Chelsea have had a mixed bag of results lately to say the least, a comprehensive win over Schalke then a stuttering draw against West Brom. Then easily brushing past the bubble blowing brigade only to be shut down in Switzerland against a good Basel side. Next up is a tricky game against Southampton who, and I hold my hand up here as I didn’t think Pochettino would survive this long, have surprised everyone with their ascent up the table. Chelsea will not find it easy to get all three points, and will have to play a helluva lot better than on Tuesday night. Obviously the burning issue is regarding the Juan Mata and his future at Chelsea, I still think he has a vital role at Chelsea but the problem is finding that role for him.
The issue with Juan Mata at Chelsea is that I feel him and Oscar in a 4-2-3-1 system do not work effectively. What Benitez did last season, when he picked Mata and Oscar together was to give Mata all the freedom and play Oscar as a winger or someone who was the link between the holding midfielders and Mata. This season what Jose Mourinho has done is given Oscar that ‘free role’ and you can see exactly how it benefited him. Against West Ham, Chelsea were offered that width with Hazard and as a result Oscar could come in more centrally despite playing as a right winger in Jose’s 4-3-3. That was because West Ham’s system was very narrow with only Stewart Downing being their outlet (and the fact for some odd reason Kevin Nolan was playing as a striker), it allowed Oscar to play more centrally and not worry too much about the defensive duties on the right hand side.
Against Basel it was very different however, as Mourinho selected two central players to play in the wing positions with Willian and Oscar both willing to cut in and try and create something. But Basel played with width which meant both Willian and Oscar had to also track back and assist the two fullbacks leaving them unable at times to fulfil their attacking duties. From what I can remember from watching that awful game, Basel did well to pin our full backs and force the two ‘wide’ players to defend thus, as I said, limiting their creativity. It was no surprise that when Eden Hazard came on he injected a bit of spark into the game, forcing the Basel full-backs to defend and limiting them from going forward. Which is why I think Mourinho then decided to bring on Kevin De Bruyne and not Juan Mata later in the game, though I did find it a bit odd when Andre Schurrle was available, but maybe he wasn’t fully match fit and was being saved for the game on Sunday.
What maybe I would like to see happen on Sunday against Southampton is for Mourinho to retain the 4-3-3 (as I think it is our best formation) but try out something slightly different. For this formation to work effectively I think one of Eden Hazard or Schurrle have to start every game, and be able to get at both the right and the left opposing fullbacks. In addition to one of those two playing I think Juan Mata should play in one of those wing positions, as he did at Valencia (and quite well according to ‘experts’) as Southampton do not play with much width and it would allow him to drift in centrally to influence the game. It would certainly provide Mourinho with another option and help avoid another dire fest that we saw in Switzerland.
One thing I would love to see happen on Sunday is for Oscar to play as part of the midfield 3 alongside one of Ramires/Lampard and John Mikel Obi. I think his pressing will be absolutely vital against Victor Wanyama, who to me was Southampton’s standout performer against Arsenal. If Oscar can successfully contain him then I think Chelsea will have a great chance at getting all three points. He has shown at various times in his Chelsea career that he can do that role effectively, with the most notable example being the game against Juventus last season.
Obviously these are just observations from the last couple of games but I think 4-3-3 is a method that Chelsea can proceed with and to me the most important player from now to the end of the season is that Brazilian bundle of joy Oscar. The way in which he has seamlessly adapted into English football is remarkable, considering he played almost 90 games for club and country last season. Mourinho and Chelsea need to manage him well and it is no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the best players in the world in the future.