Opinion: The finger of blame must be pointed at Chelsea players and the board

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Updated: September 27, 2016

Over the weekend, Chelsea suffered a second consecutive Premier League defeat, this time to local rivals Arsenal. In the aftermath of the loss, Chelsea fans have been wondering who or what to blame for the dismal team performances as many fear a repeat of the disastrous events which plagued the previous season. The following is my opinion on what needs to change and who deserves the ire of the Blues faithful.

 

The Players

Gary Cahill: Is Gary Cahill the worst centre back Chelsea have had at the club in the modern era? I am struggling to think of another defender who has regularly been so poor. It is tough to criticize any player that played in Munich, unless that player is Jose Bosingwa. But in all seriousness, I am thankful for what Cahill has contributed to Chelsea. He has been an okay player for us. I like him – he is passionate and he cares. But I would be no different from any Liverpool fan if I defended his ability purely based on what he has previously achieved with the club. He is like our Jamie Carragher. The facts are Cahill is an abysmal defender for a club like Chelsea, and he has been for some time. What is Cahill good at? Defending his own six yard box. And that is it. Does he make interceptions or break up play before attacks have begun? No. Does he have the pace or awareness to cover for any other defensive errors? No. Is he agile enough to defend one-on-one with tricky strikers? No. Does he have the ability to competently play out from the back and turn defence in to attack? No.

When we signed Cahill, he should have only ever been a short-term solution. How he has been given a long term contract well in to his thirties is unfathomable. At present, he is not of the calibre of player required at Chelsea. The only way I could see that changing would be in a 5-at-the-back system where Cahill has sufficient cover to get away with being a good ‘box-defender’.

He is so far off a player like Laurent Koscielny, who has been fantastic for a number of years now. Koscielny is fast, strong and reads the game well. Everything Cahill is not. We need defenders who can defend by being on the front foot, preventing counter attacks, not just good at scrambling the ball clear in their own box.

Eden Hazard: Eden Hazard is not as good as Alexis Sanchez. To some (especially Arsenal fans) this may already be a view they are already comfortable with. But to many others, like myself, we have been fooled for thinking Hazard’s potential to be a world great makes him a world great. He is so far off being at that level it is ridiculous. Alexis Sanchez is a far more complete player than Hazard, and in my eyes a much better player. Hazard is a one-trick pony. The ability to drop his shoulder and turn defenders inside out is a very effective trick at times. But when thwarted he is left looking lethargic and out of ideas. At the end of the day, to be considered one of the world’s best attackers you will be judged on the number of goals you score – not the number of fouls you win. Let me make this clear, though, I think Hazard still has the potential to be a better player than Sanchez and breach in to the Bale, Neymar and Muller realms of ability but he is 25 years-old and needs to do that fast. However, I have said it before, I think Hazard is wasted on the left and to breach those realms he needs to improve his all round game. He need to improve through the centre, like the false number nine role Sanchez occupies, and he needs to increase (if possible) his instinct for goals. If he was more central he would be able to drift in to space, make quick one-twos with Costa and not be able to drift in and out of the game like he constantly does on the left. Gary Neville summed it up perfectly on Monday Night Football a few weeks ago, Hazard needs to be more ruthless and constantly attacking his full back. If you aren’t sure about my view Sanchez is better than Hazard then look at how many goals (47) and in how many games (100) the Chilean has scored at Arsenal and compare that to Hazard’s goal record (57 in 213) at Chelsea. Don’t forget there are a lot of Hazard penalties in that record too.

Willian: This is another winger that needs to score more goals from open play. His return of 20 goals in 145 is horrendous. He has a lot of ability and a great free kick on him, but what does he do when he has the ball in open play? Most often he feints to cross, doesn’t and passes it back to Ivanovic or inside to Oscar/Fabregas. He is the most conservative winger for someone with such ostentatious quality. His turn of pace and quality of the final product ought to be frightening. He should be gliding past players, creating and scoring far more goals. But for some reason he doesn’t.

I could rant on about every single player (especially Matic and Ivanovic) that played Saturday but I felt these three in particular have been underperforming and operating under the radar for too long, and it was about time someone highlighted their inabilities.

 

The Board

The sooner the board start making amends the better. If Chelsea are not careful we could go the way Liverpool have gone for the previous six years. We are not far from being exiled from the top four with Champions League football more a dream than an expectation. That is the way it is going.

Even from 12 months ago it is hard to fathom where it has all gone wrong for Chelsea. Sometimes I wonder what tactical genius Eva Carneiro possessed for the results to turn so drastically since following departure? But then I realize the catalogue of errors at the boardroom level.

Make no mistake, the Arsenal team that obliterated us on Saturday night was not cheap. They included a £32 million midfielder in Granit Xhaka on the bench. But mixed with their expensive marquee signings they had youth graduates like Bellerin, Iwobi and Coquelin. Why haven’t Chelsea got a team of high calibre players mixed with graduates and players we signed young and developed? Courtois is the only one who was a teenager when we signed him who played on Saturday, and he spent his time developing at Atletico Madrid.

We seemed to have a pretty formidable system in place; sign players young, loan them out and bring them back when they are ready. But instead of bringing them back we have tended to sell them and then try to buy them back as an after thought (i.e. Matic). Nobody can tell me Chelsea would not be better off if they still owned Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Why would we not include buy back options for both of these players? De Bruyne’s value extrapolated from £18 million to £55 million in 18 months and now he would stroll into our starting eleven. How has the board gotten that so horribly wrong?

It is senseless to sell these players, when they are so young, without including a buy back clause. We did the hard bit in scouting and securing their signature and then gave them away so easily with little resistance. If reports are to be believed we may have learned from our mistakes and included a buy back clause for Thorgan Hazard, but whether he is the right person to buy back or if that comes to fruition remains to be seen. There are also prospects like Christensen and Baker who have been earmarked as potential stars. But the frustration is we have long had ‘potential stars’ at the club (or loaned out). The youth academy has been unstoppable in years gone by and it is a myth as to why Loftus-Cheek is the only man who has had a sniff of first team football at the club.

Ryan Bertrand is another high on the list of illogical transfer decisions made at the club. When he left for Southampton on transfer deadline day in January 2015 on a permanent deal, he had been finally coming of age and thriving in a role as a first team player. And he was an experienced player at 25 years old. After Ashley Cole left and Azpillicueta continued to impress at left back we signed Filipe Luis as a left back. Despite how well he has done at Atletico either side of his move he didn’t work out at Chelsea and Azpillicueta remained at left back. But it was always a matter of time for us to need Azpillicueta at right back. So why didn’t we just keep Bertrand instead of then signing Baba Rahman and now Marcos Alonso? We had years to prepare for Cole’s departure, Bertrand seemed like the candidate to fill the void but was never given the chance. Home grown, cheap, experienced and quality. Something is seriously wrong there.

Now the same issues are appearing with John Terry. And this is top of the list of most illogical almost transfer decisions – why did Terry almost leave last year? It is laughable. Despite considering getting rid of him for the past three years, we have not found a good enough player to play centre back after Terry does leave. Why? Zouma was a good buy, but he is young and developing. As is Christensen who is likely to come back as a first team player next year. John Stones? Why didn’t we just push the boat out for him and get the deal done. We did not back Mourinho well enough last summer. You have to buy big and improve after winning the league. That has always been the case for the last ten years. We had the money there, why didn’t we spend it? He was the exact player we needed and still need now.

We left bringing in defensive cover till the final day of the transfer window. Whether you like it or not, Luiz and Alonso were panic buys. We were more unorganised than Arsenal when it came to transfers this summer. Surely that alone is enough for the board to begin to buck their ideas up.

For everything the board have done right (investing in youth, training and young prospects) they have equally done wrong. It is time they stuck to their guns and trusted in their youth policy. Once that is in place there needs to be a suitable balance between telling the manager to use his resources and the plethora of young players at the club and the need to spend money on marquee players.

Finally, let me add this. Antonio Conte is in no way at fault for the defeat at Arsenal. It is clear he wants to use a system with 5 at the back. But how can he do so when he doesn’t have a left footed defender at the club until September? You can’t train for a system on the assumption two men will be joining six weeks after your first training session.

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