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When the appointment of Rafael Benitez was announced by Chelsea, many expected the Spaniard to tighten up the Chelsea defence, as he had done when he arrived at Liverpool.
In those years, Benitez had quite a consistent back line of defenders, with Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Steve Finnan and Djimi Traore playing most games in the early years, and with Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel, Alvaro Arbeloa and Fabio Aurelio being regulars towards the end of Benitez’s tenure.
But at Chelsea, it appears Benitez doesn’t know exactly who his best four defenders are.
At right back, Chelsea only really have two options, those options being natural right back Cesar Azpilicueta and versatile Branislav Ivanovic who prefers playing at the heart of the defence. Roberto Di Matteo seemed to prefer Ivanovic at right back, not much of a surprise considering how many though of Ivanovic as the Premier League’s best in that position towards the end of the 2009/10 season.
But since Benitez’s arrival, Cesar Azpilicueta has taken that place more regularly, putting in solid displays against Manchester City, Fulham, Leeds and in the 8-0 trouncing of Aston Villa. However, in recent games, the Spaniard has made a few foolish and ultimately costly errors.
Many people, including myself feel he was at fault for both Southampton goals in that 2-2 draw back in January at Stamford Bridge, and he has looked defensively frail on too many occasions for him to be considered reliable in my opinion. So, due to his power and ability to assist the centre halves, whoever they may be on the day, I feel Branislav Ivanovic is Chelsea’s best option at right back, although he would probably rather be at centre back himself.
Speaking of the centre back position, that area has also been a problem for Chelsea this season too, arguably their biggest problem aside from a feeling of discontent among many of the club’s fans towards manager Rafael Benitez.
Gary Cahill, who had an excellent first half a season in the blue shirt of Chelsea last year, hasn’t been as consistent this campaign. His last ditch tackles have been as impressive as ever, but the point is that he lets strikers in good positions far too often. Many have touted Cahill as a future Chelsea club captain, but I feel he needs to regain his focus if he wants to be at a level where he is one of Chelsea’s first names on the team sheet.
David Luiz, who many have written off as being too rash and too eager to impress, has mellowed this season apparently. Although he still does love to run forward with the ball, he is much less wasteful and indecisive when on the ball. Those defensive positioning problems still do exist for the Brazilian, but they are slowly but surely coming out of his game.
John Terry, the Chelsea club captain of the past nine years, is also being written off by many. More and more injuries, less and less clean sheets and more lapses in concentration mean Terry is no longer a guaranteed starter for Chelsea, despite still being captain and a hero to many of the club’s fans.
Some have claimed Terry is off the pace and he certainly does not have the energy levels he once had. In saying this, as a Chelsea fan, I do feel a lot less concerned when opposition sides go forward when John Terry is at the heart of the defence.
When deciding on which centre backs to play in the ideal Chelsea starting eleven, I think it is important to consider which combinations work. In my opinion, Chelsea’s best collective defensive performance of the entire 2011/12 season was at home to the mighty FC Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, which Chelsea famously went on to win, both legs, the tie and eventually the competition.
Despite countless offensive onslaughts by Barcelona’s star studded attacking players, the central defensive partnership of Gary Cahill and John Terry held strong and saw them through to a 1-0 win which went a long way to securing European success for the Blues.
Based on this immense performance, Cahill and Terry have the potential to be a superb defensive partnership on their day and so I think they should be given a run in the side together.
To make up the defensive line of course I would have Ashley Cole, who is still the best left back in the world in my opinion, and a Chelsea legend.
His contract extension means he is ideal for Chelsea and can help to improve Ryan Bertrand, and any other young left backs at the club.
Written by Joshua Sodergren
Follow him on Twitter @chelsealad1365
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