For the second consecutive game, Chelsea lost points due to a disjoint performance by an ill-equipped defence. That that would be the opening line about a Chelsea performance even in the new season reveals how little has changed in that department for the team; and how much the stagnation threatens to repeat the 2015/16 season.
Unlike their visit to Swansea, where Chelsea clearly were the better side and should have won despite the two comical goals against them, the game against Liverpool was more a tale of two halves. Chelsea simply did not turn up in the first half. Though it dominated possession in the second half, it just could not make the final kill. That would, in all fairness, mean that Liverpool were the better team in the first leg of the meeting between the two giants.
And yet, Liverpool did not win just because they were better; they also won it because Chelsea continue to be so poor in defence and organisation that they allow every ‘better’ to look ‘much better than actual’.
Unfortunately, that truth is a consequence of the bigger truth: Chelsea have been miserly in the transfer market and suffer from a dangerous fixation with the backline that looks eminently unreliable – after having served the club superlatively for the most part of the last decade.
While it might sound harsh to hold the first line of argument against Roman Abramovich, especially after the $1bn that he has spent on the club in the last decade, the truth is that Chelsea did indeed baulk at the transfer market prices for the second consecutive year – in comparison to, say, a Manchester United that was not afraid to break the bank for a single midfield player. So, in a way, it is indeed about buying new players too.
But the bigger reason, it seems, is the longstanding love relationship with the trio of John Terry, Gary Cahill, and most importantly, Branislav Ivanovic.
All three of them seem to be past their best years – at least in the Chelsea colours. Ivanovic was so off the pace and poor in the 2015/16 season that the social media was full of ridicule heaped upon him by fans, including Chelsea supporters. He no longer seems to be able to make telling crosses, nor can he make his long throws count anymore. On the wrong side of 30, he is not the quickest on the field too. Never renowned for technical craftsmanship, it is really surprising how he manages to hold his place so regularly in a team that is desperate for defensive robustness.
Ivanovic’s extended run probably owes to the fact that he generally does not catch the eye for what he does. That misfortune seems to prefer Cahill recently. Even though the referee missed a trick and did not call the foul on Cahill in the match against Swansea that cost Chelsea their second goal, the fact remains that he was less than assured in the game. Repeating his performance, his meek clearance push outside the box resulted in Jordan Henderson getting acres of space just outside the box, and scoring a sumptuous goal. Cahill too, like Ivanovic and some others in the Chelsea team, does not have the speed to handle the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling et al.
John Terry is the only one amongst the three that could still be in the team – purely for his organisational skills. He is the ‘voice’ in the box. He is naturally wired to continuously have a look over his shoulder to get the ‘larger picture’, and direct his troops accordingly. It seems improbable that in Terry’s presence Chelsea would have left four Liverpool players open for a cross. Simply unthinkable.
But that is not to say that he is NOW not indispensable. If Chelsea had made the correct buys in the transfer market, Terry might not have started all the games. At his age, it would not have been the most insulting thing to happen either.
Yes, Chelsea and Conte need to now transfer faith. Maybe David Azpilicueta on the right, David Luiz in the centre, and Marcos Alonso on the left is not such a bad idea to start the next game with.