After back to back losses for Chelsea, there is enough blame to spread around the whole team. Still, it is Mourinho the only one that should be held responsible for both results. His choices for starters, more specifically, the position he is using some of his players leaves much to be desired.
First, let us dissect the team employed in the away match vs Everton. On the surface, Chelsea’s starting line up looks pretty logical, every player has played their chosen position before. Eto’o getting his first start upfront, Schurrle, Mata, Hazard behind him. Ramires, Mikel as defensive midfielders and Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole forming the back line in front of Cech. However, the mistake that undid Mourinho’s logical plan was placing Ivanovic as right-back and Luiz at center-back only because they have been used in that particular way sometime in the past. Ivanovic excels as a defender only when playing as a centre-back.
He cemented himself as a defensive pillar for the team last season, through his strength, pace and tactical awareness. Such attributes make him the perfect companion for either one of the other two less mobile centre-backs: Terry and Cahill. So, by playing him at right-back, he is out of position, he is not comfortable enough with the ball to perform that role and also contribute, as expected for a right -back, in the attack. Moreover, in David Luiz’ case, he lacks the tactical discipline to play centre-back.
His constant forays result, most of the time, in lost balls with him stranded upfront and the defense shorthanded. He is best suited for a defensive midfielder position, where he can take advantage of his long range passing, and he is not the last man standing between Cech and ball. So, if Luiz and Ivanovic were playing in the positions I suggest, Luiz would have not been in the middle of nothing and Ivanovic out of position in Everton’s scoring play, and the goal (the loss) could have been avoided.
Now, in the game at home vs Basel, the same sins were committed with Luiz and Ivanovic playing out of position plus Lampard getting the start. Here, Ivanovic had little to do defensively on both Basel goals, still if he was playing center-back instead of Luiz (who was again lost in the middle of nothing) the defense would have worked better. Also, at this point in his career, Lampard’s contributions to the team will be greater if he comes from the bench. His diminished athleticism hinders the team, as evident throughout the match including Basel’s first goal where the cross that ignited the scoring play goes far in front of him because he can’t cover as much ground as he used to. Such predicament regarding his range, also limits the movement of the other midfielders which have to compensate for Lampard’s shortcomings.
Overall, the only decision that can be justified in some manner is the inclusion of Lampard as starting midfielder, since September’s grueling schedule calls for players to be rested at least one match in between. But with Azpilicueta fully fit, there is no excuse for Luiz and Ivanovic to be playing out of position. The Spaniard is a true right-back and had a good season last year under Benítez so keeping him warming the bench up, just to prove who is boss, is costing the team dearly.
In conclusion, Mourinho should stop over thinking himself and trying to do everything his way a little less. Great managers keep the things that work the same way and improve only the troublesome parts. And with no real undoubtedly striker option as of yet, and a plethora of midfielders fighting for a starting spot, he has more to focus than tweaking the defense. We all know by know that it is his team, maybe somebody should tell him that before he goes as far as to give Hilario the starting job just to prove it.
PS: Cech is liable on the three goals conceded on those two matches as well. At the top of his form he would have saved at least the two from Basel. Remember – defense begins on his gloves.