This will be more succinct than my typical analyses, but don’t let that conceal our collective frustration. I’ve come back from a miserable bout with the flu to a nightmare of a work schedule, and yet I am fairly certain I’d even prefer revisiting the flu or even chewing tin foil to watching or writing about the games played in my absence.
Remember when Graham Potter talked about suffering after being humiliated by Brighton upon returning to his former club? While he was making those statements, or any of his most recent, I’m not sure he was considering the ardent fans who have to witness, let alone write about said suffering. While neither he nor anyone associated with the club could be proud of what has transpired on the pitch recently, that does not ease the troubling truth that Pep Guardiola once famously acknowledged - “The beauty of sport is that sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry.” So now, we cry.
We can’t beat around the bush here - that was as comprehensive of a defeat as we have suffered in quite some time. Our offensive output was nonexistent, our midfield was an absolute shambles, and our insistence in forcing play out of the back with an untested defensive unit was flamboyantly foolish. Back to front there seemed minimal coordination, cooperation, and, most worryingly, instruction. Again, considering the youngsters who were fielded, that seems nigh inexcusable. In fact, Potter has caught the most slack for throwing the kids into the deep end against what was still a decently strong lineup from Manchester City.
Guardiola made seven changes to the lineup from midweek and Potter made six - and those changes influenced the game, particularly in the midfield. We have been overrun time and time again this season through the middle of the park. Make no mistake, our midfielders can find the space to receive a pass from the back line. They have been exceptionally poor at taking that into the offensive phases of the game or, in this particular match, even simply retaining possession. I doubt anyone would argue that since he has been given his chance, our best midfielder has easily been Denis Zakaria. He’s been covering ground and making tackles tremendously well. His ball skills and vision leave something to be desired, but he was the one youngster who might have made the first half less agonsing than it was.
I doubt a person who reads this wouldn’t have been happy to see Bashir Humphreys debut, but the fact that the entire back line hadn’t ever played together was a major concern - not to mention the opponents they were facing. Only Kalidou Koulibaly has been playing regular minutes lately (that includes the time spent at the World Cup), so despite the fact that Trevoh Chalobah was on a fine run of form and has since been inexplicably benched, the back line showed that incongruence. In fact, Chalobah looked particularly perturbed on camera to be unused after Thursday’s match, and those frustrations combined with a lack of playing time can deter a group of youngsters from trying to establish themselves. It’s a good thing we haven’t just signed quite a few budding players hoping for integration...
Even with our regista Jorginho covering the base of our midfield, over 50% of our misplaced passes occured in the middle third and over 90% of the times we were dispossessed was in the middle third. We were smothered in possession, and the press from City was annoyingly effective. We did not have a touch in their box or a shot on goal in the first half, but what you are able to loathe below is our touch map up and until the 73rd minute when the youthful substitutions actually made an impact.
Our transitional play is determined by the success of either our wingbacks or our central midfielders. We have no wingbacks at the moment, so our central midfield is crucial. According to WhoScored?, in 63 minutes of play, Jorginho only completed a total of 21 passes, but also had zero successful dribbles, tackles, duals, interceptions, or even clearances. Mateo Kovačić was equally poor but had fewer minutes. He finished the game with only 13 touches but also virtually no defensive contributions to note. Let’s not even talk about offensive contributions, from them or from literally any other Chelsea player...
The continuing issue is that we cannot get the ball to our forwards. That was compounded against such a quality side because of their ability to, without relent, wear down our defense. Again, it is amazing that Denis Zakaria, Omari Hutchinson, and Carney Chukwuemeka finished the games with more or equal to the touches of whom they replaced, all with a fraction of the others’ minutes. They’ve more than earned their chance of further playing time.
The eternal optimist might conclude that, because of the injuries now to the squad, we will get to see Potter’s true intentions of youth involvement and tactical ingenuity. They might also add that, as we look at Arsenal’s current position in the table via their youth revolution, perhaps we’re on the same trajectory. The pessimist needn’t reach so far...
Chelsea’s last 7 games:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 8, 2023
❌ vs. Arsenal
❌ vs. Manchester City
❌ vs. Newcastle
✅ vs. Bournemouth
vs. Nottingham Forest
❌ vs. Manchester City
❌ vs. Manchester City
A trip to in-form Fulham awaits. pic.twitter.com/Pz1JImjOLR
Whatever your stance is, the harsh reality seems to be that, barring an unforeseen and drastic turnaround, this season is going to be a wash and European football will go begging next season. The last time that happened, we won the league the following year. Would you take a tenth place finish and no European football next year to be crowned champions in 2025? What do you think the new ownership thinks? Is that objective actually possible? Is this an article or a survey? It’s like a choose your own adventure. You decide!