Is it safe to come out yet? Ok, we shall begin.
The events which transpired at L4 yesterday fitted the narrative that most – myself included – expected when Martinez arrived at the club last season i.e. high scoring games, devilment galore in the final third and a sprinkle of crud defending. That never really materialised last season as presumably the 10 year misery of defensive drills so engrained in the players from the Moyes era enabled us to retain our status as one of one of the top three rearguards in the top flight along with Chelsea and City.
With 10 goals shipped in our first three games, though, something is certainly rotten in the state of Denmark. Last week’s analysis centred on us being tanked energy wise after back to back 2nd half collapses in the opening games, but after the weary start to the game yesterday is something potentially more putrid is at work? Lets begin by sifting through the detritus…
From the off our pressing was shocking. The game plan appeared to be to win the ball back in Chelsea’s half, however our defensive block was all over the place, sometimes it was a low block and sometimes a medium block, meaning there was acres of space in the middle of the park when Chelsea bypassed our first line of press.
This is something Chelsea did with great regularity in the opening 20 minute spell as they swiftly breezed into a 2-0 lead. The roles of Fabregas and Costa were particularly crucial, with the duo combining for the first goal for which the repugnant Costa despatched well albeit he was aided and abetted by Jagielka’s woeful offside trap. The Fabregas-Costa pass was Chelsea’s most frequent of the game (11 times) and was always ‘on’ due to there being virtually no pressure on Fabregas when he received the ball between midfield and attack. Whereas our opening two games were all about how we can’t see matches out, this time it was our start which put us on a sticky wicket as it meant we had to take increasingly high risks in leaving midfield players up field when we lost possession, thus playing to Chelsea’s key strengths in terms of pace and speed on the break.
After 25 minutes we awoke from the slumber which had already taken us to the brink of defeat. Adrenalin levels were raised and our pressing in the Chelsea half improved whilst Matic and Ramires became less able to control midfield and link to the odious Fabregas. Whereas before Chelsea were blocking off our forward passes with consummate ease, now we were moving the ball faster and this was nicely shown in the first goal. In the build up the aforementioned catalan runt threw a snide elbow on Mirallas off the ball, but the Belgian recovered to drive into the box nod home Coleman’s cross after a superb pass into the right channel from McGeady.
Going forward our play was increasingly sublime. We created 13 chances from open play – more than our first 2 games put together – and the movement of Naismith and Mirallas combined with the impish brilliance of McGeady, who created the most chances from open play, were a joy to behold. After Chelsea then went 3-1 – after McCarthy was torn to shreds by an amazing turn of pace from Hazard – we began to really move through the gears. McGeady was central to everything good between the lines and his slaloming run befuddled at least 3 Chelsea defenders before teeing up Naismith to finish brilliantly – it was his third in four starts against Chelsea. As per the recurring theme of the game we were to take one step forward and then two back, as Chelsea swiftly went up field to make it 2-4 as the game went from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Mc Geady was replaced straight after the goal by Eto’o and the Cameroon star’s cameo was an exciting one – scoring pretty much immediately after some shoddy Chelsea defending and nearly creating another one shortly after. His link play with Coleman to setup Mirallas at 3-4 was the move of the game and arguably the key turning point of the match, as Chelsea duly went down the other end to pick us off twice more.
To score three goals against a yellow belly like Mourinho, who spends his days worrying about the opposition scoring more than he does about his own team finding the net, was highly commendable.
Ringmaster of the circus which engulfed our backline was skipper Phil Jagielka, who endured his own personal Clapham-Common moment in the heart of Everton’s defence.
He was directly culpable for Costa’s first goal and his errors provided two further chances for his troglodyte oppressor. Jagielka was the worst defender on the pitch by a distance, but he wasn’t helped by a woeful showing in front of him by Barry and McCarthy who afforded him no protection at all – witness the lack of pressure in Matic’s goal as a decent example. Defending also starts from the front and Lukaku’s touch for goal 5 was indicative of his afternoon i.e. dog shit.
The post game debate chiefly concerned whether our skipper is finished and while I’d agree that he is bang out of form, I personally don’t subscribe to this school of thought. In pre season Stones was playing a fair bit and he made plenty of gaffes too, as he did whilst deputising for Jagielka last season, so bringing him in doesn’t necessarily solve the issue for me. I wouldn’t drop him on the basis of this one game when mitigating circumstances were at play i.e. being 0-2 down after 3 mins meant we had to play in a way that he was afforded no protection. I’d say it’s a problem Martinez needs to address on the training ground and in rebuilding both defensive cohesion and also confidence with some of his trademark positivity
The chaos of the first 3 minutes dictated how we played the remaining 87 with high risk football putting pressure on a creaking defensive unit currently very low in confidence. The end result was footballing mayhem at both ends of the pitch and us conceding 6 for the first time since the Lescott debacle against Arsenal in 2009. We are probably at the point now where we can’t get any worse at the back and as fitness levels improve so to hopefully will the defensive solidity. It also worth noting how good Chelsea are in the final third and that we won’t have to come up against side of equivalent quality every week.
At the other end of the pitch it’s difficult to recall a better attacking showing from us against such a top opponent as we did in the last hour of the game. We comprehensively ragged the league’s best defensive operation all over the place, created spaces at will and scored some great goals and it’s this positive that we should cling onto in the coming weeks.