Tell me how you play and I will tell you who you are. In its game against Inter Milan, Chelsea’s defense was disjointed, its midfield exposed, and its strikers, who rely on the quick up-field pass from their defenders and midfielders to launch their counter-strike, were stranded and mostly impotent. Chelsea was even worse in Saturday’s game against Manchester City, a team whose lack of creativity is interrupted only by its bursts of lethargy. And while two games do not make psychological study, for teams playing to win the title, the margin of error is so minute, each point so important, that the points-possible pyramid is inverted: when teams in the bottom-half of the standings win, it is a victory – the reason why they play the game – and they gain three points. When teams at the top win, they are maintaining their position. When they lose, they drop three points. They have slipped. Maintaining or slipping comes down to the culture of the team, the connecting genetic strand that is its personality.
Inter Milan took it to them and took it to them hard, striking quickly, decisively and without fear. José Mourinho ran his Inter team with two strikers attacking Chelsea’s flanks, a formation Chelsea does not normally see, especially with the high quality and great movement that Inter showed. Chelsea had to play without their injured left full-back Ashley Cole and the lack of cohesion showed. Cole is not only an excellent defender who works well with center-back John Terry to shut down attacks, he is also a strong force on the left side. Quick and with a strong sense of when to commit, Cole will sprint forward in attack, pulling opponents down field in their attempt to cover him. John Terry, who has looked wobbly for months, looked bad as Chelsea was beaten 2-1 in the first of two Champions League games against Inter Milan, the trophy, the one that says you are the best club in Europe, is the trophy Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea, covets most.
All four goals Man City scored were a result of an unsettled, vulnerable Chelsea defense. The first goal was a result of a comedy of errors by Chelsea, including a John Terry mishit. The second came because the Chelsea defense was caught out of position on a counter-strike. With the defense in disarray, Chelsea’s Belletti opted to bang down Gareth Barry inside the penalty box instead of let him get a clean shot. Belletti got a red card for his efforts and while he was heading to an early shower City scored the penalty kick. The fourth came when City perfectly played a five-on-three counter-attack. Chelsea’s defense is a shambles.