One Step Forward, Ten Points Back

Today saw the Blues lose to a West Ham team in the best form that I’ve seen, at least, and it wasn’t wholly unexpected.

Down to ten men, Chelsea still made a good fight of it. Even better than when at full strength, but I’ll expand on that in a minute.

Set piece goals are always six of one, half a dozen of the other, and both teams benefitted from the idiom today. And a team with Andy Carroll or Peter Crouch typically have a one-track plan of attack, and that requires defenders taller than Azpilicueta to be all over the target man. But not unexpected, he headed in for Chelsea’s sixth conceded headed goal this season-the most in the league.

For what it’s worth, I don’t blame Matic for his sending off. I do agree that it was the right call on both occasions being bookable offenses. It’s just sad because he was “taking one for the team” and he just had to do it twice, and paid for the sins of ten others.

He is looking so good, I hope he becomes a club legend like Makelélé or Essien as the brick wall enforcer of the tough Chelsea we know and love. He and Willian are top spots on my favorite players list at the moment.

I’ll tell you who is bottom though, and it’s not Branislav.

Down to ten men was the official count today- and has been a few other times this season- but the truth is Chelsea play with ten men all the time. They play with ten men every time Fabregas is on the pitch.

He can’t dribble. He can’t sprint. He can’t track back. He occasionally makes bread-and-butter tackles that are expected of any player. He is a one-hit wonder. He is the odd man out.

What I love about the Premier League is the fiercely competitive, and physical nature of the battles. The teams develop a common bond following a set philosophy or credo of the manager. Given enough time and resources, that manager can assemble a team to personify his vision of how the game should be played. The team has balance, with the same goals set for every player to keep him on his toes for fear of losing his starting spot.

Just to rub salt in the wound, I am now going to compare Chelsea to a Championship squad. Get used to it: it’s going to happen every weekend next year.

Sean Dyche’s Burnley were relegated not because of a lack of work ethic or spirit, it was because they lacked technique and goals. What amazed me about that team was the immense stamina and brutish nature of every player on the pitch. Every player is nearly identical in terms of strength and personality. They are footballers ready to out-muscle and out-run the opposition, and show that they are no pushovers despite their far-from-fearsome sponsors, Pukka Pies and LowCostVans.co.uk.

If there is a common philosophy to be gleaned from a Mourinho team, it is one of total defensive contribution. That all players need to be versed in the art of defending. That there is total commitment to tackling back, forward, and sideways. That is the “bus” Mourinho has heralded for better or worse (and certainly for ugly football) in the last decade.

However, the bus that was once immovable has since been rolled down a knoll, had its windows smashed, wheels stolen, and graffiti painted on it by the seven teams that have taken scalps from Chelsea this season.

And the culprits are both one and many, with the clarity of blame varying game to game. The one thorn in my side that is ever-present, and ever-overlooked by my fellow viewers is Fabregas.

To be a deep-lying playmaker entails being a great passer of the ball, as well as a capable defender. A well rounded player makes for the best example of the breed. That’s why Pogba would’ve been a perfect swoop for Chelsea.

So much responsibility is placed on Matic that nobody else in the team can do what he does as efficiently or as cleverly. And when we lose him, as we will see in the week to come, Chelsea will have no choice but to put all hands on deck defensively.

To partner him with Fabregas is to sabotage him all but outright. Ramires is there too, but Matic has so much more to give as a playmaker he just doesn’t get the opportunities. What he really needs is another Matic to back him up.

Today’s second half saw Mikel on for Fabregas, and I cannot tell you how very happy it makes me to see Fabregas not on the pitch. Or Ivanovic. Even a goal down, a man down, and without those two, I still felt slightly giddy knowing I’d see a little bit less frustrating football.

Frustrating Francesc Fabregas; how I wish he had been the one sent off. How I wish he were the one with Diego Costa’s temper. How I wish he were the one with Oscar’s injury troubles (God forgive me).

The post I wrote to earn this position on Yahoo’s team back in July had an ominously accurate prediction about what was to become of Fabregas’ contribution to Chelsea this season. That he was predictable, slow, and benefitted from being a surprise to teams last year, like Diego Costa.

The common theme that is to become of Chelsea if they are to make positive strides is that of determined dribbling and quick tempo passing. Fabregas’ playing style doesn’t fit that mould, and it stinks just like some.

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