Thursday 19 April 2018

Blues survive Long fireworks but missing spark still source of concern

Chelsea 2 , West Brom 1, Jason Burt

Such is Andre Villas-Boas' unshakeable self-belief that he was able to brush off the half-time boos of the Chelsea supporters and blame it on the trophyless disappointments of last season.

Asked why his team were the subject of cat-calls after an indifferent opening 45 minutes against an organised, vibrant West Brom, Villas-Boas shot back that it was due to "the anxiety and demands of the public regarding what happened last year and the demands that they want from this year. We want to respond to those demands and we want to be champions. We need support and tranquillity.

"We suffered a goal in the fourth minute and people need to be behind us all the time.

"Last year I was whistled at Porto and the season ended with four trophies and no more boos. It's just a natural reaction from a demanding public. Empathy can be decisive because you have to put your opponents under pressure and you do that by raising your voices and supporting your team."

In other words, Chelsea fans should stop criticising and get behind the players. They did once Villas-Boas changed his tactics and his team shifted up a gear to show the kind of mental strength that has been their hallmark. But this victory was extremely fortunate. It also, crazily, had the feel of a must-win match.

And it was earned with a squad of 18 that contained no new players -- a situation that will be remedied this week with the expected arrival of Juan Mata for £27m to add more creativity and, finally, a new bid of £30m to try to prise Luka Modric from Tottenham.

Villas-Boas (right) has other irons in the fire, most notably enquiries have been made for the Porto pair of Joao Moutinho and Alvaro Pereira. They have also asked about Raul Meireles, although Liverpool do not want to sell to Chelsea. There is hope fresh blood will be pumped into a squad desperately in need of a transfusion.

Certainly the level of attempted activity -- there will be players out too, with Yossi Benayoun promising an announcement on his future by Wednesday -- runs contrary to the statement made by chairman Bruce Buck that: "We need not feel an overwhelming need to bring in new players."

This clash had echoes of Carlo Ancelotti's first match in charge, a ropy 2-1 home win over Hull, in a season that ended with a Double. But for all Villas-Boas' ability, he is highly unlikely to emulate that without making changes.

Alex, culpable for West Brom's goal, may be one of those sacrificed. He was outmuscled by Shane Long, who has scored in both games for his new club following his £7m arrival from Reading. Manager Roy Hodgson said there are grounds to expect even more.

"If he continues to improve and make the same semi-meteoric rise that he has made since coming from Ireland to Reading, I wouldn't be surprised if bigger clubs are knocking on our door," he said.

Long should have teed up Somen Tchoyi to double West Brom's advantage but his cross was astray, and that proved to be the contest's pivotal moment. Two down and Chelsea would have been out of it. Instead they rallied, switching to a 4-4-2 formation and Nicolas Anelka coming to life as a central striker, and his low, deflected shot drew his side level.

Florent Malouda then swept in the winning goal in the 83rd minute. It was desperately cruel on West Brom, but they are far too good to struggle for long under Hodgson, whose simple target is to stay up this season.

Villas-Boas has much bigger ambitions but it is difficult to see him realising them without some new faces to fill the creative deficit. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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