Chelsea’s age-old problem

by Jonathan Daniels

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Tonight Andre Villas-Boas faces a date with Champions League destiny, as his side face Valencia needing a win or a 0-0 draw in order to progress in the lucrative competition. Winning the Champions League has long been a priority for Chelsea and their owner Roman Abramovich, demonstrated by Sir Alex Ferguson’s claim that success in the competition had become “an obsession” for Chelsea. Given the club’s lust for Champions league glory an early exit from the competition tonight could lead some to question the new manager’s job security.

Villas-Boas arrived at Stamford Bridge in the summer inheriting an ageing squad in desperate need of a reduction to the squad’s average age through the introduction of younger players. It seems that Villas-Boas is well aware of this reality with his belief that his job at Chelsea is a three-year project.

The purchase of Juan Mata, and Daniel Sturridge becoming a first-team regular highlights the steps that the young manager has already taken to reenergise the squad with more youthful players. However this blooding of youth has not resulted in a return to the success that Chelsea’s fans have become accustomed to ever since the “Roman Revolution”.

Villas-Boas has attempted to dramatically alter Chelsea’s style of play in a short period of time. The side’s physicality that was a feature of the Mourinho era, with long balls played into Drogba up front has been replaced by a more open brand of attacking football. The inclusion of smaller more skilful players, such as Mata, has seen a transformation in Chelsea’s style to a quicker paced passing game. However this change seems to have left Chelsea far too open and vulnerable at the back with Obi Mikel in particular looking exposed in his midfield holding role without the support network of experienced and physical Premier League players around him.

It appears that in Chelsea’s haste to lower the squad’s average age the club has forgotten to hold on to experience in the most important position, the manager. Villas-Boas arrived in the Chelsea hot seat with just 88 games of professional club management experience and hadn’t been in charge of a single Champions league game. His inexperience of dealing with top-class players appears to be showing as he struggles to gain the best from star players such as Drogba and Torres who have managed only 7 goals between them so far this season. While model professional Frank Lampard’s obvious unhappiness with being substituted at the weekend offers further proof that the young Portuguese is struggling to satisfy Chelsea’s more experienced players.

However Villas-Boas may enjoy a stay of execution that has not been so kindly granted to his predecessors. Chelsea appear eager to end the management merry go round that has become associated with the club in recent years in the hope that stability will lead to success.

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