Chelsea’s assistant coach Rui Faria became the personification of every Blues fan’s raging emotions when he completely lost it right after Sunderland’s winning penalty at Stamford Bridge this afternoon.
Apoplectic isn’t the word; the Portuguese went from irate to full-blown nuclear in a matter of seconds, with Jose Mourinho having to drag his compatriot away from referee Mike Dean, as Chelsea’s title aspirations disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The Blues had led early on thanks to a tidy finish from Samuel Eto’o, but after the in-form Connor Wickham had restored parity only minutes later, Chelsea were faced with a horribly familiar scenario, that of having to break down a ten-man wall of passion and heart, or face humiliation and abject misery.
They failed the test, and Chelsea must now look on in dismay at the incorrigible Liverpool, who are now odds on to win their first Premier League title since 1990, and they have on-loan striker Fabio Borini to thank, with the Italian dispatching the winning penalty at Stamford Bridge, simultaneously ending Mourinho’s sensational 77-game unbeaten run in West London.
Not the best of days for Chelsea then.
Here are my three key observations from the match, with Chelsea found desperately wanting against the hard-working Black Cats:
1. Chelsea’s central midfield severely lacks subtlety, guile, and a passing range.
While Nemanja Matic and Ramires are excellent defensive-minded operators for club and country, they DO NOT possess the necessary technique and passing ability to justify their pairing.
The Brazilian Ramires is like a wasp in the centre of the park, tirelessly battling and fighting for possession, before striding purposefully forward to start attacks. He is rightly praised for this side to his game, but with the Blues struggling to break through a solid wall of defenders, there is no chance of a delicate, weighted through-ball or lofted pass from the 27-year-old, and the same goes for his partner on the day, Matic.
The former Benfica man is a superb destroyer, and was just what Chelsea needed when he signed in January, but once again, his passing range cannot be considered good enough to be placed alongside a player of Ramires’ qualities.
The Blues desperately need an Andrea Pirlo, a Xabi Alonso, a Bastian Schweinsteiger; someone to play alongside a more defensive minded partner, and pick passes for the dynamic attacking four ahead of him. Until this happens, Chelsea will continue to struggle against the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa; attempting small, obvious passes around the box, with no hint of a plan b.
2. Oscar’s fall from grace is a genuine worry for the Blues
The Brazilian wonder dazzled the Premier League last season, forging a terrific partnership with Eden Hazard and the now departed Juan Mata; but the youngster seems to have lost the magic, and today was a telling example of Oscar’s ineffectiveness for his side at present.
While none can criticise his work rate and commitment, the attacking midfielder, who is considered to be just as crucial to the Brazil national team as superstar Neymar, has not been able to properly effect proceedings for a good few months now, and was hauled off before the hour mark by a concerned Mourinho in today’s loss.
While every player can have off-days, it would not be too far away form the truth if you were to say that Oscar has had an off-season; not something that bodes well for a club challenging on so many fronts.
Eden Hazard has been something of a revelation for Chelsea this season, really stepping up the plate, and I feel Oscar needs a similar renaissance, and sooner rather than later.
3. Sunderland aerial prowess is a lesson to us all, but ‘Chelsea formula’ clear as day
With the clock ticking down, Chelsea threw forward all attacking options, with Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Andre Schurrle joined in the box by both Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry, while Nemanja Matic also began floating around the area.
Despite the formidable size and presence of Chelsea attackers, Sunderland won a stunning amount of headers, effectively clearing their lines time and again, consistently beating away desperate punts forward. Clear chances were at an absolute premium for Chelsea, and Gus Poyet’s men were undeniably ruthless with their defending.
But for all their brilliance at the back, it seems that there is a clear formula to beat the Blues, as Crystal Palace and Aston Villa have shown over the last few months.
Remember Carlo Ancelotti’s ‘difficult moment’? While Mourinho’s men are not in such dire straights yet, it is evident that there is currently no answer to the Champions League semi-finalists inadequacy against lesser opposition.
And guess who started Ancelotti’s job-defining period of helplessness at the Bridge back in 2010? Never a good thing when the Black Cats cross your path…
What do you think? Agree with my observations? Let me know in the comments below…