Dear Mr. Future, hopefully not Rafa, Manager,
In the contents of this letter are some things that I'd like you to do for my team when you become its manager. Of course, I'm in no position to advise or instruct you on anything. Whoever you are, I'm sure you have years of experience in professional football management, whereas my only credentials are watching an inordinate amount of football. There is no good reason you shouldn't toss it in the wastebin this instant. I'd really appreciate it if you read through it, though, because I've spent a fair bit of time thinking about these things. I might make a point here and there.
So, here are the things I'd like to see next season:
Effective high-line and pressing
Well, it didn't work out too well the last time we tried it. The 'high-line' feature of Villas-Boas' defensive system was much maligned by the English press and us fans eventually realised that it wasn't working. Our defenders were left completely exposed in trying to play a way which was alien to them. But, Villas-Boas had the right idea - the problem was he didn't see how ill-suited the players at his disposal were to a high-line.
Every time you watch a match with a side playing a high-line or an offside trap, you will almost invariably hear an English commentator denounce it as a 'dangerous tactic', or 'suicidal' and etc. This is typical English mentality: refusing to appreciate modern tactical trends and obstinately, and proudly, sticking to their outdated, traditional understanding of the game. The high-line isn't flawed per se, as I'm sure you will know yourself. It can be a total horrowshow if you don't have the right players for it and still insist on using it, eg. AVB, but it's something you must have in your tactical armory nowadays if you want to compete with the very best. If it were such a disastrous tactic, all the top teams (exception: us) on the continent wouldn't use it so often.
+es: less area of the pitch to cover with the shape being compact vertically, resulting in better pressing; pin teams back; give the other team less time and space when the ball is lost with an immediate wave of pressing; the defenders ball-playing abilities can be used better.
-ves: getting outpaced by quick forwards; too much green area behind the defense; many scary one-on-one situations between forwards and defenders.
Who would it suit and who it wouldn't suit? I think our forward players would all be better in a system where they press aggressively from the front instead of falling back. The back-line is essentially unchanged from Villas-Boas' days, the only new addition being Dave. Terry and Ivanovic might look awful in such a system. Most forwards could beat Cahill for pace but I feel he could be decent because he is good at stepping up at the right time and getting the forward caught offside. Pace is not the only thing required to hold a high-line, though. Positioning is just as important. This is where David Luiz might be found lacking. You might have to spend some extra-hours in training with him. The two players in whose abilities I'm confident in are Azpilicueta and Cole. As you can see, with only 2 out of 6 players suited to the high-line, we have a slight problem.
But it has to be done sir. Take the matter up with Emenalo. Ask him for fast defenders. Suggestion: sell Ivanovic, recall Kalas, buy Marquinhos or some other CB with good pace.
Play your way through the middle more often
More chances are created from central areas than wide areas. So it's a bit frustrating watching Chelsea forcing it out wide where the chances of making something happen are reduced. Make the central midfielders play more incisively and use passing combinations rather than playing into a dead-end on the flanks.
Rotation isn't just about fitness. An intelligent manager, Jose Mourinho being a great example*, uses it to maintain his players' form, avoid complacency by encouraging competition and to keep everyone happy. As soon as a player begins to lose form, send a message by benching him. If a players having a poor game, don't hesitate about taking him off at the hour mark. Don't let the bench-players feel like they are on the outside - discontent in a dressing room is toxic. Of course there has to be quality depth present in the squad for you to rotate your team while getting the results. For instance Eden Hazard to Marko Marin is too much of a drop in quality. I think you might want to have a look at some of our players on loan like Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne.
*ignore all this if you are Jose Mourinho. PS- I love you, daddy. Come home soon.
First-team role for Oscar
OS-CAH is a lovely player to watch. Capable of the sublime - an in-the-making footballing genius. But he's a rotation player right now, which is a bit frustrating, and kinda sad, considering his immense talent. I'm not quite sure how you are going to go about making this happen, but as with point 1, it has to be done sir.
Some ideas to ponder over: a) take the defensive risk, play Oscar as a #10, and play Mata in a free-role on the right hand side like di Matteo did, and to balance the team you could go shopping and get yourself a Fellaini to play in right central-midfield, b) switch to a 4-3-3 system, make Mata a forward and give Oscar a central midfield role to shine in, or c) convert Oscar to a regista and voila you now have room for two playmakers in one team: the regista and the trequartista.
Make Hazard world-class
I think in a recent interview, Hazard rated his season so far as 7/10. The room for improvement is there and he knows it. Rudi Garcia brought the best out of Hazard when he was at Lille. Like him, you need to mentor him and take him to the next level. You'll find him to be an extraordinarily gifted footballer who can do things other players can only dream of doing. He has some habits you'd need to correct, though. He dwells on the ball too often for my liking and this slows things down. He needs to be constantly driving at defenses, like Jack Wilshere does. He doesn't shoot enough to be a genuine goal-threat. You have to encourage him here. Mata is someone he could learn from. Juan only needs the slightest glimpse at goal and he releases a shot. Lastly, I want more personality in his game. Oscar is about the same age as him and he knows how to make his mark on a game. He imposes himself all over the pitch. Hazard is always waiting for someone else to bring him into the game and thus he drifts in and out of games.
More invention against deep defenses
Less ponderous buildups please. Pass and move, pass and move. Constantly. With a high-tempo. Get the team to have more off-the-ball movement and fluidity upfront, which Rafa seems to have killed. Fluidity should come naturally to us with so many versatile attacking players in our team. Far too often, the Chelsea player with the ball doesn't have more than one option to pick from, making it almost impossible for us to cause any sort of confusion in well-organised deep-stationed defenses.
A thing I've noticed while watching good possession-oriented sides is that even before a player recieves a pass from a teammate, a third player is making himself available for a quick second pass. This is the sort of thing I expect with the kind of players we have.
Bold tactical shifts and subs
Plus minus ten points. This could be the difference between first-place and second-place in a domestic campaign. Don't get outfoxed tactically. Don't fret over this too much though, you can't possibly do worse than Rafa here.
We miss this when Lampard doesn't play and we are going really miss this when he leaves. If you have time to spare, take out the 3-0 loss to Juventus tape from the vault and analyse the game. The midfield running in that game from Marchisio and Vidal is exemplary. The striker isn't the only who should be making runs.