I watched a game of football on Monday night. I actually quite enjoyed it. I thought we did OK. I wouldn’t say any better than OK, but we were certainly better than how we performed at home against Manchester City and Arsenal in recent times. Once again the match emphasised to me the gulf in class between the top sides and mid-table ones like ourselves. Chelsea were undoubtedly superior to us in defence, in midfield, and going forward. But that is not to say that with our limited capabilities we didn’t give it a go. I thought we tried hard. But they are so organised that with our lack of pace and guile when attacking it was always going to be difficult to break them down.
I have written before on many occasions that I am not a fan of statistics so I really shouldn’t start using them now to emphasise a point. But I will. We had more of the ball than our opponents and more shots than they did. But it is what you do with the ball that counts, and how good your shots are. I am amazed that highly paid professional footballers can fail to hit the target as much as they do when shooting at goal. I was only a Sunday league player myself but my dad taught me something very important when I was very young. It helped me to score quite a few goals at the level I played at. It was simple. If your shot is not on target then you won’t score. How many times do our players shoot wildly over the bar or wide of the target?
I even saw some statistics today that purported to show that Noble had a better game in midfield than Kante did. I did laugh. Much as I love Noble and his commitment to our club, I know who I would prefer in our midfield. Apparently one of the pieces of data showed that Noble found a team mate with 95% of his passes compared to Kante’s 90%. There was other data which the writer used to show that Noble won the midfield battle on the night. I didn’t see the data that showed how many of Noble’s passes went sideways or backwards though.
Now would someone please answer this question for me. We have a free-kick central to the goal about 25 yards out, and it is obvious we are going to have a shot at goal. Yes that makes sense. Occasionally they go in. More than occasionally if your name is Payet, or even Snodgrass playing for Hull. But Lanzini takes the kick, it hits the wall, and we have secondary possession. Most of our defence has been thrown forward, which I don’t fully understand if we are going to have a shot as opposed to trying to put the ball in the air. Now with all of our tall defenders plus Carroll in an attacking position, Noble has the opportunity to put the ball into the box. But no. Some dilly-dallying and a few seconds later Chelsea have broken at speed and we are one down. Has anyone not watched Chelsea play this season? Wouldn’t it have been prudent to have more players back to face a fast breakaway. It’s not as if we haven’t been caught out by this before – remember West Brom away for example?
I wouldn’t lay the blame specifically on Noble. I wouldn’t blame Randolph for the end result, although with hindsight (a wonderful thing) I reckon he would have acted differently. No, it is a collective thing that we should be better organised to avoid the situation happening as it did. We broke at pace (unusual I know) at Chelsea on one occasion in the second half and a Chelsea player “took one for the team” to ensure that we didn’t get too close. Once we had found ourselves so outpaced and outnumbered in the breakaway, then we let Hazard go unchallenged. We really should have one or two of our fastest players back. I suspect Byram would have coped better, but don’t get me started on leaving a specialist right back on the bench when we are facing a player of the calibre of Hazard, and using Kouyate in a position that is not natural to him. Actually I reckon Kouyate committed five fouls in the game, usually as a result of being slightly too slow when tackling, nothing too malicious. It was amazing that he avoided a booking from Marriner, who is not my favourite referee, but I thought that the officials had a good game. It is good to look back on a game afterwards without being seething about some of the decisions you have witnessed. Byram may be a bit green in some respects, but to me he looks quite speedy, he looks like he can tackle, and he will get better with experience (if he is given the chance!).
On three occasions we were awarded free kicks inside the Chelsea half out wide. These would have been ideal opportunities for our tall players to go up and a high ball into the box. Not always, but a fair tactic, especially when Carroll plays. So what did we do? On all three Noble took the kick very quickly, sideways or backwards, and we ended up passing it around in our own half, and one of those went all the way back to Randolph. Does anybody sit down after the game and analyse with the players the course of action we have taken, and how we might have done better?
So our naivety cost us the first goal that we conceded, but what about the second? Just a couple of weeks ago I was alarmed at our inability to defend a corner when we allowed West Brom a late equaliser. And in the next game we now allow Chelsea, not particularly noted for their ability at set-pieces to do the same. Surely we must practice defending corners? Everyone must know their job. But what happens? We all get drawn to the near post, Randolph doesn’t come, a West Ham player flicks it on, and the unusually quiet (and non-snarling) Costa is totally unmarked six yards from goal. Quite frankly it is appalling to concede a goal in this fashion. This is what training sessions for the defence should be all about. Did you see how well organised the Chelsea defence were for our corners and set-pieces?
Lanzini’s goal was well taken, but by then it was of course too late. It put some respectability on the scoreboard. I read some internet reaction after the game. Some said we were awful, usually accompanied by expletives, and they are entitled to their opinion. But I don’t think that is a fair reflection of the game. Some said we deserved a point. I don’t concur with that point of view either. We gave it a go, but we were undone by our own mistakes and lack of preparation against a side who will undoubtedly be champions at the end of the season by a big margin I reckon. How many of our team would be in the reckoning to get into the Chelsea team? Obiang and Lanzini might make their bench perhaps?