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joetweedie | January 2, 2015

The Harding Perspective

Tottenham (A)

In the cold light of a January morning Tottenham’s humiliation of Chelsea stings more than any recent defeat. We were laughable. Our defence played as if they had just sunk their last pint on a two-day bender. It was a performance so abject and utterly devoid of quality that you fear for the rest of the season. How could we possibly be this bad? Scoring three goals away from home and yet still getting resoundingly beaten is unforgivable. It is particularly agonizing when it is Tottenham Hotspurs dishing out the punishment.

Having spent ninety minutes making Harry Kane look like Didier Drogba at his very best and Nacer Chadli the second coming of Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea need to dust themselves down quickly. This was a horrific performance from top to bottom. Eden Hazard is the only player who can leave White Hart Lane having given everything. The Belgian is increasingly looking like the best player in the league and putting together consistent performances of real quality.

Perhaps the biggest worry is that this performance has been on the cards for weeks. We have seen a significant lead reduced to nothing: our away form continues to perturb as we struggle to convert or create chances. This defeat was a culmination of all the little errors we have seen creeping in over the past few weeks. We cannot keep looking the other way where Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic are concerned. Likewise, we need infinitely more from Willian and Oscar in the final third. Should the much maligned Obi Mikel play in "big" away games? We probably would not have shipped five goals, regardless of your opinion on him. Does anyone in this team know how to take a shot?

Right-side woes

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José Mourinho said something quite worrying after the game yesterday. Essentially he did not have anyone better on the bench than Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Azpilicueta. While that may be true for the latter pair, the first two are seemingly untouchable and I cannot fathom why. I often hear that Mourinho likes height in his back four; our obvious ploy of using Ivanovic to attack goal kicks is fruitful. The Serbian is great at covering the back post area aerially but is that enough?

The sheer volume of goals that originate from Ivanovic’s or Cahill’s defensive channel is absurd. They do not work well as a defensive tandem and even average teams have now figured out how to exploit them. Ivanovic has the positional sense of a centre back playing as a right back. His ability to just seemingly let crosses come into the area is unparalleled. While Azpilicueta engages his opponent and invariably gets a block onto any attempted cross Ivanovic stands off, arms behind back, as his winger/full-back easily plays the ball into the area.

Ivanovic bombs forward to good effect repeatedly, but even this side of his game leaves us continually exposed. Watching him amble back as our opposition counterattack is bemusing. I can probably count on one hand the amount of good decisions he has made as an attacking player this season. His crossing is poor, despite getting himself into good positions his end product is woeful and the continual diving is an embarrassment. Given the inherent weakness in our right hand side, I am unsure why Azpilicueta has not been moved across. Yes, the Spaniard is not as dynamic as Ivanovic, but defensively he is far more robust.

Is it Ivanovic that causes Cahill to be awful or vice versa? Cahill, being English and someone who undoubtedly tries hard seems practically immune to criticism from the majority of Chelsea’s fans. He, like others, has ultimate respect for playing in Munich. However, there comes a point where we need to look at him objectively. Look at the quality of centre backs we have had in the Roman era. In a squad containing Terry, Gallas and Carvalho I am unsure if Cahill would ever actually play.

Some people are actually calling for him to be the next captain of the club, a baffling sentiment. In a team looking to be more expansive Cahill looks to be going backwards at an alarming rate. When Mourinho reengineered the team to sit deep and be defensive Cahill looked a cracking player. Though, in hindsight, I think I might have been able to play centre back in that Chelsea side such was the protection afforded to the back four. Now we are seeing the real Cahill, the player we bought from a mid-table team.

I have never seen a defender back away so readily from an attacker. It is almost comical seeing him virtually run into his area under minimal threat. Harry Kane made Cahill look like a pub player marking Pelé. For the umpteenth time this season his unwillingness to just step forward and make a challenge led to us conceding. You have to wonder about Mourinho’s comments regarding Kurt Zouma at this point, someone he "trusts to play in any game". The Frenchman is raw, but he is not afraid to make a tackle. Every time he has played he has improved and impressed. Cahill may need some time out of the time to gather himself and Zouma must be given an opportunity to show what he has. Will Mourinho drop Cahill for Zouma? Unlikely.

If Mourinho believes that there are no better options at the club than Cahill and Ivanovic we are in a bad way. Cahill is not of sufficient quality to play in a more attack minded Mourinho side. Ivanovic may improve if he is shifted across to play at centre back, but it is difficult to distinguish who or what is causing the issue on our right hand side. My personal opinion is that Cahill’s indecisiveness and reticence to step forward and challenge causes the biggest issue. Others may see Ivanovic’s wastefulness in the final third and inability to defend as more pressing issues. It may well be that getting rid of the pair of them for a short space of time will help at this point. Mourinho cannot turn a blind eye to repeat failure.

Creativity Bypass

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I will preface this section by saying that I really like Willian and Oscar as players. I think they work extremely hard, move the ball well and retain possession wonderfully. Nevertheless, neither is doing enough in the final third to win us games. When we bought Willian I was expecting this delightfully skilful Brazilian who had torn us to pieces to compliment the artistry of Eden Hazard. The reality has been Willian developing into a well-rounded player, highly technical and a complete footballer but he has lost his attacking edge along the way. Can someone also tell the pair of them that it is okay to have a shot? Thank you.

Eden Hazard is carrying this side at the moment. In fact the only real positive to come from yesterday was to see the Belgian put the team on his back in a real moment of adversity and do everything in his power to win us the game. What Hazard cannot do is constantly make up for the lack of creativity in Oscar or Willian. You look at Manchester City and they have goals from everywhere ahead of their back four. Can we say the same thing beyond Hazard and Costa?

Oscar might well be my favourite player and I would strongly argue that if we had a right winger of a similar ilk to Hazard he would knit the side together perfectly. However, both Willian and he do precisely the same job in the side. Their quick short passing, rotation and creation of angles to link play looks wonderful but there is next to no incisiveness. Where Hazard gets the ball and drives at defenders, Willian will stop play and circulate possession. Again, there is nothing wrong with ball retention but at some point you have to start doing more.

We are desperate from someone on the right hand side who is direct, capable of playing at pace, dribbling well and who takes a shot. This refusal to shoot is probably the most baffling thing about our current attacking trio. Oscar has a great shot from distance as does Willian, but both would rather pass the ball into the net. The Hazard, Oscar and Willian combination is certainly a very strong trio. However, away from home we miss having pure attacking impetus on the right hand side.

With the January window approaching I would be going all out to sign a proper winger. Mourinho then has the option of playing Oscar as a passing number ten or Willian as one who dribbles. Having Hazard destroying teams from the left and a new right winger driving forward with the ball regularly changes the dynamic of the team. It might even prompt Ivanovic to not bomb forward as our only wide outlet. We cannot continue to try and pass our way through teams every single week. There needs to be someone else in this side with the ability to beat men, create and attack the back four.

We have spent £32m on Willian who looks to be a better central midfielder than a winger. We have spent £18m on André Schürrle who continues to go backwards with every performance. Has a Chelsea player made that many poor decisions in a season? It seems like every time he touches the ball he picks the wrong option. We spent £11m on Mohamed Salah when is basically a more glamorous version of Alex Kiwomya. So that is £60m on what precisely?

Raheem Sterling looks like an obvious candidate, Alexis Sánchez would have been ideal, Marco Reus will be leaving Dortmund in the summer and there are a host of others who would improve us in that area. The fact is that while we scored three goals it took Eden Hazard playing flat out to make it all happen. Diego Costa thrives on service, so why not make the most of him by giving him someone else other than Hazard to provide him with it?

Squad Rotation

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One of the things I have read most frequently after this defeat is that Mourinho never rotated his squad enough over Christmas. This was despite the fact that Luis, Mikel and Schürrle all started games. I think what people are overlooking is that our squad depth is simply not great. Trying to win a game and bringing on Mohamed Salah pretty much said everything. It felt like Mourinho was trying to make a statement.

André Schürrle is shrinking before our very eyes, Mohamed Salah would struggle to get into our U21s side, Loïc Rémy cannot buy an appearance (for whatever reason?), Ramires has fallen out of favour and Mourinho has already suggested that Luis/Zouma are not better than dropping Cahill/Ivanovic.

Our first choice XI is very good but not perfect. Moreover, the drop off in quality from Willian to Schürrle/Salah is too much to contemplate. Even with Willian seemingly incapable of being the direct attacking threat we need, the alternatives are far worse. When people start moaning about rotation just think of what that actually means. Without getting all "play the yoof" some of these U21s might be better options than what we are seeing currently.

The one thing I cannot quite comprehend is the lack of playing time for Loïc Rémy. The Frenchman can operate as a winger; he has pace, is powerful and would likely cause more of a threat than Willian/Schürrle/Salah. If he does not play some part against Watford then something must be happening behind closed doors that we are not aware of.

Final Thoughts

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Watching how Harry Kane has galvanised Tottenham is certainly food for thought for the club. Widely acknowledged as being an average youth team prospect he has almost hitting twenty goals in all competitions this season. Kane is essentially Tottenham’s version of Patrick Bamford and he has lifted this Tottenham side and crowd. We will no doubt to continue to overlook academy players who understand the club and its rivalries for expensive signings.

I also wish Mourinho would stop trying to blame referees for everything. He had a legitimate gripe against Southampton, but what was he complaining about yesterday? His comments are merely making the club look ridiculous and drawing unwanted attention from every media source. BT Sport was absolutely delighted that we were beaten yesterday; Steve McManaman could barely contain himself.

Do we rest players against Watford? All this talk of tiredness, but what is the likelihood that we completely rotate for the FA Cup game this weekend? Can we not try something radical like playing someone from our exceptional academy for 90 minutes? Who knows, we might find someone capable of saving us £40m.

About the Author

Plains of Almería Editor & WAGNH Features Writer.

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