Admittedly the Everton game had set a pretty low bar, but I didn’t think the performance last night was as bad as some of the despairing comments I’ve read on here.
Sure one or two in the Claret & Blue didn’t have their best days (Hernandez mainly), but I think the blame for that can largely be laid at the Managers door for the way he set us up in the first half. It has been apparent since the first 2 home games of the season versus Bournemouth and Wolves that we can’t play 2 in central midfield and expect to compete regularly in the PL, especially against one of the ‘Big 6’.
While the formation in the first half was at least 4-2-3-1, rather than the suicidal 4-4-2 of recent weeks, with Lanzini very clearly instructed to do a man-marking job on Jorginho. Sadly a midfield duo of Noble and Rice was never going to be athletic enough to deal with one of the most dynamic, quick and strong midfields in the league of Kante and Loftus-Cheek.
That coupled with Hazards ability to glide past opponents, and cut inside at every opportunity meant we were often outnumbered in the centre of the pitch and frequently chasing shadows during their quick counter attacks.
Compared to Kante and RLC we have no pace or forward drive in our CM which allows us to advance up the pitch quickly when we win the ball back. Instead we often have to take 2 or 3 extra passes before working the ball out wide to Anderson or Antonio (if he is playing) by which time the opposition have regrouped, initiative lost and it becomes increasingly difficult to break them back down again.
While I think we can all agree that Rice is going to be a top DM. It does mean that top of the shopping list for me in the summer is a powerful, dynamic and box-to-box midfielder somebody that can break the game open in those moments we win the ball back. If they are able to ride that first tackle and surge forward in to the space, it will in turn free up more space for the likes of Anderson, Lanzini and Arnautovic.
For the record I am a huge Noble fan and I think he still has a huge role to play next season, but the complete lack of a box-to-box midfielder in the squad, and the option to play one as certain games dictate, has seen us frequently lose the midfield battle.
Other player observations from the game below.
Fabianski (7/10) – His usual consistent and excellent self except for one flap at a corner towards the end of the first half. If I was to be ultra-critical the one area of weakness he possesses is his distribution. Clearly his kicking isn’t great and with Hernandez, Lanzini, and Anderson in advanced positions we’re not going to win many headers so I think it’s imperative he looks to release the ball quickly via quick throws. In his defence he does seem to be looking to do this at times and I’m not sure if his hesitancy is down to a lack of movement or trust of those in front of him.
Fredericks (6/10) – Really can’t work this guy out. Came with a reputation as an excellent attacking RB, but suspect defensively. Instead Pellegrini seems to use him against the big teams, where he is wary of AML attackers pace and dribbling - Hazard, Mane, Zaha, Sterling. In spite of his 2 goals last night (scored from Central and Right-Hand side of the pitch) and all-round excellent play, I though Fredericks did pretty well up against Hazard. Clearly his pace is an asset defensively, but we have seen next to nothing from him offensively in any of the games he’s started. While I wouldn’t necessarily have expected this at Chelsea away. Compare and contrast to Zabaleta who seems to spend all his time high up the pitch, but doesn’t possess the recovery speed. I’m not quite sure if Fredericks reluctance to attack is due to the managers instructions and/or opposition he has played against. Or if he’s struggling for confidence having been in and out of the side? Either way I think he should play the remainder of the season so we can assess how badly a new RB is needed, especially with Zabaleta’s contract up at the end of the season.
Cresswell (5/10) – I find him cowardly in and out of possession. Frequently loses his man when they run past him, hides when teammates are in possession and panics hoofing the ball down the line when there is nothing on. Not sure he is composed enough on the ball for Pellegrini’s preferred playing style, as seen by Masuaku starting the season ahead of him, won his place back but has been poor recently. I’m not sure either is consistent enough if we have aspirations of challenging for 7th spot. Either could go, but time for Masuaku to come back in and stake his claim.
Balbuena (7/10) – The jury is still out for me and I definitely don’t rate him as highly as some on here do. But I thought he had a solid game last night and that both he and Ogbonna dealt well with a Chelsea team who I thought played well and often broke at pace and in numbers.
Ogbonna (7/10) – Part of the reason I haven’t been quite as convinced by Balbuena as others, is I think Ogbonna is a perfectly good defender and offers nice balance as a Left footer. Decent turn off pace and good aerially, I thought the pair of them did well against a Chelsea front line full of pace, tricks and movement.
Rice (6/10) – Perhaps didn’t win as many tackles as he usually does in the middle of the park and struggled at times against the more muscular presence of RLC. That said I don’t particularly remember him doing anything wrong and think it was more a case of the tactics and personnel first half.
Noble (6/10) – See above comments for Rice. We know he doesn’t have the acceleration to live with a breaking Kante and RLC so it was no surprise to see us struggle in that regards. Always show’s for the ball and remains our best player at linking defence to attack via the middle of the pitch. Lost what little momentum we had when he left the pitch.
Lanzini (5/10) – Performed a fairly disciplined man-marking role on Jorginho to my eye, but while he limited Jorginho’s involvement he wasn’t able to disrupt him and win the ball off him in dangerous areas as other teams have. For what it’s worth I think he’s been rushed back much to quickly and played too many minutes since his return after a pretty serious injury and looks off the pace. On the rare occasion he was able to win the ball back or had a little bit of space he looks to have lost the little bit of acceleration he did to glide away from defenders. Hopefully, he recovers that with a full pre-season under his belt and this season is nothing more than preparing him for that. Should have done better with his chance at the beginning of the 2nd half.
Anderson (6/10) – His attacking threat and productivity has clearly dipped in recent weeks, but I still think he looks our most dangerous attacker whenever he receives the ball. Chronic lack of support last night and there must have been 5 or 6 occasions when he broke forward and had to check back because he had no support or passing options. Needs an interested striker to work and play-off.
Arnautovic (5/10) – First half when playing wide I thought he actually put a decent shift in, including doing his bit defensively. While we looked better as a team second half and moving him up top was definitely a factor in that, I thought his movement remained pretty static and that he didn’t work the channels as well as he could/has done in the past. In his defence some of the service he received was pretty poor but the straight balls in to him were often as a result of him remaining pretty stationary and positioned up against one of the defensive pairing.
Hernandez (2/10) – Back to his usual disinterested self. Quite simply he doesn’t have the physical presence to play up top by himself in the PL, especially against top 6 sides who monopolise possession. That said I expect a little bit of commitment especially for £140,000 a week. Had to sit amongst the home fans last night which meant I was behind the goal we were ‘attacking’ in the first half so watched him closely. Didn’t once try to close down their CB on the ball, which meant they were able to advance at ease to our halfway line unopposed time and time again.
Snodgrass (6/10) – His enthusiasm and commitment definitely helped at the beginning of the second half. Was definitely more effective than Lanzini at winning the ball back off them higher up the pitch and we were able to sustain a few more attacks as a result. Question marks about his effectiveness in the final third in open play, but a lovely cross from the free-kick which Arnautovic might have done better with.
Obiang (3/10) – Regressed so much this season. A midfielder without any particular role or skill set since Rice took his place at the base of midfield. Aside from a tackle/cross when he first came on I don’t know if he touched the ball after that? Passing not good to replace Noble, not an out and out DM like Rice, not the athletic box-to-box midfielder we need. Get rid in the summer and upgrade if possible.