The night after the loss, Andre Villas Boas left his BMW X4 in the parking lot and spent his night inside the club training ground trying to figure out new tactics and how he can set his team right, he wrestled with how to turn the club’s fortunes around and the next morning he was found sleeping in his Dolce-Gabbana suit at Cobham training ground.
Villas Boas knew he was running out of time and giving a 3 goal lead and being outplayed by David Moyes's men did not help his cause. Although Roman was very fond of Villas Boas but the Feb 11 lost to Everton helped Roman make his mind up. Roman decided that he needed to end this bad spell and looked across his "friend circle" for some help. He tried to convince Hiddink for a temporary job but a permanent job at Anzhi was waiting for him. Roman also tried to lure in ex-Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez to change the club's fortunes but that didn't work out as well.
After failed attempts to get a top replacement for AVB, Roman decided to give assistant manager Di Matteo a run in. What Roman had in mind was a temporary job to see off this season so that he could get Pep Guardiola in the coming season. Di Matteo's wonder season and Pep's sabbatical completely changed Roman's mind. At the start of the season, Roman handed over the job to club legend- Roberto Di Matteo on a permanent basis.
The "AVB Project"-
When Villas Boas's buy out clause was activated by Roman last season, it was quite clear what Roman wanted from the manager and how he wanted to change this club. The Villas Boas-Roman project was simple- Remove the old guards and get in fast,skilled,young players who were hungry for success and could play attractive football.
For Abramovich, Villas Boas was the man who could take this club forward, someone who was not afraid to bench the likes of Lampard, Drogba.
Villas Boas had a number of transfer targets that could fit in his "project"- Modric,Alexis Sanchez,Pastore,Joah Moutinho,Alvaro Perreira but he ended up signing long term Chelsea target Juan Mata, La Masia product Oriol Romeu, young CF Romelu Lukaku and Raul Meireles.
Villas Boas was left with players with long hefty contracts in their bags and more surprisingly player of the same age as himself. Problem starts now though, and it was a similar problem to what Brian Clough had during his time at Leeds. Obviously I have not seen Clough manage Leeds but from what I have heard and watched in videos just like Chelsea you can say Leeds was a club divided into two halves when players were inside that dressing room. A club divided between a young, new and a successful manager vs players carrying baggage loads of success and strong dressing room backing. Well unlike Clough, whose players disappointed him on the pitch Villas Boas opted to "rest" or some might say drop his players on a lot of occasions most notably the Napoli defeat. Villas Boas tactics were questioned, his touch line antics were being laughed off and players were getting even more desperate for his sacking.
AVB's biggest problem was his constant use of high line tactics in defense. Whilst in Porto, AVB's tactics were a huge hit, in Chelsea things did not go AVB's way. Chelsea are used to sitting deep in the defense, holding firm the Mourinho days are the perfect example. AVB on the other hand failed to realize that his players did not have the legs to play the high line. With all due respect to John Terry who still remains the best defender till date when defending inside the box he was not fit for the high line game. Perfect example- The Arsenal 5-3 defeat. Luiz on the other hand had this sudden urge to do something creative with the ball because of which he bombs up the pitch but forgets to come back. Opponents putting in through balls and a well timed run by the striker usually left the striker in a 1-on-1 situation with Cech.
A clear image can be formed by the above example. We lost this game 2-1 thanks to a Glen Johnson winner, but the point here is look high up our defense was at that time. It was a simple long ball which should have been dealt by Cole easily instead an open space was left over their resulting in an unmarked Glen Johnson who had the legs over Cole to easily score the goal.
Villas Boas clearly knew where the problem lied in the Chelsea defense but he did not decide to change the broken system.
Another major issue was the failure in the transfer market. Villas Boas wanted to change things at Chelsea. He wanted the Barcelona style football, the quick movement, the tiki taka style passing but this Chelsea side was not about this kind of football. Villas Boas transfers saw only 1 player who had made a place for himself in the starting XI from the start i.e Juan Mata. Romelu Lukaku was always going to be a buy for the future and Raul Meireles to some extent was a panic buy seeing the failure to land Luka Modric from Spurs. Obviously I don't blame him for not being able to land Modric seeing the kind of idiot Levy was being but if AVB had a certain plan in his mind he should have brought players that could fit in that plan. His idealogy of changing things a little too soon did not help his case.
Another key move was the transfer of Anelka to Shanghai Shenhua.
Just like this season which saw Malouda train with the U-21's, Anelka was treated in a similar manner last season. Although there is no fair explanation to back this method used by our managers but a fair contrast here is Malouda when sent too train with the reserves was a player surplus to requirements at the club. With RDM already completing his summer spending spree signing players like Oscar,Marin,Hazard who are quicker and could add more to this side compared to Malouda and Malouda's failure to leave the club saw him demoted to train for the U-21's. On the other hand, same ideology cannot be used in Anelka's case. Anelka certainly added a lot to this Chelsea side. With Fernando Torres struggling and Didier Drogba off to AFCON/Out of favor at times Anelka's presence was being missed. Chelsea lacked those killer passes in the final third which apart from Mata none was able to provide perfectly. Lampard's game was pretty much the usual box to box role where as Sturridge preferred the running with the ball skill. Anelka certainly did add that edge to this Chelsea side, a good example would be the Torres goal against United at OT. Although yes one might argue that Anelka was not happy at Chelsea and had handed over a transfer request but Hey! didn't Modric do the same still he managed to spend that year on a high. Villas Boas added Cahill mid way through the season in a good hefty 13.5M pound deal, but unfortunately did not use him more often. Gary Cahill happened to be the ideal defender for Chelsea considering Villas Boas's constant use of high line tactics. (Thanks to Zonal Marking for the picture below)
With high line you are bound to win offsides and Cahill specialized in winning offsides. With Cahill playing the advantage he provided over Terry and Luiz is that he was a good covering defender and had the legs to run back and tackle for the ball. Cahill is defensively a more sound player compared to Luiz who is a better player when delivering passes,crosses. Cahill offered that ability to play as the covering defender which made him a player who could adjust with both Luiz and Terry who had troubles covering back/tracking back to stop the play.
AVB was later sacked and joined Tottenham during the start of the present season. The war did not end b/w the club and the young manager. A few extracts from AVB's interview regarding his time at Chelsea:
'This is what I recall from the day when I was sacked. The fact that people quit on me, I have nothing to say any more.'
I told him (Abramovich) that for me it was him quitting on me when he had been so much involved in the beginning in bringing me in.
In this article I only look at the problems AVB faced and where he went wrong, next article I look at the RDM revolution.