Ranieri's relentless reconstruction lacks concrete core

Jason Burt
Wednesday 30 October 2013 01:20
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In the upside-down world of Premiership football a manager will go into this weekend's fixtures with a record of eight wins, one draw, one defeat and be under more pressure than ever. Such is the price Claudio Ranieri must pay at Chelsea.

Hopefully, the Italian is being as handsomely remunerated as the £111m worth of talent he has quickly assembled in the Roman Abramovich era, to add to the well-funded squad already in place. Undoubtedly, he faces a daunting task in assimilating old and new. Ranieri has faced up to it, and the whispering campaign over his own position, admirably.

Still, it was clear yesterday that the 2-0 home defeat against Besiktas in the Champions' League on Wednesday night, damaging as it was, will have not been the first match to earn the displeasure of the arriviste Russian. Abramovich, it is said at Stamford Bridge, was none too pleased with the slender victory over Leicester City in the first home game of the season either and was prepared to say so.

Presumably he was no happier after the unconvincing win against Aston Villa. Already, despite public protestations, the new ownership believes the best is not being extracted from the talent available. Predictably the name of Juan Sebastian Veron, who has performed poorly, has been mentioned.

But it will have been the humiliation inflicted by the Turkish champions which hurt. Abramovich bought Chelsea to win things, to provide a calling card into Europe. Losing to a team who, although unbeaten domestically for 15 months, have never made an impact on this stage and had never won away before, did not come into the equation. Abramovich, it must be remembered, would not have bought Chelsea if they were not in the Champions' League. If they fail to qualify from the group stages then goodness knows his response.

That fear is some way off, especially after Lazio's draw with Sparta Prague. But Ranieri will have to remedy things quickly, especially with the double-header against the Italians still to come. Lazio were the last team to win a European tie at the Bridge in 40 matches before Besiktas.

Chelsea's only ever-present this season, the goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, who was partly at fault for one of the goals on Wednesday, said: "This is a wake-up call for us and maybe that is a good thing. Besiktas didn't do a lot to score, but in the Champions' League you make small mistakes and you are punished. In the first half we were stuck in the middle. We played more on the flanks after half-time, but there was only Jimmy (Floyd Hasselbaink) in the middle."

His comments referred to the unfathomable formation settled on by Ranieri. Not only did he tinker with the line-up to excess, again, but he changed they way they lined up. Playing three centre-backs and two wing-backs did not work. Sticking with it when Celestine Babayaro went off injured was equally wrong, as was taking off both strikers at half-time and reverting to a back four but playing with just one up. When William Gallas was also injured the mess turned into a farce.

"We tried to play and everything was wrong," Ranieri said. "We played against a very good team with a good organisation." He, of course, is expected to provide that organisation. Ranieri insists he will continue to rotate his players and that, at the end of the season, it will bear fruit. But it is an experiment unprecedented in football. Every squad has a core. Chelsea are still searching for theirs.

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