With a full squad and home-team status on their side, Premier League title-holders Chelsea seemed to have the perfect stage in which to make a booming start to the season – yet, they fell short of expectations.
On Saturday, ‘The Blues’ were held to a 2-2 draw by Swansea, in a game in which, for long periods, they looked like the worst of the two sides.
Against their fast-running rivals, Chelsea looked completely out of shape – far from the football they showed during their peak last season. Their preseason matches revealed a number of flaws in their build-up and defensive play, and Swansea’s effective football exposed these completely.
One of Chelsea’s shortcomings lies in what seems to be a lack of creativity. Now, that might seem ironic for a team where Willian, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas are all starters; yet, as Jose Mourinho’s team seeks to play a narrower midfield, the side’s ingenious powerhouses seem to be having trouble jelling.
Though Chelsea managed to score twice during the game against the Swans, they didn’t really generate many chances in the opposition’s area. As a matter of fact, both of their goals were rather… weird – and probably even unintentional. The first came from a set-piece cross slightly deflected by Gary Cahill, and the second, from a Willian pass that Swansea center-back Federico Fernández accidentally put into his own net.
However, the most evident of Chelsea’s limitations was – believe it or not – in their defensive weakness. As strange as that might be for a team managed by Jose Mourinho, ‘The Blues’ looked completely clueless when off the ball; uncoordinated and vulnerable against Swansea’s pacey runners.
On the Welsh team’s left flank, Ecuadorian international Jefferson Montero stole the show. Arguably the best player on the pitch, Montero didn’t manage to score a goal, but his trickery and quickness were a joy to behold – and Chelsea’s defense had no answers. Even when supported by Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic was absolutely unable to cope with Montero’s runs.
And that width gave rise to even more back-line problems for the blues. Montero’s attacks always ended in crosses, or in set-pieces which then turned into crosses – and Chelsea’s defending against these was abysmal, particularly near the area defended by César Azpilicueta. That was how the first goal came along.
Unfortunately for The Blues, the center-back area was no exception to the rule, and John Terry and Gary Cahill also seemed out of form. They were uncoordinated when pushing out the backline and extremely vulnerable against Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew when they ran into space.
Fortunately for Chelsea, however, Thibaut Courtois is currently in the form of his life, and his extravagant saves were an essential lifeline in the match against the Swans. Yet, as they realized after he was sent off on the 52nd minute, the Belgian is only human, and he won’t be able to protect them in every single situation.
Chelsea’s flaws are not impossible to fix; but they do need a lot of mending if The Blues aspire to retain the title this season. Mourinho will need to do what he does best: compensate for individual weaknesses, and reorganize his ranks into a more cohesive, coherent system.
Now, on a brighter note, it is probably important to mention that Eden Hazard had an absolutely magnificent game, the kind that kept Chelsea on the verge of scoring a late winner even with 10 men, and that serves as a reassurance that he can win points of his own. Even when the rest of his team looks lackluster, the Belgian seems absolutely unstoppable – and that will be key for Chelsea as they struggle slowly to regain their shape.