Chelsea have been ranked fourth in UEFA ranking. Yet, there has been inconsistency in the Champions League after the successful 11-12 season. Chelsea have been unable to get past the group stage in 12-13, lost to Atletico in the Semi-Finals in 13-14 and have been knocked out in the Round of 16 this season. The squad is capable of at least making the semi finals position every season, and in fact this season was the season Mourinho was expected to deliver a winning punch in the UCL as well. However, the team wasn’t up to it. Here are a couple of measures Chelsea can take to deliver a winning punch in Europe.
Chelsea must develop season-long consistency in Central Midfield.
It has been quite a trend, that Cesc Fabregas has been subdued off late in his defensive midfield role as well as Matic being pretty lousy. Subsequently, Oscar has also lost focus and the midfield is unable to provide the dynamism that Champions League matches require. Though, it must be said that Chelsea had one of the most consistent central midfields in Europe in the first half of the season, but the second half has seen a consistent slump in at least Fabregas and Oscar’s form.
It is pretty obvious that a central midfield player is likely to enter the scene next season. It is much expected of Chelsea to either break the bank for French sensation Paul Pogba, or introduce their own, young and talented Ruben Loftus-Cheek as Mourinho has promised to bring him to the first team in the next season. Either way, a fresh addition to central midfield would bolster Chelsea’s tactics of using a powerful midfield throughout the season.
Chelsea have not been able to find the depth in quality as much as they have in quantity. Despite Ramires and Mikel being good enough to start games for top four teams in the Premier League, they lack the sheer technical ability to dominate games and provide vision in the biggest games of the season. Chelsea’s usual approach to the big games has been to shut out the opposition using Matic’s and Ramires’/Mikel’s physicality in midfield and counter attack using Fabregas’ passing and the wingers’ pace on the break, especially in the away games. But clearly, the tactic seems to be failing on the European stage lately, and reinforcing on dynamism and skill in midfield would help Chelsea.
Address the issue of lack of pace at the back.
While playing an offensive brand of football, you want your defenders to press more aggressively and have the legs to race back while defending counter attacks. In the partnership of John Terry and Gary Cahill, Cahill is expected to be the one who can do the running when necessary, but as time has gone by, he seems to have slowed down a yard from his usual speed, and is more comfortable as a deep block defender.
With Branislav Ivanovic pressing high up and attacking for most parts of the game, Cahill is totally exposed on the right side of central defense and has had to work harder than ever, and has been severely tested this season. Chelsea have tried to make the best out of this system by deploying Willian as a Right Midfielder who runs up and down to help both offense and defense. While it has provided some pace and respite to Chelsea’s Right side of defense, the quality of Chelsea’s offensive play on the right has lacked the flair that the other wing boasts of.
Now sensibly, we cannot have two Eden Hazard’s in a team without breaking FFP rules, and Chelsea did a pretty wise move in moving on Andre Schurrle and procuring the services of a talented wide man in Cuadrado, someone who is an expert in the Right Midfield role and is expected to be more creative. But this would only add more pressure on Cahill who’d be exposed even further as despite Cuadrado being pretty defensively active, he is not an engine material like Willian. Kurt Zouma has been the one who has stepped for the role, and has been a good performer, despite being a bit naïve due to lack of experience.
Chelsea would need to specifically formulate a new central defensive partnership next season which has more agility and movement, and focuses on defending on the front foot- winning the ball and creating attacks from the back. Ivanovic has been excellent as a Right Back as a marauding target man, but if it means he has to be switched to central defense permanently in order to have more mobility and aggression, then it would be a positive move.
John Terry apparently looks at his best these days, but next season would be another test for the ageing Chelsea skipper who’s weakness has been lack of speed and agility. He is likely to make the starting line-up in the first half of the coming season, but it remains to be seen who would be his partner or his replacement as it looks certain that Chelsea are likely to invest/innovate in defense and midfield.