Mark Clattenburg cost Chelsea the game yesterday – or, at least, he sort of did. It’s very easy to attribute the lost points to under-par officiating, but in reality some self-reflection is needed from Roberto Di Matteo and his squad. They didn’t defend well enough, and that area of the team looks increasingly fragile.
The attacking third of this side has improved exponentially over the Summer, of course it has, but the team looks very lopsided. Just in the last week, look at the goals conceded at White Hart Lane, in Donetsk, and at Stamford Bridge; they were all avoidable. There’s no protection from midfield, and there’s no cohesion at centre-back.
Apologists for Gary Cahill and David Luiz will argue that they’re a developing partnership who are still adapting to each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but they’re still a shambles – and even when John Terry’s ban expires, his age predicates that he can’t be a permanent solution. This has to be addressed, Cahill and Luiz are chaotic together: they’re both ball-players, they’re almost frustrated midfielders.
When the January window opens, and Michael Emenalo inevitably gets all dizzy at the thought of Radamel Falcao, his focus should actually be on pursuing someone who can protect this defence. A Sven Bender, a Cheik Tiote…someone like that, someone who can subdue creativity and who can fill the gap that Michael Essien’s decline and departure has left at Stamford Bridge.
Mark Clattenburg was complicit in Chelsea’s demise yesterday, but let’s not forget that he had no hand in either of United’s first two goals nor did he have any choice but to dismiss Branislav Ivanovic after the Serbian brought Ashley Young down – a stronger defensive midfield, and Robin van Persie doesn’t get the opportunity to spin out of a tackle and play Young in. It was soft, and that was the moment that actually changed the game – that red card killed the home side’s momentum.
It’s easy to blame the referee, and in this instance it’s justifiable, but there are still lessons to learn.
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