Branislav Ivanovic's Rude Awakening Shows That Chelsea Need To Change


Branislav Ivanovic will feel embarrassed, but he shouldn’t beat himself up. For footballers at every level, there will always come a day (or in his case two in a row) when a younger, faster opponent blows you away for pace.

The scampering speed and skill of Jefferson Montero and Raheem Sterling will dent the pride of plenty more fullbacks this season and beyond too. There’s nothing for the Chelsea defender to be ashamed of.

That’s not to say it isn’t a horrible, helpless feeling though. As I got older and slower, when exuberant young fullbacks felt they could knock the ball past me and accelerate down the line (making me look like I had a rucksack on my back) it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Being made to look snail-like is an absolute confidence killer, for any footballer, of any age.

FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-SWANSEA : News Photo

Towards the end of my career I’d consciously try and avoid a foot race with a quickie that had the legs on me, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. When you’re playing at fullback like Ivanovic, I’m afraid it’s practically impossible. He’s been exposed.

The 31-year-old is still top-class. He has to be. The Serbian didn’t earn a place in last season’s PFA Team of the Year without being a quality player, and he hasn’t totally lost his legs in the space of one short summer holiday either. The Chelsea man simply came up against two of the most rapid left-wingers in the league.

But Ivanovic and his manager do now have a problem.

Rival bosses will smell a weakness, and they are sure to unleash their fastest players down that side with specific instructions to run at him every time. How do they protect the defender, and themselves, from further punishment?

If Jose Mourinho wants to persist with a policy of defending deep and hitting teams on the counter, his midfielders must work significantly harder to fill the spaces in front of Ivanovic. They did it brilliantly last season, but slackness has crept in. Montero and Sterling were allowed too much time to get up a head of steam and run at their man unchallenged. It was curtains.

Chelsea v Swansea City - Premier League : News Photo

Adopting a pressing game would help Ivanovic. Getting touch-tight to his wide men would give them less opportunity to turn, face him up, and take him on. He could stop them at the source.

Yet the risk with this ploy is that space is left in behind for opponents’ to clip passes for runners to chase, and when you have two defenders (Ivanovic and John Terry) that aren’t the quickest, that presents a problem. It’s why we rarely see the Blues defend this way.

Terry’s half-time substitution last Sunday was undoubtedly significant. There are now rumours that athletic new left-back Baba Rahman will also come in for his debut this weekend at Ivanovic’s expense, with Cesar Azpilicueta switching flanks.

Considering the two veterans played every second of last season, it’s been quite some shift.

I don’t envisage the Chelsea boss ripping up everything that worked so well for his side last season (that would be madness) but it’s pretty obvious a plan B is at the forefront of his mind.

Kurt Zouma, Rahman, Pedro - a speed merchant well versed in the art of pressing from the front with Barcelona – and possibly John Stones, all have youth and pace on their side. Together they could help Chelsea develop a different type of style.

Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League : News Photo

Read: Miguel Delaney on Jose Mourinho's growing list of problems

And they need to do that.

Premier League clubs are beginning to work them out, and to stand any chance of competing with the Spanish giants in the Champions League, the Blues are crying out for greater speed and mobility in their side.

There’s no way Ivanovic and Terry are finished on the back of two below-par games that left them with red faces.

They’ve each been through tougher battles before, and with granite-like character, the pair of them will hang on in there. They just need more help from others, and a suitable approach to allow them to shine.

Yet while I’ve loathed some of his actions of late, Mourinho is right to acknowledge that nothing lasts forever. He is wise to plan ahead.

Chelsea need to hit on a new style, and the process of finding it has begun. 

 

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