Chelsea's mini crisis at the start of their new chapter under Andre Villas-Boas has come under plenty of scrutiny in recent weeks, with the young Portuguese boss certainly under immense pressure to turn things around at the club.
The Blues worst league start in the Abramovich era has been coupled by an inability to secure a place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League - a feat they have never failed to achieve. With the billionaire owner renowned for having little patience when it comes to results on the pitch, we study the claim that many have judged to be Villas-Boas' downfall, and the truth about what is going wrong on the field of play whilst everything that could possibly go wrong is off it.
High Backline and Marauding Full-Backs
While there is no doubt that the new manager has come in and encouraged his defence to push higher up the pitch, with his full-backs in particular asked to do as much offensively as defensively, the approach is far from unfamiliar. In fact most of the top sides in Europe rely heavily on their left and right backs to bomb forward and support attacks, with league leaders Man City a case in point.
While the likes of Bosingwa and Cole have been criticized for neglecting their defensive duties too often, Mancini's recruits are wreaking havoc down the flanks yet lauded for their courage and optimistic outlook in doing so. A look at the player position map from the two sides’ most recent appearances in the league (below), shows that they adopt a very similar backline.
One can instantly see from the comparison that the teams' respective full-backs forage forward in all but equal measure, while the position of John Terry (26) for Chelsea and Joleon Lescott (6) for City is identical. Perhaps the key change in attacking intent lies in the clubs' number 4s - David Luiz and Vincent Kompany.
Whilst the latter is widely considered to be one of the league's top defenders, Luiz has faced a barrage of advice from hardened pros and pundits alike. Both sides' right backs were more adventurous then their counterparts on the left, but while Kompany (4) covered for Richards' (2) runs forward, Luiz failed to do so for Ivanovic (2) in the defeat against Liverpool. The gap between the aforementioned City duo is far greater, with Kompany's more cautious approach paying dividends while Chelsea's young Brazilian has left his side exposed at times.
Though Luiz's Positioning may be a little naive, the unbelievable similarity between the backline of Chelsea and City suggests that it may not be the backline's positioning and willingness to attack that is the problem. This theory is backed up when studying Chelsea's approach in their last two away games, with their most recent defeat at the hands of Leverkusen serving to prove that this may not be the main issue in the side.
The player position map from the win over Blackburn (above, left half) shows stark contrast to the back 4 positioning in their recent Champions League disappointment (above, right half). The Blackburn half has been mirrored to indicate how much more advanced the full-backs were in their last win to the defeat in Germany on Wednesday night.
Though one could suggest that the opposition in question plays a big part in the tactics and set-up of the side, a look at the team stats from the game at Ewood Park shows that Blackburn posed more of a goal threat at times than Leverkusen. Chelsea's ability to control possession (62%) proved key to the eventual, albeit narrow, victory, while their lesser pass accuracy (82%-87%) proved a factor in Europe as they struggled to dominate proceedings.
Individual Errors the Real Issue
Though some individuals' positioning could be called into question at times, Villas-Boas' sides' tendency to commit individual errors at the back has proven to be the teams' biggest problem. The most telling stat of all shows that Chelsea have made 6 errors that have led to goals in the league in under a third of the season in the new manager's reign; a figure which already matches the amount of errors which led to goals in the entirety of last season under Ancelotti.
A clear sign that luck is not on Villas-Boas' side has seen Chelsea make 8 errors that have led to opponents’ shots in the league, with only 2 missed. Last season they conceded 21 shots in the league due to individual errors - 15 of which were missed in comparison, proving that they are getting punished for a lack of concentration at the back with devastating frequency.
Interestingly, in 15 Champions League games this term and last, Chelsea have only made 2 errors leading to shots, from which only 1 was scored. Neither of these errors have come under Villas-Boas, and while the results have been indifferent under the Portuguese in Europe, the concentration of the side has been far greater than in the league.
If one considers red cards and penalties conceded as individual errors along with gaffes that have led to chances for the opposition, it is clear that the Blues have been the architects of their own downfall on the pitch; a feature that Villas-Boas can do little about.
The aforementioned 6 errors that have led to goals have been compounded this season by 3 red cards and 2 penalties conceded. Discipline has indeed been an issue, with 33 yellow cards joining the 3 dismissals leaving the side with the worst record after 12 games in the league since Everton back in 1998/99.
A look at the results in which the side has produced at least one costly error (leading to goal, red card or penalty - right) proves that their naivety at times is their major downfall. With at least one mistake in over half of their league appearances (7 in 12), Chelsea have gone on to win just 4 times, with all 3 of their defeats coming in such games.
In comparison, in the 5 games that they have stayed focused and not had slip-ups they are yet to lose, winning 4 and giving them a points per game ratio of 2.6 in these matches compared to half that (1.3) in the games that have involved errors.
All of this goes to prove that once they remove the sloppy mishaps and mistakes, the corner could well be turned and that the criticism of the side's young manager may be a little unjust.