‘Are you your own worst enemy?’
This is the question that is pursed on the lips of quite a few ardent supporters of three of the top four clubs in England. Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United run the risk of not only being defeated by their opponents on a weekly basis, but the men at the helm. While the players themselves must shoulder the blame for poor results, the managers must allow them to perform.
For José Mourinho and Chelsea, it is the apparent unwillingness to change and adapt. It is the unwillingness to play as adventurously as the talent level in the squad dictates. Chelsea has made a stuttering start to their title defense; and ironically it is the defense that is causing the majority of headaches at present. Known for being defensive stalwarts and standard bearers ever since Mourinho’s first stint in charge between 2004 and 2007, Chelsea have always been classed as a defensive, if not boring club to watch. This model has largely been successful up to now. So what is different?
Chelsea now find themselves with a decidedly aging backline. Between John Terry, Gary Cahill, César Azpilicueta, and Branislav Ivanović, they now sport a back four with an average age of 30. This in itself is not really cause for panic except for the fact that their captain and vice-captain are fast becoming increasingly error prone liabilities largely due to their speed, or lack thereof. Ivanović has looked laboured and has been duly exposed, and Mourinho must act quickly to use the other right back that he has as an actual right back. He cannot retain loyalty at the expense of the team. To his credit he has stated that loyalty will not be an excuse for much longer. Sport is a results business and the past really doesn’t matter as it is thought to.
What has he done for Chelsea lately? That’s the only relevant question in the debate as to whether he should be moved out. Seven goals conceded, many from the right side of defense or in behind Terry is too much and the manner of the goals sound a warning for the rest of the season. Azpilicueta brings the stability that Chelsea needs to the left side. Imagine what he could do in his preferred position. If it means to sacrifice attacking nous for now so be it. Baba Rahman as the left back in the event of such a reshuffle would mean Chelsea getting an all action defender who does not like being beaten one on one. If positioning and conditioning is Ivanović’s weakness, it is Baba’s strength. Although young this move makes sense. It is for José to open his eyes if he wants to turn it around.
Chelsea is built to concede one less, not score one more. Going forward, José must use a signing as Pedro to slowly alter his goal expectations, not so much style. However, he has support for Eden Hazard on the opposite flank which is another goal and assists threat. This could not come at a better time as Hazard has become a marked man.
Theo Walcott has for years tried to peddle himself as a number 9 and it seems that his manager has finally given in and bought the water labelled as wine. If it isn’t already painfully obvious, it must be spelled out. Walcott is far too limited technically to lead the line for a technical Arsenal. He brings little to nothing from a passing perspective and his hold-up play is non-existent. What he is very, very good at is getting in behind the lines running from the right flank and using his improved finishing to good effect. He is not a part of the play; he finishes the play. Wenger must realise this and the longer he goes about misusing him and benching Giroud then the more Arsenal will be handicapped. When a non-poacher can consistently complete under 20 passes in a game at under 85% accuracy and still be considered as a viable option up front then we must question the thinking behind it. At this point the battle for places should be between Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Walcott. If he wanted an alternative or even an upgrade on Giroud, buy one. That’s what the transfer market is for.
Arsenal has 11-15 very good players to call upon but they must be given the tools to perform. One such is to play where they are most effective. Why Santi Cazorla started the season in a more advanced position after impressing so much as a box to box creative force is beyond comprehension. That sort of tinkering is uncalled for. There is nothing wrong with keeping it simple. In football points are not gained for the complexity of your plans but for the excess of goals you score more than your opponent. Keep it simple, Wenger.
Much has been spoken about Louis Van Gaal over-complicating things and the talk has quite some merit. Playing players out of position, changing the culture of Manchester United to what he likes, relegating players to the reserves, and selling just about every forward not named Wayne are just a few. True, his job is difficult but the answer to a difficult problem is not to throw every bit of knowledge you possess at it. It is only to use relevant knowledge. For example, you know that United need goals. When Rooney plays alone up front he is isolated and whilst he is not at his best he will squander a few. The answer is to bolster the attack or use existing resources to add creativity. One such move is Ander Herrera. Another is buying another striker, whether an established one that could allow Rooney to play just off him or to buy one who could be a worthy backup. Another problem, lots of possession but no incisiveness or killer instinct. Play whoever has the killer instinct. It’s not rocket science and he knows it.
United need goals and the rest of the transfer window must be dedicated to it. Whether Anthony Martial at 19 years old is that answer after you have gotten rid of Javier Hernandez, and now use Fellaini up front at times, is another question.
The league is poised to be as competitive as it’s been in years at the top. Even as there is a clear favourite, the rest of the odds for the top four placings are uncertain. The managers of these clubs have to resist parading their genius and keep it simple and smart to get the best of their squads. If casual fans can make these suggestions, it’s fairly certain that they know what needs to be done. It’s whether these three managers can sideline their egos just enough.