Lee Dixon: Terry needs reliable other half as wandering Luiz is leaving holes at the back for Chelsea
The Weekend Dossier
Saturday 29 October 2011
Chelsea and Andre Villas-Boas had been quietly and effectively going about their business, picking up the wins, scoring goals, sitting comfortably in the background while the Manchester clubs hogged the headlines. Then came last weekend.
Villas-Boas would have been very happy with the way things were developing at Stamford Bridge prior to the extraordinary events at Loftus Road last Sunday. A new manager needs time to settle his team down, get his ideas across to the players, and it helps to stay beneath the radar while that process is going on. There were issues earlier in the season, with Fernando Torres still not scoring and questions over Frank Lampard's future. But Torres scored a couple of goals and Lampard hit that hat-trick at Bolton and attentions turned north again, whether it was to north London or Manchester.
Chelsea do look stronger in some areas this season, especially in midfield, where Ramires has now found his feet and Raul Meireles has quickly proved an astute buy from Liverpool. They also help to leave Lampard to get on with his own game. Up front Daniel Sturridge has impressively taken the chance that Villas-Boas has given him.
So far so good and actually, even though they were beaten at Loftus Road and had those two red cards, there was still plenty for Villas-Boas to take from that game (leaving aside the allegations against John Terry – let's wait and see what the FA says about that). It was a bad result but the performance in the second half when it was nine against 11 was encouraging. It showed a spirit and togetherness that will have really pleased Villas-Boas as well as the manner in which they dominated long periods and controlled possession despite their numerical disadvantage.
A manager needs to see all aspects of his team. When things are going well, the wins and performances are rolling along, a team more or less manages itself – anyone can be a manager then. It's when things don't go to plan that the manager has to get a grip, and the response of Villas-Boas's players in adversity, and the way in which his substitutions worked, ticks boxes. They could have won and they certainly should have got a point.
The lack of discipline is an obvious concern – Didier Drogba will be a big miss against Arsenal as he has such a good record against them (and given Arsenal's continued vulnerability at set pieces). But there is another area that gives me greater concern.
Chelsea have played well at home – won four out of four – and had some big wins, but even in those there have been signs of frailty at the back, most obviously at centre-half. Take the game against Norwich back in August – they won 3-1 but it was noticeable how often the visitors were able to get beyond Chelsea's central defence. It seems even more of a problem now as when David Luiz – who has come back into the starting XI over the last month – plays alongside John Terry, there is a lack of cohesion.
Ahead of them there is a better shape in the centre of midfield which takes some pressure off the back line but that defence worries me. In the past it didn't matter so much who partnered Terry, but as he gets older there is a greater need for an equal partner, someone reliable alongside him, and at the moment that does not look like Luiz. I don't like what I see in Luiz when it comes to taking up defensive positions and his tendency to take chances. In the first half against QPR he was constantly bombing forward. Imagine how that went down on the Match of the Day sofa, where Alan Hansen and I were sitting together! Where the heck does he think he is going? I'm not sure he knows the answer much of the time.
QPR got behind Luiz and that led to the only goal – bigger teams will do it more often. The Brazilian doesn't seem a natural defender – and that is a real coaching challenge for Villas-Boas. He gets himself in some strange positions and that has a snowball effect on the rest of the back line, others are forced to change position to cover and that can end in panic. Luiz appears to have something of a red-mist zone as well – he doesn't come across as a calm individual. On the ball he looks great, but there is a time and a place.
This is not a problem unique to Chelsea. Throughout the Premier League there is a lack of real quality in central defence. Manchester United struggle if Nemanja Vidic is not around and Arsenal have yet to convince me that they have found the answer, although Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen need time to build a relationship. A settled back line makes such a difference.
1. The City performance I have wanted for a few decades!
It would have been the perfect weekend. Arsenal won and City did something I have been waiting for since I started watching them aged seven. And then Tottenham had to go and beat Blackburn (he says with tongue in cheek before the complaints flood in). It wasn't a freak result at Old Trafford but it was a freak scoreline with other factors, like the red card, contributing to the sheer number of goals. That's with my pundit's hat on, but as a boyhood City fan I just sat there and enjoyed it. It's been a long time coming.
2. Strength in depth means Wolves face second mauling
Wolves will not be looking forward to facing City again this afternoon. Having been hammered by City's second team at home in midweek, now they have to face the first team away. One of the more remarkable features of both City's games last week was how they scored goals in bursts, late in the first half at Wolves and at the end of the second at Old Trafford. It's been a week that has plainly showed the strength in depth Roberto Mancini has in his squad.
3. Fans must realise that positive support lifts players
Does a manager have the right to criticise his own club's fans? I can understand Mick McCarthy's frustration with sections of the Wolves support. As a player the atmosphere in your home ground makes a difference and if your own crowd is against you, you notice it and that is speaking from personal experience. It's a difficult balance – there's no obligation to show unquestioning support all the time but positive support will lift players.
4. Fans Kean to get rid and it could soon be Rover and out
It is getting very difficult for Steve Kean at Blackburn. The fan protests seem to be getting bigger and show no signs of dying down. He has the backing of the board, but how long can they ignore the dissatisfaction spreading around Ewood Park? Part of Kean's problem is that he has nothing to fall back on with the fans – no period of success and he wasn't the man they wanted in the first place. The team are not playing that badly, and it would not take much to lift them out of the bottom three, but at the moment everything is going against him in the League.
5. Stoke away is biggest test so far for high-flying Magpies
If I was a Newcastle player on the run they are on, I'd have fancied going to take on one of the big teams now. The one place I would not want to go is Stoke. Yes, Stoke have good footballers and it's not all one style of play, but they do play like no other club in the League. It's a one-off game and teams have to adapt to going to the Britannia Stadium, making changes to deal with a unique challenge. It could be Newcastle's biggest test so far.
Dixon's verdict on all the weekend action
Everton v Man United
Odds: Home 7-2; Draw 13-5; Away 4-5.
Kick-off: Today, 12pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Everton are without Phil Neville (hamstring) and Tim Cahill (shin) following the midweek defeat to Chelsea while Royston Drenthe is suspended following his red card in the League Cup loss. Manchester United have doubts over Ashley Young (toe) but Nemanja Vidic and Tom Cleverley are back in contention and Rafael has returned to training but remains short of match fitness. Jonny Evans also returns from suspension.
Chelsea v Arsenal
Odds: Home 4-7; Draw 3-1; Away 9-2.
Kick-off: Today, 12.45pm (Sky Sports 2; Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Chelsea have Ross Turnbull and Didier Drogba suspended following red cards in the week, but Jose Bosingwa and Fernando Torres return from bans and Ramires is back from a knee injury. Yossi Benayoun is ineligible and Hilario has flu. Arsenal welcome back Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) and give Carl Jenkinson (knee) a late fitness test. Kieran Gibbs (stomach) misses out.
Man City v Wolves
Odds: Home 1-6; Draw 6-1; Away 18-1.
Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Setanta Ireland; Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Roberto Mancini will again make wholesale changes for Manchester City's second match against Wolves inside four days. Owen Hargreaves (calf) has been ruled out while Carlos Tevez is unlikely to be recalled. Steven Fletcher again misses out for Wolves with a calf injury, so Kevin Doyle will lead the line. Ronald Zubar (groin) is short of fitness and Kevin Foley (ankle) is out.
Norwich v Blackburn
Odds: Home 10-11; Draw 13-5; Away 3-1.
Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Paul Lambert could again name an unchanged line-up following last weekend's fine point at Anfield, although Grant Holt, scorer against Liverpool, is pressing for a recall. Zak Whitbread (hamstring) remains out. Scott Dann returns from a calf injury for Blackburn, while Steven Nzonzi is available after serving a ban. Vince Grella, Ryan Nelsen, Michel Salgado and David Dunn remain out for Steve Kean's struggling side.
Sunderland v Aston Villa
Odds: Home 6-5; Draw 11-5; Away 12-5.
Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Steve Bruce is likely to keep the same line-up that won at Bolton last week, with Connor Wickham keeping his place up front and Kieran Richardson keeping Phil Bardsley on the bench. Titus Bramble is unavailable. Villa have Chris Herd available after his red card against West Bromwich Albion was overturned. Jermaine Jenas and Alan Hutton are included but midfielder Barry Bannan is suspended following his arrest last weekend.
Swansea v Bolton
Odds: Home 11-10; Draw 9-4; Away 13-5.
Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Swansea could be unchanged as Brendan Rodgers keeps faith with the XI that almost won at Wolves seven days ago. Kemy Agustien has returned to training from a hamstring injury, while Steven Caulker is also close to a comeback. Bolton are without on-loan Dedryck Boyata (ankle) but Fabrice Muamba and Mark Davies are pushing for inclusion after impressing in the League Cup defeat at Arsenal in midweek.
Wigan v Fulham
Odds: Home 2-1; Draw 11-5; Away 6-4.
Kick-off: Today, 3pm (Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Roberto Martinez remains hopeful Franco di Santo and James McCarthy will be available after both suffered hamstring injuries that kept them out of last weekend's defeat at Newcastle. Chris Kirkland has returned from a loan spell at Doncaster with a back complaint. Fulham are without defender Aaron Hughes, who picked up a thigh injury against Everton last week, while Philippe Senderos' own thigh complaint continues to be monitored.
West Brom v Liverpool
Odds: Home 11-4; Draw 9-4; Away 11-10.
Kick-off: Today, 5.30pm (ESPN; Highlights BBC 1 10.15pm)
Team news: Shane Long begins a six-week spell on the sidelines after being hurt in a tackle with Aston Villa's Alan Hutton last weekend, with Simon Cox and Somen Tchoyi vying to partner Peter Odemwingie in his absence. Paul Scharner, Graham Dorrans (both knee) and Jerome Thomas (foot) are fit. Liverpool will give a late test to Luis Suarez after the forward limped off during the midweek win at Stoke. Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson return.
Tottenham v QPR
Odds: Home 4-11; Draw 15-4; Away 8-1.
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 4pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights BBC 2 10pm)
Team news: William Gallas (calf) could make a first appearance in almost six months if he comes through a late fitness test, while Spurs also give late checks to Steven Pienaar and Ledley King (both groin). Neil Warnock could name an unchanged line-up from the side that beat Chelsea last week, with Danny Gabbidon (knee) and Armand Traoré (thigh) returning to contention.
Stoke v Newcastle
Odds: Home 6-5; Draw 23-10; Away 5-2.
Kick-off: Monday, 8pm (Sky Sports 1; Highlights Sky Sports 1, 12.30am Tuesday)
Team news: Jermaine Pennant (hamstring) undergoes a late fitness test for Stoke and Danny Higginbotham is close to a return, but Mamady Sidibe (knee) is out. Steven Taylor may sport a facial mask to protect a broken nose sustained in the win over Wigan last week, while Cheick Tioté (knee) should be available for selection. Shola Ameobi has been ruled out for a month with a hamstring injury.
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage
Latest in Sport
Think before you ink: Manchester United fan gets Sir Alex Ferguson tattoo - and will regret it for the rest of his life
Mario Balotelli: Staff at arson-hit Manchester Dogs' Home convinced Liverpool striker is behind five-figure donation
Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal: Mesut Ozil given the worst rating possible by German newspaper Bild after poor performance
Colombian women's cycling team kit that makes wearer appear naked is branded 'unacceptable' by UCI president
Paul Scholes column: Arsenal's Mesut Ozil is too good for Arsene Wenger to waste on the left wing
- 2 Scottish independence live: Scotland gives a clear 'No' in historic referendum - as it happened
- 3 iOS 8 is full of shiny new features - but it's terrible news for app developers
- 4 Friends 20th anniversary: Six things we wouldn't have without influential comedy series
- 5 Scottish independence: Tory revolt against 'devo max' grows as Rail Minister Claire Perry joins
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'