Despite only arriving over the summer, Andre Villas-Boas' future as Chelsea manager has constantly been called into doubt following an inconsistent campaign so far.
Roman Abramovich's presence in training in four of the last five days at Chelsea's training ground have further fuelled rumours of Villas-Boas’ immediate demise as Chelsea boss, but the 34-year-old insists the pair are just plotting for next season.
With Villas-Boas set to continue his rebuilding program into next season, where are the areas he must focus on to make Chelsea title contenders once more?
Chelsea must end their defensive woes
Much has been made of Chelsea’s defensive woes this season, with the stat that even before Christmas the Blues had already conceded more than Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side did in the entire 2004/05 campaign proving their frailty at the back.
Of course they have recently bolstered their back line with the arrival of Gary Cahill in January while David Luiz no longer looks like he is ‘being controlled by a 10-year-old playing on his PlayStation’, and shows signs of developing into the player his talent suggest he can become.
The game against Manchester United was perhaps the perfect example of their defensive slackness, while the lack of protection from midfield was also an issue.
Expect more arrivals at the back over the summer, perhaps at full-back, and Chelsea should be ready to provide a solid foundation at the back from which to build a successful team.
Pace of attack must improve
Most notable in Chelsea’s recent games has been their lack of urgency , especially from midfield. Against Norwich and Swansea in particular (the game against Manchester United was something of an anomaly) their pace was slow and allowed for their opposition to organise defensively to cancel out any goal threat.
Both of those games ended in draws because Chelsea were unable to out-manouvre the opposition’s defence, particularly against Norwich, and so points went begging.
With Daniel Sturridge, Fernando Torres and Ramires in the team there is plenty of pace to run at defenders with, while Villas-Boas’s insistence that he wants his side to play attractive football would be helped by a more direct approach.
Make Juan Mata a creative hub
Juan Mata demonstrated one of his many talents when he volleyed home Fernando Torres’s pin-point cross against Manchester United, but as the game wore on and opened up, Mata was on the fringes, and unable to influence the game with his creative spark.
The Spaniard has eight assists to his name this season, an ample demonstration that he has the key to unlock defenses on a regular basis, but his 76 crosses this season suggests he spends a little bit too much time out on the wings and not in the centre pulling the strings. His play out wide is a strength but he may be better deployed if told to stick to playing through the middle.
Make the most of striking options
Perhaps the greatest topic up for debate this season, Fernando Torres and his errant form has occupied countless column inches, and still the Spaniard shows no real sign that he can return to the goal scoring form that made him so dangerous at Liverpool.
Frustratingly for both player and club, brief sparks are there for all to see. His sumptuous cross for Mata’s goal proved he still knows what to do when the ball comes to his feet, but his hesitancy in front of goal was once more exposed for all to see as he spurned a clear chance to shoot against United and win the game.
With Didier Drogba destined to leave the club over the summer, much of Villas-Boas’s success for the remainder of this season and next will hang on whether he can get the best out of Torres and get him finding the back of the net, or whether to jettison the Spanish international and find a reliable source of goals. This could make or break his reign at Stamford Bridge.
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