Football

Branislav Ivanovic complacency has caused form loss

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One of the main fall guys for Chelsea's inauspicious start to the season has been right back Branislav Ivanovic.

There has been a lot of coverage of the way his form has deserted him since last season when he was voted into the PFA team of the year.

Despite both of these facts, the coverage of his demise and his place in the team of the year may be an exaggeration. The real situation is somewhere in between.

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Ivanovic, like most of his Chelsea teammates, has struggled in the early matches of this season, this is not in dispute. What is in dispute is the idea that he was a consistently great player who has completely lost his ability.

The truth is somewhere closer to him being a very good player who has garnered a reputation above such, leading to a certain amount of complacency. Combine this with the spotlight suddenly finding itself on him as part of the inquest into Chelsea's unexpected poor form and many have leapt to conclusions.

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Very few full backs, when attacks are focussed down their side of the pitch, are able to come out victorious one on one every time. Ashley Cole famously got the better of Cristiano Ronaldo but one only has to think back to Gareth Bale unceremoniously tearing up Maicon's reputation to see how quickly opinion can change of a player. 

Bearing in mind Ivanovic is a converted centre back, and certainly physically more suited to operate in the middle, he has done extremely well to add the required attacking aspects of the full back role to his game. However, it is this attacking prowess that has contributed to his reputation being so elevated, including to himself. 

At one point last season, Ivanovic had scored four goals in six games, including a vital winner at Aston Villa. Other memorable goals, such as the winner at the Etihad in February 2014 and the goal that clinched the Europa League under Rafa Benitez, prove his merits at the attacking end of the pitch but also stick in people's minds. 

The negative side of this is that at times over the last couple of seasons Ivanovic appears to have felt he was an attacking player and has neglected his defensive duties, the basis of what has made him such a good player for Chelsea. 

Often the first man up in support around the opposition's penalty area, if possession changes without receiving the ball his frustration has resulted in a reluctant to chase all the way back, leaving Chelsea open to counter attacks down his flank. With such an attacking mentality, particularly against supposedly weaker teams, defending has become almost an inconvenience to him. 

Similarly, he has developed a habit of not closing down crosses from the left into the Chelsea penalty area, instead standing off five to ten yards with his arms held behind his back. Unless a winger kicks the ball right at him this rarely prevents them from putting a ball in. 

It is these instances of slack defensive play which have crept in during recent seasons and it is likely down to slight complacency and an impatience to get back up field and join another attack. 

In that sense, the negative publicity he has recently been receiving might be just what was needed for him to refocus on his undoubted defensive abilities. The start of this process may have been evident in his last match. 

Most of the talk since Chelsea's 2-0 victory over Arsenal at the weekend has been focused on the behaviour of Diego Costa. Before kick-off, the big story was Jose Mourinho leaving captain John Terry on the bench for the first time when fit.

What has gone somewhat under the radar is the fact that captaining Chelsea in Terry's absence was Ivanovic, restored to the starting line-up after sitting out the midweek Champions League victory. 

In a key game for both teams, Chelsea came away with the victory and a clean sheet. Ivanovic was entrusted with leading the side and also kept his opponent, Arsenal's star Alexis Sanchez, pretty quiet. It would seem Ivanovic should not be written off just yet.

Now, of course, his performance was not flawless, he gave away a number of fouls on Sanchez during the game and was booked for the accumulation of them. However, this did show that he was getting tighter to his man rather than standing off or not tracking back. 

At the same time, his performance on the opening weekend was not as atrocious as it was made out. If Chelsea had won against Swansea, the chances are Ivanovic's difficult afternoon against Jefferson Montero would have gone relatively unnoticed.

As it was, they drew and the spotlight fell on Ivanovic. From there, as the defence struggled as a unit, all of the holes that had crept into his game were scrutinised and he quickly became perceived as a weak link who was being targeted by each opponent. 

There may have been an element of truth to this but it was by no means a sudden desertion of his ability to defend but rather a slow burning decline.

What happens for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but a player of Ivanovic's ability is more than capable of pushing himself back to the top of his game. 

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Topics:
Premier League
Chelsea
Branislav Ivanovic
Football

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