Danny Drinkwater was not going to start Sunday’s game against Manchester City, but N’Golo Kanté’s sudden illness (which included a scary fainting spell!) meant that the summer signing was drafted into the starting lineup, taking his place next to Cesc Fàbregas in what was suddenly a very porous-looking midfield. To their credit, the Chelsea duo did a good job of patrolling the central areas of the pitch, executing the defensive gameplan well enough to frustrate the home side, who may have set a Premier League passing record but were largely contained to non-threatening areas of the pitch.
Unfortunately, another tiny error at the back proved crucial in the end, as City pounced on a failed clearance and scored an easy goal in one of the few instances when Chelsea’s lines were unorganized.
Afterwards, Drinkwater reflected on the frustrations of it all, from the gameplan undone despite good effort to Chelsea’s own shortcomings in not utilizing better what little possession we did have.
”We came to frustrate them and it was working at times in the game, but in the end we lost it so it’s no good.”
”It was our game plan, but we have got to take responsibility on the pitch. We had to try and nullify them. They try and pull you out of pockets, frustrate you defensively and play round you. That’s how they create their spaces between the two lines.“
”We were trying as hard as we could to not let that happen, but with the players they have got it was going to happen sometimes.”
”It was difficult. It felt like we were doing a lot of running and they had all the time in the world. The way they scored the goal is tough to take.“
”We didn’t utilise the counter-attack as well as we could have done. We were sloppy on the ball sometimes. We were running a lot off the ball so it’s about finding the balance. It’s frustrating because we could have drawn 0-0 and that wouldn’t have been a bad result.”
-Danny Drinkwater; Source: Chelsea FC
While Conte’s tactics have been roundly lambasted by the post-match experts, his intentions were clear and certainly valid enough. City thrive on pulling teams out of shape to “create their spaces between the two lines” (midfield and defense), so Chelsea concentrated on keeping those lines set and staying in their own pockets of space. Sometimes, this was taken to the extreme, as the by now well-circulated Twitter video snippet shows.
This is incredible. Never ever should happen in a Premier League game.pic.twitter.com/ZCPJW6lP7N— Adam Newson (@AdamNewson) March 4, 2018
The hot takes have been plentiful, but the only real concern here is that this was going on in the 75th minute, by which time Chelsea had conceded. Still, giving up a second goal would’ve spelled certain death while at 1-0 there is always that proverbial chance for the odd goal — and sure enough, if Alonso makes better contact at the end, we get the 1-1.
One could argue (and many have) that Chelsea aiming for a draw from the start was poor and unambitious and certainly unglamorous, but there would’ve been even less glory in getting smashed by several goals. That the gameplan was undone by a mistake was unfortunate and probably needed a quicker response than it got from Conte. There’s plenty of blame to hand out, as usual after a big loss.
Also as usual, the key now is to not dwell on this, to learn and improve, and to win the next one. Chelsea are on the outside of the top-four and looking in, but with nine games to go, there’s still a good chance of getting back in. Probably cannot afford to lose another game however, so that improvement and turnaround is needed immediately.
”We need to get back on it. The quicker we do that the better. Gaps can close, positions can change and we need to make that change.“
”We need to look at what’s available to us now points wise. There are nine games left, 27 points, and stuff can still change. We need to force our way back into it.”
-Danny Drinkwater; source: Chelsea FC
That’s a maximum of 80 points, with must-win six-pointers against Spurs and Liverpool. In the Premier League’s 25-year history, there has never been a team who got to 76 points in a season and failed to grab a top four spot.
It’s not going to be easy, just as no one said defending a title would be easy (and it won’t be for Manchester City next season either). But now is not the time to shirk from the challenge and shrink away into defeat. Now is the time to fight through the hardships and find our way to potential glory. There is always room in the comfortable doom and gloom of pessimism, finger-pointing, and blame-shifting. We must do better than that, on and off the pitch.
The show must go on.