Having covered three of the eight Champions League ties, this seems to be the poignant moment to analyse Chelsea’s chances of progressing to the Quarter Finals and winning that precious first European Cup title. Not only do the Blues face a rejuventad team that finds itself second in Serie A, they also find themselves manager-less. Here at the Sportboys we like to provide up-to-the minute analysis of the major football news, so posts on the Scolari sacking can be found here.
Only 48 hours after Big Phil’s dismissal, Guus Hiddink has come in at the Bridge until the end of the season. The Dutch wonder manager’s close relationship to Roman Abramovich and previous experience of managing both club and country (PSV and Australia) made this the most likely outcome. He is generally a nice guy and everyone seems to have something nice to say about him. Judging by this video, even the North Koreans love him.
Without going into the debate of whether Scolari should have been sacked, in my mind this is not the best moment to expect a new manager to come in and turn things round. Hiddink may be lauded for his man management skills but he will face a crunch away game against Aston Villa a week Saturday, followed by the first leg against Juventus at the Bridge. That is a very small amount of time to understand the dynamic of the squad and get them in the right frame of mind.
The demands at Chelsea dictate that third place in the league, seven points behind the leaders, and places in the fifth round of the FA Cup and knockout round of the Champions League are not suffice for a manager to keep his job. Nevertheless, Chelsea remain a team of world class players and Claudio Ranieri will be aware that their recent dip in form will not bear too much on the outcome of the Second Round tie.
Frank, I know how you feel about your physique but trust me this helps
Guus will want to come in and judge for himself as to which players are hungry to win for the club and that he can get the best out of for the remainder of the season. How this will translate into terms of formation, tactics and lineups, there doesn’t seem to be too many options in this current Chelsea squad. I would be surprised to see Drogba and Anelka playing together but Guus will need to get the best out of both of them in order to turn the Blues’ season round.
Possibly the major challenge for Hiddink will be to make Chelsea a more unpredictable side to play against. It remains to be seen whether an upturn in Deco’s form can be achieved but he could be the key against Juventus should he play. He will be afforded more time on the ball against the Italians despite Ranieri’s awareness that he is the main man. If Joe Cole can regain fitness, he too could give extra edge, either from the centre of the park or the wings. The trump card could be Ricardo Quaresma, who I have already raised my doubts about in a previous post.
I don’t see Hiddink deploying Quaresma in a three man forward-line and my feeling is also that the Dutchman will stick with a 4-5-1, considering Chelsea’s best players favour that lineup. However, if Hiddink has been doing his homework, he may try to change things up by going to a 4-4-2, as he has done with Russia on occasions. Attacking full backs will feature prominently but as we now know, that isn’t enough of a threat to win games without the requisite movement from the rest of the team.
Case for the defence
The biggest gulf in class between Manchester United and Chelsea at the moment is defensively. Ok, United may be on a historic run of clean sheets but Chelsea are conceding way to many goals for a defence that man-for-man is one of the best in the world. Rather than deliberating over man-to-man or zonal systems, Hiddink will simply need to get the back line playing as a proper unit. Carvalho is sorely missed but Guus has worked with Alex before, and that was when he was known as the ‘tank’ (never listen to a man that says someone with the nickname ‘tank’ has no class).
Heartless, I know
How hard? Lamp-ard
Fat Frank has been the most consistent performer for Chelsea this season and again will be the main man against Juve. Alongside JT, he makes up the remnants of Ranieri’s Chelsea side of 6 years ago. The Tinkerman will undoubtedly spend half of his pre-match conference telling us how they were ‘great lads’ and avoiding questions as to whether he would like to bring Lamps to Turin and give his career a Beckham-esque Italian challenge. Deep down he knows Lampard’s goals could be the difference, and no, Momo Sissoko won’t be able to mark him out of the game.
The Old Lady of Italian Football
Juventus – La Vecchia Signora
Following a year’s sabbatical in Serie B, the team from Turin are back in the competition which history dictates they should always be in. This season they really have taken the competition by storm, beating Real Madrid home and away and with the likes of Nedved, Camoranesi and Del Piero still going strong, they will feel confident of going far.
Up to a couple of weeks ago Juve also looked strong in Serie A, taking advantage of a dip in Inter’s form. However, back-to-back defeats against Udinese and Cagliari mean that it looks unlikely they will catch Mourinho’s boys this year, despite retaining second spot a point ahead of Milan.
Ranieri has quietly gone about his business at Juventus, building his own team and spending alot of money on a couple of additions to the squad (Poulsen and Amauri). While the older players remain, there are a few younger Italian faces (Molinaro, Giovinco and Marchionni) ensuring that the next generation emerges to replace the current crop.
The Del Piero Factor
What can you say about this man? He is 34 years old and is still the star of the Juventus team. Last season he was the Capocannoniero of Serie A with 21 goals in 37 matches; this year he has 13 in 25 from all competitions. The British media rave about Ryan Giggs and the Italian press love to do the same about Del Piero. He is the most dangerous free kick taker in the game at the moment, demonstrated by these peaches that were all scored this season. At the heart of the Juventus attack, Chelsea will find it difficult to stop Alex. Obi Mikel will have to be wary of stupid tackles anywhere within 35 yards of the Chelsea goal.
Dearth of attacking talent
Del Piero is still the man but Juve also have potent threats in the shape of Amauri, Iaquinta and Trezeguet. Amauri in particular is having a great season for Juve, scoring 11 in 17 in the league and 2 in 2 in Europe. He is likely to start up front alongside Del Piero. However, having players in Trezeguet and Iaquinta who are both a handful physically and in terms of goal poaching potential, it will be a stern test of Chelsea’s defence under Hiddink.
Buffon behind a suspect defence
For me, Gigi Buffon remains the best ‘keeper in the world. This isn’t reflected simply by the stupid money that Man City were reported to be willing to throw at Juve for his services. Rather, Buffon continues to pull off phenomenal saves week-in week-out. This season he has been called upon regularly, as the Bianconieri’s backline struggles to live up to the stinginess of its predecessors. In contrast to Petr Cech’s this season, Buffon is winning games for Juve. Let’s not forget the heartthrobs’s great acting skills either.
Mellberg, Grygera and Legrotallie have not looked the best outfit, although Chiellini remains an important tower and leader. The current Chelsea style of play may make it easier for the Juve defence but should Drogba and Anelka click, I see goals both in London and Turin.
Prediction – Midfield battles
Sissoko and Poulsen give Juventus bite in the centre of the park, so an Essien-less Chelsea will have their work cut out for them. A big performance from Ballack will be key – covering the ground and finding the goal-scoring boots that have evaded him so far this season.
Chelsea are at home first, which should favour them. Nevertheless, that gives Hiddink a short amount of time to get things right. I would not be surprised if he approaches the leg at Stamford Bridge conservatively, thus biding his time for a favoured counter-attacking performance at the Stadio Olimpico. This may play into the hands of Ranieri, who will fancy his team’s chances with a Second Leg onslaught.
Probably quite an uncontroversial prediction in the current climate but I think Juventus will pip Chelsea. Hiddink won’t be afforded too much blame if so and it would make a fairytale story for Ranieri. On the other hand, who knows with the Tinkerman? Can he prove that his loser moniker is now behind him?