Juventus’ expected mauling of Chelsea is the straw that finally broke the camel’s back

A magical night for Juventus as they thrashed Chelsea with ease, but the European champions and Roberto Di Matteo had it coming writes Aditya Bajaj
 Aditya Bajaj
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A section of Chelsea apologists are still grumping about how their £50m striker has cast a black shadow on the team thanks to his failure to reproduce his form that he has shown in the past. Well, he was rightfully relegated to the bench and the match was all but over when he came on in Turin and there is not much he could have done to repent for his fall from grace.

The ‘Torres’ conundrum was taken care of in the best way possible, so what really was the problem then?

The thing is, Juventus were simply the better side by quite a distance and there is nothing Chelsea could have done to avoid defeat that was already written on the walls even before kick-off. Period.

No blame game, no living in denial here but Roberto Di Matteo simply had no answers to Juventus’ playing style which had created problems even in the home leg back in September.

"I'm responsible for the result. If anyone has to take the blame, that's me. I selected a team that I was convinced was the right team to win against Juventus or at least get a draw."

- Roberto Di Matteo

You can lineup three of the most attacking midfielders in Europe but cannot ignore the problems at the center of the park in midfield and the lack of a finisher upfront, something they had in Didier Drogba until last season. You cannot use the same formation over and over again and expect it to hide the underlying problems by creating a smoke screen using a crowd pulling trio behind the lone striker. What about a midfield to provide them with the ball to do what they are supposed to do in the first place?

Chelsea use a formation similar to Real Madrid, but they do not have a Xabi Alonso or a Sami Khedira or a Luka Modric (the one who ironically got away) who can shield the defence and channel the ball to the attacking third with equal aplomb. These are the areas that should have been taken into consideration in the summer. Instead the European champions, blinded by their success in May, went for abundance in style in attack than substance at the heart of the team.

The only way Di Matteo could have countered the Bianconeri’s 3-5-2 was to lineup his team in a 4-3-3 to negate the three man defence of Juventus and avoid getting outnumbered in midfield at the same time. But the lack of central midfielders coupled with Frank Lampard’s injury meant he obviously didn’t have that option which forced him to use a slightly modified version of the usual 4-2-3-1 where Torres’ lack of form called for Eden Hazard to be used as a ‘false 9’ and ‘right back’ César Azpilicueta on the right side accompanying Oscar and Juan Mata in the three man midfield in the attacking third behind the Belgian.

There was sense in deploying Azpilicueta so he could add an extra pair of legs to support Branislav Ivanovic on the right side of Chelsea’s defense knowing that a stalemate would have put them in a fairly comfortable position to qualify from the group, essentially in a way creating a virtual five man shield to counter Juventus’ assault from the wings. Basically it was more of a 5-2-3 with three centre backs and two wing backs than the usual 4-2-3-1 as speculated. All well and good, only if one has the players with an understanding of the system as a whole and Di Matteo obviously did not have them at his disposal.

The problem was there for everyone to see.

Azpilicueta’s positional sense (as shown in the second image below) was simply non-sensical forcing Ivanovic to cover for him and go after Asamoah everytime the Ghanaian had the ball on the left leaving the Chelsea defense low on numbers against a myriad of Juventus players with Stephen Lichtsteiner enjoying a free run everytime he charged on the extreme right. That Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio did very well to negate the defensive efforts of Obi Mikel and Ramires did not help the hapless visitors who more than relied on Petr Cech to save them from further embarrassment.

Chelsea's starting lineup in Turin
Average player position

Generally when Asamoah and Lichtsteiner attack on the wings, they make sure that the one who is not attacking is always on the back foot so he could track back and help the centre backs to nullify any counter attacks, the failure of which could expose the three man defense. This is something that comes with experience of having played in that role for quite some time now, and can be difficult to emulate just by a week of practice on the training ground. Perhaps watching a few videos from the Serie A could have helped solve that problem.

Chelsea countered beautifully with the trio of Hazard, Oscar and Mata charging early in the game giving them some hope of getting off the mark and taking the game to the Bianconeri but a lack of finishing meant there were chances few and far between, post that initial phase in the first half. Again here, the lack of central midfielders posed a problem as the trio were more often than not forced to spark off a counter too deep into their own half giving ample time to the opposition’s defence and wingbacks to track back and kill the move.

Also, the downfall of Torres and a lack of replacement for the Spaniard meant Hazard was forced to play as the ‘false 9’ giving the Juve back three no reference point to mark upon, once again playing it into the hands of the Italians.

When Spain played Italy with a ‘false 9’ in their opening match at the summer’s Euros, Daniele De Rossi looked fairly comfortable at the heart of the Italian defense in a similar situation until a striker in the form of Torres was called upon creating much problem to the Italian due to the constant presence of a striker upfront. Surely there was too much to ponder upon for Di Matteo before choosing to go with his tactics.

Juventus assistant manager Angelo Alessio’s comments that Chelsea’s tactics clearly helped his side beat their opponents, who seem to be on a free fall since that victory against Tottenham back in October, seem justified and will only add salt to Di Matteo’s wounds who just six months ago lifted the Champions League.

Di Matteo had succeeded Villas-Boas last March after Chelsea lost to Napoli in Naples

The Old Lady’s problems in the striking department has been well documented and had it not been for the wayward finishing of Mirko Vucinic and Fabio Quagliarella on more than one occasion the score line could have gotten even more embarrassing for Roman Abramovich and his entourage. His team faces a striking crisis as well, albeit the only difference is that the Turin giants are well covered in other areas which more than makes up for the problems upfront while Chelsea is too saturated in the attacking third leaving a lot to be desired everywhere else in the squad which is evidently taking its toll on the team.

A couple of months back in an article before Chelsea’s home leg of the same fixture back in September, the writer had outlined how the lack of a Andrea Pirlo like central midfielder could come back to haunt Di Matteo in the long run when the pressure starts to get on his team over the course of the season as managing the very same side from the start of a campaign was an all together different ball game to taking charge towards the end of last season, a period during which he won Abramovich his only Champions League.

Chelsea were sitting at the top of the table back then mesmerizing their fans with the magic of Hazard, Mata and Oscar and things seemed cozy for the Kings of Europe not realizing that the lack of attention to the actual problems within the side in the summer was slowly eating up the foundation laid by Jose Mourinho which has now started to take its toll on the side with every passing week.

Cartoon: Roman cuts time on Di Matteo

Today, Chelsea have not won a league game in a month, lost their position at the top of the table in England, face the prospect of falling further behind as they welcome Manchester City on the weekend and have completed the inevitable sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.

The Blues will fear coming to Italy again. The last time they were here they lost to Napoli and had to fire Andre Villas-Boas. This time, it was Boas’ successor who had to do away with his job. But the problem definitely is more innate than what it has been made to look like. Perhaps Manuel Pellegrini’s comment after getting the bullet at Madrid in 2010 best explains the scenario when he pointed out that he couldn’t possibly get anything out of an orchestra if he had 10 of the best guitarists but no pianist or a drummer.

The biggest problem however is the fact that they risk being the first defending champions to bow out of the group stages in the history of the Champions League.    

So much for building upon a major success just less than six months ago!

Honestly, it’s back to square one for Roman Abramovich and Chelsea.

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