After years of Wembley being a happy hunting ground for Chelsea, the last two visits have been anything but. Plenty of people have drawn a direct line between the Community Shield performance against Man City and the Spurs game at the weekend. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the questions, I asked some of them myself back at the start of the season. Against the top-quality teams, is the current system going to deliver the results?
The other more specific questions being raised are if Jorginho is so vital to our style of play, what happens if he isn’t available. Or if he isn’t having a great day, as we can’t all be brilliant all the time. And what happens if the opposition targets him and manages to squeeze his positive influence out of the game?
Well in simple terms, these scenarios can happen but so far this season they have not happened often, so a bit of perspective is needed. Remember when Liverpool recently visited Stamford Bridge, they detailed Roberto Firmino to drop back to try to kill the space Jorginho was operating in. It worked for a short while, but then he and indeed we as a team adapted.
This is the point; the Premier League, especially at the upper echelons, is filled with not only good players but with fine coaches who are excellent tacticians with plenty of good advisors around them. Clearly they will adapt and try to find a way of negating Chelsea’s style, football has always done that.
In years gone by, when Glenn Hoddle was controlling things for Spurs he was mercilessly closed down. If Eden Hazard is flying, Jose Mourinho when we play Man United will sometimes see fit to ask Ander Herrera to shadow him everywhere. From Maradona to Messi, the list is endless of individual players who make their sides click and who have been targeted, sometimes with success, sometimes without. It is a tactical arms race that develops and the coaches and the players have to develop with it.
At the weekend Spurs managed to do it, but is that a good enough reason to rip up the entire script, after just one defeat away from home against a top-four side? I think that would be quite knee-jerky, but Maurizio Sarri will know that adaptations will be needed now and again from him and his players. If one player is being ‘rushed’ by a few opponents then there is space developing elsewhere, which we somehow have to find and utilise. I spent large parts of my career drawing two, three and four players towards me, hoping to then offload the ball, understanding that those opposition players were to all intents and purposes now out of the game.
I have heard it said that Chelsea have no plan B. Well we will see about that as plan A has worked fairly well to date and there was little or no need to make huge changes thus far. It may well be that Maurizio holds by the fairly recently developed football proverb, ‘If plan A fails then just make sure you do plan A better next time.’
We will have to wait and see how it goes from here, but one bad day at the office is no reason to throw all the furniture and technology out of the window right away, even if it throws up some difficult questions. Maurizio said himself after the game that he wasn’t particularly pleased with anyone or anything in the game regarding performance levels, so he will be thinking that if everyone played better then there is still no existential problem for the Sarri-ball style.
The question has also been asked about N’Golo Kante’s position wider and further forward than where he has played for us so brilliantly before. And indeed where he has been so successful with France and Leicester before that. I have written about this already on this page and gauging by him signing a new-long term contract, he knows there may well be a prolonged period when he has to adapt to this new role. I would be very surprised however if there weren’t times in the future when he finds himself back in the centre of the engine room.
It goes back to the sobering but realistic point that this is still fairly early days under a new coach and a new system. If Jorginho made such a huge difference to the entire ethos and style, it may well be that there is another player or two that Sarri would like to join the squad in good time that would add just as massively to the project.
That said, it still hurts players and fans to lose to Spurs and for so many players to play so far from the top of their games. The real narrative above and beyond single performances is whether or not Chelsea will be in the top four at the end of the season. This is what concerns us more than anything and with five teams at the moment scrapping it out, it is far from a certainty.
This is why Thursday night is important. Players who haven’t played much will get another outing and they will be pushing harder than ever to muscle their way into the first 11 for the next Premier League match. They will believe there might just be a chance for them after the loss on Saturday evening at Wembley. That is certainly the attitude Sarri wants and is maybe the only silver lining on that cloudy weekend.
The Europa League competition itself is of course vital in that it offers another opportunity to get into the Champions League, as well as the glory of winning it again. So it certainly isn’t the time to panic but to knuckle down for a long, hard important job over the winter. That was meant to sound a little cheerier, but maybe it might be a bit more of a slog for a while after the delight of the season so far. We all know that is what can happen in the Premier League and you just have to deal with it as a fan and a player.