Recent Lessons In Clubhouse Chemistry
Now that the English teams have pretty well fleshed themselves out in Europe, as well as the Premier League title race, I think it’s time to take a look at some clubs who made personnel moves on the pitch. The January transfer window was as active as ever, and now that mid-April has approached we are beginning to see some of the fruits to these moves. While a few bring wonderful tastes of sweetness to the palate, others cause you to spit acidity while you grasp for a tumbler of water.
Today, we saw Chelsea drop out of Champions League play. This was a team that looked unbreakable in August and September. As the fixture list began to clutter, breakdown started to happen. The 3-0 thrashing by Sunderland was a harbinger of the coming months. Just as the Blues had started to find their legs again, the owner went shopping for a 50 million pound striker to solve all of the problems. Prior to Fernando Torres’ entry into the team, Chelsea enjoyed four goal performances against Bolton and Sunderland.
As soon as Torres took the field with Drogba, they lost 1-0 at home to Torres’ former employer, Liverpool. The offensive revival hit a snag. An up-and-down set of months ensued, with Torres looking distracted and Drogba uninterested in forging any partnership with the Spaniard. Of course, Torres wasn’t the only transfer, and center back David Luiz has actually fit into the squad rather well thus far. But the culmination of the mangled striker corps was today’s second leg against United, where Torres again lagged around the pitch like the overweight kid in gym class. After the half, Drogba came on and grabbed a goal, but it has been assumed that the Ivorian will be on the way out of Stamford Bridge. Not only has the addition of Torres been ineffective at finding offense, but he seems to have drained the confidence out of the entire forward group.
As I indicated earlier, there were transfers which have led to favorable results. One such case was on display yesterday, and was contrasted against a team that lies somewhere in between. The team that sold Torres, Liverpool, used the funds earned on the Torres transfer to purchase Luis Suarez from Ajax, as well as Andy Carroll from Newcastle United. To be fair, the Reds also benefited from a change in managers two weeks before the transfers took place. Another aspect was that there were similar rumblings about Torres’ attitude before his departure from Anfield. As I see it, there are four possible answers to their improved form (or some combination of the three): a) the change from Roy Hodgson to Kenny Dalglish, b) Torres’ flight, c) the loss of captain Steven Gerrard to injury, or d) the inclusion of Suarez and Carroll. If I had to choose, a) and b) together have livened up the dressing room, regardless of who has been striking. Suarez and Carroll are definitely asserting themselves, and I think the Reds’ future exploits will be dependent as much on d) as anything. I don’t think Gerrard’s absence has been much of a factor, but I imagine some might disagree.
Their opponent yesterday, Manchester City, have been major buyers over the last couple of seasons. They didn’t disappoint in January. Their prize signing was Edin Dzeko, a striker who wowed at Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. The Bosnian has enjoyed his moments for City, but none of them have come in Premier League competition. In fact, most of his goals have come in the Europa League, where he should have a comfort factor against defenses that are less physical in their play. His only goals in English competition have come in the FA Cup, against League One competition Notts County.
Generally speaking, the Citizens are a horse of a different color though. Roberto Mancini tends to be a more pragmatic manager, especially on the road. To say that their offense struggles is to be inaccurate; it would be closer to the truth to say that Mancini tactically under-utilizes his expensive weapons. As the opposition gets tougher, the Italian manager asks his team to retreat into a shell to preserve a clean sheet. I don’t believe Dzeko is as much of a concern as Torres for Chelsea. Dzeko has actively pursued goals in the times I’ve watched, while Torres is somewhere between timid and unmotivated.
So where does this analysis lead? My hypothesis is that the main factor lies within the continuity of vision between ownership and the manager. In my opinion, the vision of Liverpool’s ownership group syncs well with that of Dalglish. In the case of Chelsea, I think Roman Abramovich’s vision is that he knows what’s best for the on-field product, and that leaves Carlo Ancelotti seemingly forced to play a guy whose play would be described as second choice right now. For Manchester City, I doubt Sheikh Mansour spends millions on strikers to have Mancini play ten behind the ball.
Therefore, I see no other end but for both Chelsea and Manchester City to both make managerial changes this offseason. Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour will try to get tacticians who can develop on-field tactics to best utilize their high-price forwards.
With all of this, if we take the time since last summer’s transfer market, one has to say that the most productive recent acquisition has been Javier Hernandez. At a time when Manchester United was suffering from Wayne Rooney’s distractions and Dimitar Berbatov’s inconsistent performances, Chicharito became a super substitute. Even in the Community Shield he showed his poaching prowess. His hard work earned his way into the starting squad. He has 17 goals in all competitions, all for 6 million pounds. Hernandez has now become a fan favorite at Old Trafford and abroad. His energy has invigorated the league leaders, a team that looked suspect back in October and November. Of course, there is little question that Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for his signings, and his leadership seems to produce more gold than grime, especially from his modest acquisitions.
My point is not to glorify Manchester United, but rather to back my hypothesis that unified vision down the line can help explain some of these trends. I’ll be interested to see how things play out in the offseason, and to see how those moves affect an ever-shifting Premier League. Splashing cash can gain you quality players, but it doesn’t always translate into trophies.
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