Not that Tony Gale again...?
You don't need Michael Cox to tell you what Aston Villa did to beat us embarrassingly at Stamford Bridge in a result that consigned Andre Villas-Boas to his seventh defeat as Chelsea boss - more than Luis Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink combined.
Basically, the entire game plan focused around squeezing the life out of any attack through the middle, and forcing Chelsea to build attacks from the wings. As both our attacking wingers like to come inside, opposition managers know that's it's only the full backs to worry about in the wide areas.
As we all know, Cole and Bosingwa (to a lesser extent) are about as good at beating an opposition defender in an one on one as Rafael and Park Ji Sung are at being a central midfield duo. Therefore the fullbacks just send in cross after cross after cross, which they are somewhat decent at doing.
Their's two problems with this. One is that they are both bloody inconsistent at crossing, and while Ferriera is an improvement, he's not a solution because of his age and defensive abilities. Secondly goals from crosses are an imperfect art, as evidenced by Liverpool and their general strategy whenever Andy Carroll is playing. In the Aston Villa game alone, Chelsea put in a staggering total of forty crosses into the box, of which only four were successful. That's not to say crossing can't be a successful method of attack, but if you have only a lazy Drogba in the box most of the time and secondly you want to play like Barcelona, then there's probably a need to look at solving this problem of creating chances another way.
Many comments in the match thread revolved around a general frustration at our impotence in attack, particularly at the lack of 'creativity' from midfield. Time and time again we hear the call from fans to sign up a central playmaker who can open up defences, retain the ball, someone like Luka Modric. Considering the effort that the club went to in the summer to sign the Croatian, it's fair to think that Villas-Boas agrees.
But the closest thing we've had to a Luka Modric is Deco or Joe Cole, and they were never really fundamental parts of a first choice Chelsea team. We've done reasonably well over the years as well, so how have we been winning games without a midfielder in the Modric vein all these years?
The first answer to this is that the players we had (and for some of them, still have) were much better then. Michael Essien and Frank Lampard were in their prime during Chelsea's most successful years, as were Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Ashley Cole.
The second answer to this lies within the Chelsea shape. Since Mourinho arrived in West London we've rarely strayed from a basic 4-3-3 shape, with wide forwards supplementing a lone striker, and a 2-1 midfield triangle. The one would nominally stay in position deep, while the other two central players would control the play. Lampard and Essien, the two 'staples', never had a function of being primary playmakers. That job fell to the two wingers, who cut inside to create something (as Ferguson says, the most dangerous attacker is the one that starts wide and comes in). In doing this it makes much more sense for someone with a skill set like Daniel Sturridge to play out wide rather than through the center competing against a congested defence.
When a team plays attacking and leaves space in their defence then this plan works. When you have strong attacking full backs, this plan works. When you don't have either of these two things, as seen against Fulham, Villa and Wigan, these wide players who are primarily responsible for creating, can really struggle.
Does this mean that we need someone who can create through the middle, like Xavi or Paul Scholes? Perhaps. That's probably why those type of players cost silly money, and why those with the potential to be anything resembling the names aforementioned are highly rated (here's looking at you Josh). It seems pretty clear that Chelsea aren't keen on silly money anymore after the Fernando Torres debacle. When Luka Modric is going to cost forty million, there comes a point where you have to concede that this approach is not going to work.
You probably then have two options: either sign new fullbacks to cross better, or sign new some new wide forwards. Given the talent in these kinds of positions, and the bargains that can be picked up (think Vargas), then this may be the way to go for Chelsea. This is a position in the squad that's sorely lacking given the departure of Nicolas Anelka to China today. It was telling that Villas-Boas, when faced with a poor game from Daniel Sturridge, really only had Fernando Torres to turn to.
One can argue that instead of sticking with this Mourinho-given template we change over to a new way of playing, and that's exactly what Andre Villas-Boas is all about. Unfortunately that takes some doing, as we saw in the earlier part of the season. Until he can do the much-vaunted 'revamp', we have to stick with what we got.
P.S I am organizing a raffle to raise funds to hire a hitman for Tony Gale. Please contribute.