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The Portuguese boss once again saw the striking duo fail to combine, while selection conundrums regarding Lampard, Sturridge and Mata need to be solved sooner rather than later

ANALYSIS

By Alfie Meekings at Stamford Bridge

After his side laboured to a 1-1 draw with Fulham on Monday, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas now has the worst record in his first four London derby matches than any other manager who has worked at the club in the Roman Abramovich era.

The Blues started well against the Cottagers, creating a number of chances in the first half that went begging before finally going a goal up through Juan Mata. However, immediately after taking the lead the hosts seemed to go off the boil, allowing the visitors a route back into the game, which they duly took courtesy of Clint Dempsey.

But the most worrying thing for Villas-Boas will be the fact that when Fulham equalised on 56 minutes, his side had no answer, or indeed he could not find the answer. While Chelsea’s Premier League form has been solid of late – currently undefeated in their last six – it is clear that in games against sides such as Fulham, Wigan and, arguably Tottenham, they should have taken all three points.

What is clearer still, is that Villas-Boas does not seem to have found any particular tactical formula to engineer a win, with players such as Frank Lampard being instrumental in one game but dropped for the next and the return of the infamous pairing of Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba in attack. So what lessons should Andre Villas-Boas have taken from Monday’s result?

Firstly, the Ivorian and the Spaniard cannot play up front together. Since Torres’ arrival at Stamford Bridge last January, this 'partnership' has never failed to disappoint. Furthermore, neither has scored a goal this season while the other has been on the pitch, which is surely the clearest indication of their incompatibility with one another.

There is an obvious desire to play a man who has cost the club £50 million, as nobody wants to see that kind of money going to waste, particularly Mr Abramovich. But if Torres is selected to start, then Monday’s performance, along with a whole host of other matches, is evidence that Drogba must therefore be left out.

Another conundrum which has become apparent at Stamford Bridge is Lampard's starting plight, with the 33-year-old often amongst the substitutes this season. It is clear from Raul Meireles’ first-half performance that he does not play well with the England star alongside him in midfield. But Lampard has proven his worth to his side on numerous occasions, not least showcased by his position as the club’s second highest goal-scorer this season.

Juan of the best | But Chelsea allowed Fulham back into the game after Mata's opener

Furthermore, the England man has scored on five previous Boxing Days and has bagged seven league goals against Fulham. To substitute a player with a proven scoring history when you’re trying to get back into a game is tactical suicide.

And speaking of goal-scorers, this brings us onto Daniel Sturridge. All credit to Villas-Boas for sticking with the former Manchester City man on the right wing, as opposed to moving him to a more central role, as it has clearly brought out the best in him. But the decision on Monday to replace the club’s top scorer when trying to win a match is even more perplexing than the withdrawal of Lampard.

Another tactical decision made by Villas-Boas to try and get his side back into the match was the positioning of Juan Mata out on the left wing, while Florent Malouda featured in a more central role. While this allows the Spaniard a little more space to run at defenders, he has proven his effectiveness running straight at the heart of the defence as opposed to being pushed out wide. Swapping his position with that of the Frenchman may prove more fruitful in future matches.

However, his side’s failings in attack will not be Villas-Boas’ only worry. Petr Cech again showed his (somewhat understandable) fear of low crosses, allowing Clint Dempsey to bundle the ball in low, not dissimilar from Emmanuel Adebayor’s goal against the Blues on Thursday. It is a clear weakness for the Chelsea stopper, and Villas-Boas needs to find a way to eradicate it before it is exploited further.

Loathe thy neighbour | How Villas-Boas first four derby record compares

P
W D L
GF
GA
PTS
CARLO ANCELOTTI
4
3 1 0
9
1
10
GUUS HIDDINK
4
3 0 1
8
3
9
JOSE MOURINHO
4
2 2 0
8
3
8
AVRAM GRANT
4
2 1 1
3
2
7
CLAUDIO RANIERI
4
2 0 2
8
8
6
FELIPE SCORLARI
4
0 3 1
5
6
3
ANDRE VILLAS-BOAS 4
0 2 2
6
8
2

In the midst of all of this negativity, there is one shining positive to be taken from the Boxing Day draw and that is the performance of Oriol Romeu. Since Claude Makelele left the club in 2008, the Blues have never really found a player who can hold the defensive midfield position as well as him. But in recent performances, Romeu has been absolutely outstanding, covering every blade of grass in the centre of the park and making a number of crucial tackles in key areas of the pitch. Even more encouraging is his distribution of the ball when in possession.

If the studious and astute Andres Villas-Boas is searching for answers on how to bounce back from this underwhelming Boxing Day match, he need only look at the form book or even remember the old adage, 'If it aint broke don't try to fix it'. 

If Didier Drogba, Daniel Sturridge and Frank Lampard are scoring goals, keep them in the side. If you want to get back into a game, don’t take off your two top scorers... Oh, and never play Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres together up front again!

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