“It’s a long season” as most managers usually say. This phrase is commonly used especially after witnessing a painful defeat from a not so fancied side. This comment is not only made to calm down the fans, but also to revive the morale of players as the season wears on. Sometimes it does the trick with fans and players regaining the confidence for silverware, but most times it does not!
Jose Mourinho, in his second spell, has failed to name the same set of players in two consecutive matches so far in the season. He has persistently changed personnel to be employed in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Changes have come from the back four, through the middle 2, to the 3 forwards down to the lone striker. This clearly shows how ‘not so special’ the ‘Special One’ has become with his team selection! To a large extent names like Cech, Terry, Ivanovic, Ramires, Oscar and Hazard are the only ones that are expected to be on the team sheet on a typical match day. These players more often are starters, barring any injuries, on a match day. The other positions to be filled are always subject to speculation by pundits and fans.
One important thing Jose has pointed out is the fact that players are selected on merit which most at times tends to be questioned, especially when certain players are included or not included for a match. One area most fans raise are concerned about is the laterals-left back and right back positions. Ivanovic has virtually played the right back position unchallenged and has been enjoying himself there. Ashley Cole, until recently, was the regular left back but Azpilicueta has overdone him there. Cole seems not to be done yet but Azpilicueta appears to be getting started! Chelsea has had quite a number of decent right full backs over the past years- Melchiot, Geremi, Ferreira and Belleti. Bosingwa was good in his first season but the rest is history. The players in the current squad who have been identified by Jose for that role are Ivanovic and Azpilicueta. Ivanovic is the kind of defender that most wingers would hate to face; he is strong and makes very tough tackles. He is a bully and provides a strong protection to the team when opponents are attacking. He is strong in the air and can score too! That notwithstanding, he has really failed to produce the kind of spark that is expected from a modern day right full back- darting runs; playing quick one-two’s, cutting in when need be and most importantly making accurate, well meaning crosses to the ‘18’. These crosses are so well calculated that they practically land on the heads or legs of their team mates right there in the ‘18’! Phillip Lahm, Dani Alves, Lukasz Piszczek, Bacary Sagna, Rafael and our very own Azpilicueta fit those attributes. The latter of these right backs has been employed as left back in recent times at Chelsea. He has adapted to that role quite well but his forward runs have been reduced considerably. His cut ins seem to have evaporated and he barely makes a cross from that side.
In our last game for the Champion league group stage against Steaua Bucharest, Ivanovic had a lot of the ball as the team was in total control of the game. However, there was never a good cross that came from his end throughout the game. The crosses that were attempted were either into the stands, too high to reach by a team mate or straight into the opponent! Evidently, Dave would have done a lot better in those circumstances.
Much as Jose has reiterated his desire to start only players who are playing well, the output of certain players in certain positions should also be looked at objectively. My preference for Azpilicueta at right back is no hidden secret and benefits the team will enjoy when he plays there will be much more than what we’re seeing now.