19 mars 2009

In Guus We Trust

(även publicerad på Vital Chelsea).

I think Sunday was the first real Guus Hiddink-game Chelsea played.

After his incredible start with no losses and six wins in seven games, one could say that everything is Guus Hiddink games.

Despite Chelsea not scoring as many goals as the play and game deserved and despite that Manchester City were even poorer than expected - I thought the game was highly interesting. In no game before have we so obviously been able to see what changes and what play Guus Hiddink prefers. And I did not go into heart-attack mode the last 15 as I have done every game when we did not have 2 or 3 goals up this season. It was so solid, though we should have score much more goals.

We have seen parts of it, the new directness, the defence play. Sunday we saw it all. We saw how he has urged the wing backs to go forward more carefully and not forgetting to defend. How the entire team does not have only one mandate, but also the requirement to act as defenders when the opposition attacks and the play turns.

Guus Hiddink`s playbook reminds a lot of the José Mourinho-preferred play. It starts with defending and if there has to be a number`s game it is 4-3-3, but hardly at all mandatory.

Hiddink is deeply entrenched in the Dutch total football style. Total football is just what it says, it is football in which everyone have to do a bit of everything.

Yet Hiddink teams are always evolutional. Hiddink never forces his style on his teams, he adapts to the culture of the club and country he trains, and from there he changes what needs to be changed. In South Korea he had to deal with a very hierarchic football. It was a national team that in reality lived and trained as club ahead of the 2002 World Cup. Hiddink soon found out that his young talented players would never shine or more correctly dare to try to shine as they deferentially always bowed down to the older more experiences players as that was the culture of the team. Hiddink broke it up and chose to go with the young players and encourage their optimism.

In Australia, also a part time manager, he soon discovered that the team had many good qualities but it was not in their nature to defend. He turned the team around and had a team that became extremely defensively tight both in the qualifying round and in the World Cup. Remember they went out only due to a wrongly given penalty after a Italian dive. Italy then went on to win the tournament. With Russia he noticed similar problems and very soon Russia played what the number game people came to call a 3-6-1 system with roving wingers and fullbacks that took turns going forward and messing up all tactical play for the opponents, just remember what they did to the tactically very adept Swedish team or the Dutch team that until then been the most impressive in the tournament, they could simply not keep up with the amazing speed of Russia.

The most obvious tactical changes he has made in Chelsea is that he is using mr Everywhere, Michael Essien in a for him rather new role in Chelsea. (Essien has tried just about evey role but goalkeeper, so it is not entirely new). But Hiddink has placed the engine of the bison as the offensive midfielder. He is not really a playmaker, but he is everywhere utilising the amazing engine and thrust forward that is innate in Essien. He even scores now.

Most talk has been about the pairing of Anelka and Drogba up front and some, excuse my language, morons still question it. In my book if you have two players like Drogba and Anelka fit and ready, then you always play them whether one or the other have to hold back his natural game at times during the game. With Hiddink that is the natural state, one can go forward and the other covers and in the next attack the roles could be reversed.

It is never a question of pushing someone out on the flank or such, it is a question of using the best qualities of each player in the way that the team gains the most from. Not always what the player himself prefers. Drogba is flourishing under this kind of freedom under responsibility. Anelka has less problems than before when playing with Drogba but has not taken to the game as much as Drogba, which I mainly think is because his injury in this transitional period. He simply has not had the same time to adapt. Also Anelka is much more a box player and defending, which is a necessity in this play, does not yet come naturally to him. He tries in a very positive way. Drogba is again a force to be reckoned with in both boxes during a game.

The defence is prioritised. The players in defence are allowed to go forward and rove rather freely, but only as long as their very prime concern is the defending. Hence Bosingwa, the most offensiveminded of the backs is now a bit more quiet, but also showing defensive skills that came second under Scolari. The same can be said for Ashley Cole. JT is JT, but I still claim that he now again is acting with his natural authority in a way he did not under the more lax Scolari gameplan.

JT again knows what is expected by him and he is getting back into JT-form, reading the game, thrusting forward and steering the team from the back. I love to see it. Alex has mainly been his wing man and the pair of them have now the best record in the Premiership in not allowing goals. Carvalho was back from a long injury and he was not really in the game Sunday, but that is due to rust. Riccy is intelligent enough to adapt to defending first and pushing forward as moments. After all, that is more his natural game anyway.

Cech looks way more comfortable now again when he knows where his backs are and what they are supposed to do. The confusion between game theories of man-man and zonal play messed up his play something seriously.

Back to the midfield, always the key for Chelsea. When needed we have a holding midfielder that is getting to be one of the best in the business despite his age. Mikel has been struggling a bit lately, I think it is a form thing. He started the season brilliantly and he is now tired, and needs to be rested in some games. Like Sunday when Hiddink did not expect Chelsea to be pushed back by a strong opposing midfield.

The key on the key midfield is Michael Ballack. Now when no one dare to whine about Drogba the whiners have appointed him to be the major disappointment and man out in Chelsea. You are wrong I tell you and Hiddink is very happy with Ballack`s play, of that I am totally sure. I think that shows more about the whiners than football knowledge.

In this Hddink make over, two players have been asked to sacrifice themselves and their normal game more than the others. They are Ballack and Lampard. Both have been taken downfield, they are not playing as attacking and high up field as before. Hiddink has done this out of two main reasons. He wants them to attack straighter towards the goal, to go deep in a totally different way than before and he wants them to get more time to organise and steer the Chelsea play. I would say that Lampard is still adjusting to this, while Ballack shows an immediate grasp. I have no fear that when Lampard feel more comfortable in this role his game will advance even another notch.

It is very obvious that Ballack goes deeper into our own defence and serve more direct deep balls to forwards. The biggest problem Scolari caused Chelsea was that forwards came downfield to pick up the ball. Now the ball have to find the forward on the run. A game ideally suited for Drogba. Ballack delivers this. His bad form and lack of self confidence in front of goal is the next thing for Ballack to improve. I should not say bad form as he still is moving about the pitch more than any other player (he had the best figures in distance covered in the CL-game, despite not playing full time).

He misses his chances of goal almost like a Kalou, and that is a confidence thing. He is also a bit rough in taking tackles close to our own goal as that is not what he used to do. I am full of admiration though how quickly he has adapted and how he runs the game from further back now. We are in the early stages and just like Lampard he will only be better and better in this. It is my firm belief that Ballack is a key for Hiddink`s new Chelsea game. Also with him taking on this role, he will free up Lampard and let him be even more concentrated on scoring.

Hiddink has adapted to the Chelsea players and realises that we do not have the players for a wide game, so the focus in a straight deep play instead. Forwards are now being forwards and not midfielders. Their job is to score, to attack not transport the ball up to the box. He takes naturally to what is there and try not to make it into anything it is not.

I also (did I imagine?) saw Malouda play better than in a very long time and posed a threat at times . At least he sure was better than Robinho that according to Scolari, and some others, was the answer to all of Chelsea`s problems. Guus Hiddink trust the quality and ability of Chelsea instead of dreaming of a plan B. I love it.

It was the Aussies that coined the phrase, In Guus We Trust. I am a follower.






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