I know I didn't manage to do a tactical analysis of the Chelsea-Fulham game from midweek. Sorry! Fortunately, some kind, wonderful soul has decided to take one of the most interesting elements of the game and put it all on video for you. So - here's what I'm assuming is all of Oriol Romeu's touches from 120 minutes of football. Enjoy. I'll have a couple of comments after the jump.
To some bullet points!
- The most noticeable part of Romeu's play is his control. This manifests itself in two ways. First of all, he receives the ball far better than does John Obi Mikel, which means he can distribute the ball more quickly. Watch how close the ball is to his feet at all times in possession, even under huge pressure by the defenders. Mikel's major issue with passing is his tempo. Romeu doesn't have that issue.
The second place superior control comes into play is in the tackle. Chelsea, as mentioned several times over the past year, have problems with winning the ball cleanly, and this leads to the defence having to deal with more attacks than they really ought to. When Romeu won the ball here, he won it and immediately was able to do something with it. He was like the David Luiz to Mikel's John Terry.
- And, just to show it wasn't all good, he (I've just noticed I'm doing transitions here so I don't even need these to be bullet points. Dammit) did some David Luizing of the bad sort, too. His positioning wasn't nearly as disciplined as Mikel's, which is odd considering that a defensive midfielder from Pep Guardiola's Barcelona ought to be the very model of discipline in dropping back to form a back three (or two and a half, when DL is around), and that was partially to blame for some very odd play by the whole back line. Granted, Chelsea's line has been suspect all year, but Romeu didn't help.
Then there were the boneheaded plays. If Andre Villas-Boas was some sort of military dictator, blind passes played laterally in the last line of defence would be a capital crime. Hell, if I ever become a military dictator, you'd better watch yourselves if you want to do that sort of thing. It's ridiculous. Oh, and how about that first-half shot that was virtually a carbon copy of Gareth Barry's critical error for England against Germany? When you're the mobile shield for the back line, you absolutely do not hit a shot in a way which encourages a fast break to happen behind you*.
*The next time Romeu was presented with a shot at the edge of the area and masses of white shirts ready to block the ball and break downfield, he did the sensible thing and passed to Romelu Lukaku unmarked on the right flank. Learning!
One thing I will say for both of those mistakes is that it was Romeu himself who recovered the situation. For the former case, I have no idea how Fulham managed to turn what should have been the world's easiest one-on-one with Ross Turnbull into running horizontally straight into the guy who just gave you the ball, but hey. The latter was just good defending, getting over into the corner to relieve Paulo Ferreira and win the ball (cleanly!).
- If you'll bear with my train of thought as it veers back onto the Mikel comparison tracks, one of the striking things about Romeu is how his passes were just like his Nigerian counterpart's in terms of trajectory. There were balls floated to the flanks, a couple over the top, and a lot of short point-shifting attempts, and they were mostly successful. I don't have passing radials for this game, but I bet nobody would be able to tell the difference between Romeu on Wednesday and Mikel vs. Swansea. Compared to Mikel, then Romeu's passing range doesn't appear to be spectacular (with the caveat being that Mikel is a very good passer, statistically) - the difference is all in technique, and technique means speed.
- While passing range, close control and propensity for boneheadism are things that are relatively independent of the level of competition one happens to be facing, actual defensive play is not, so it's hard to get a gauge of just how competent Romeu is at stopping attacks. Schooling the Fulham reserves is not something that's particularly impressive, ten men or no - I look like the second coming Gianfranco Zola* on those hypothetical occasions I go down to the local park and interrupt under-12 matches with my amazing footballing skill.
*It's probably the hair.
In other words, we don't actually know how good Oriol Romeu is at defending yet. We can make some pretty good guesses, considering Villas-Boas loves him and thinks he can slot in at centre back and that he comes from the same academy as Sergio Busquets does, but a third-round Carling Cup match isn't very compelling evidence one way or another.
- Oh, and speaking of Romeu as centre back, it's a little bit curious that Villas-Boas, who'd mentioned the possibility several times over the summer, was given a chance to try it in a match when Alex was sent off and instead demurred, curtailing Josh McEachran's playing time to introduce John Terry, who played without the armband for the first time since the Burgess Shale was laid down. I think I have an answer to that, but it's mostly speculation, and I'm not that smart: It's David Luiz again
If you'll recall, after the Bayer Leverkusen game I discussed the defensive pivot, the mechanism by which an attack-happy centre half like Sideshow Jesus or Phil Jones can storm forward without opening up the defence too much. Essentially you need a holding midfielder to drop into the defence, and another midfielder to withdraw a little bit too.
So, in order for David Luiz to have worked at all post-red card, Chelsea needed a holding midfielder. Had Romeu been pulled back to partner with him, they'd have a holding midfielder playing out of position behind the hardly formidable screen of Lampard and McEachran, who despite their many talents aren't going to do much in stopping drives through the centre. If it had been the sexy Brazilian who'd been sent off rather than the angry one, one suspects that we'd have seen Romeu used as a centre half.
Anyway, it was a relatively successful, solid performance by Romeu, and he definitely deserves another look. It wasn't all perfect, however, and he has some work to do if he wants to crack the first team on a regular basis. It's unlikely that he'll ever be one of Chelsea's best players, but he's got the ability to unseat Mikel as holding midfielder, perhaps as early as this season. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.