competition because of his omission from the squad) as cover for the midfield pivot.

But with Mourinho switching between the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-2-1 variations in midfield, it has often meant that, in the latter set-up, three of those four players have had to feature, and regardless of which formation is chosen, Lampard and Ramires (as clear Mourinho favourites) start every match, virtually. That has meant that, in Lampard's case, he has been unable to demonstrate anything close to his consistent best - Frank is, quite simply, knackered! At 35, it is impossible to perform at previous levels on an infrequent basis, let alone when playing twice a week. The difficulty of doing so has even taken its toll on Ramires - the proverbial Duracell Bunny of the Premier League, who has at times been horrid this season.

Whilst Lampard is at his best playing in the 4-3-2-1 as the more advanced midfielder, rather than playing as one of the two holding players in the 4-2-3-1 pivot, it is this second formation that best utilises the attacking talents of the Blues' flair players, who will be discussed later. So, then, if Mourinho is going to persist with playing with two holding players, reinforcements have to come in this January - or, at the very worst, we're going to have to see more of David Luiz in the position. Lampard and company just simply haven't get the legs to cope; they're still feeling the effects of the 69-game campaign they endured last term, it seems.

Andre Schurrle

Andre-Sch-rrle-008.jpgAs far as I am concerned, Andre Schurrle is the only man who can come out of Saturday's mauling at the Britannia and say, hand on heart, that he did his absolute best. His two goals were absolutely fantastic - one a clinical, composed finish; the other an absolute howitzer of a shot that Asmir Begovic could only admire as it flew past him.

Schurrle has all the attributes to play as the Blues' lone striker, however - Demba Ba, Samuel Eto'o and even Fernando Torres (despite a number of wonderful performances from the latter in particular) have all failed in their quest for individual consistency. Schurrle, on the other hand, has shown he has the necessary pace, guile, and power to excel as a lone striker against lower Premier League opposition; indeed, he looked a little lost at Old Trafford in this particular experiment back in September. Yet against the Stokes and the Crystal Palaces of the league, this may well be a viable option - at least until Roman Abramovich dips into his pockets and inevitably brings in the likes of Falcao, Lewandowski, or Jackson Martinez sooner rather than later.

Juan Mata

My final point is not so much a tactical observation, but moreso a simple suggestion - Juan Mata has to play. The man crowned the Blues' player of the season in both 2012 and 2013 is simply too great a talent to waste on the bench. The hailed "Holy Trinity" of Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard - otherwise known as "Mazacar" - is the subject of much debate, with many Blues fans feeling the three operating together results in Chelsea playing some of the most beautiful football in the league; whilst others complain that their inclusion means that there is a greater onus on the defensive responsibility of the likes of Lampard, Ramires and company in the midfield pivot (who, as we have already seen, are already severely struggling).

But whilst Willian has that unknown "X-Factor", coupled with the impressive work-rate that Mourinho clearly appreciates, Mata possesses a much underrated eye for a killer pass - his ability to unpick defences and even smack home a goal or twenty over the course of the season is something the Blues have missed this season. Chelsea generally play better, more attractive football with Juan Mata in the team - and slowly but surely, I think, José is starting to realise that.

Transfer targets, and a suggested starting XI

Whilst I can infer and suggest, let us be clear in this obvious statement - José Mourinho is going to take absolutely no notice of the 90 minutes' worth of effort it has taken to bash out this article, let alone read it! But the entire point of this exercise is to demonstrate that, whilst this current Chelsea side has all the indicators that it can become a genuine European power once again under the Special One, more work must be done in the transfer market.

The Blues do not need to go out and spend millions on a centre-back - there already is a world-class option in Ivanovic that seems to have been totally overlooked. Meanwhile, whilst Azpilicueta has performed fantastically well on the left, his real position is at right-back, and playing him there will not only help him feel more comfortable, but enable Mourinho to play Ivanovic is his own preferred role. It is in the left-back position, then, where defensive reinforcements must be targeted. Mourinho has waved away the suggestion of a loan move for Fabio Coentrao, but that would be an effective short-term solution that could then allow a summer move for the likes of Southampton's highly-talented youngster - and Chelsea fan - Luke Shaw.

This article has also inferred the need for a genuine striker at the club - but that goes without saying. Ba, Eto'o and Torres simply do not "cut the mustard". Meanwhile, as already stated, a central midfielder in the box-to-box mould of de Rossi, Nemanja Matic, Axel Witsel, even Morgan Schneiderlin, wouldn't go amiss - Lampard, and even the seemingly tireless Ramires, simply cannot play (and play well) in every match!

That leaves the following suggested starting XI for Mourinho - one that plays players in positions where they can be far more effective - indeed, countering the (bitter)sweet mis-positioning of many of the Blues' star performers, and perhaps even firing the side towards Premier League glory come May:


Azpilicueta - Ivanovic - Terry - Cole/Coentrao(?)

Ramires - Lampard/Matic(?)

Hazard - Oscar - Mata


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