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WHITHER CHELSEA'S RANIERI NOW?
CHELSEA v. MANCHESTER CITY, ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
At STAMFORD BRIDGE, DECEMBER 3, 2000.
Reviewed by ANDRE BEAUMONT
Result : Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1
A win was scraped by two good goals from Zola and Hasselbaink but Chelsea lost shape and cohesion in the final quarter of the game and let Dickov recover one for Manchester City, a side that showed persistence but not flair. Indeed, Chelsea's flair of the preceding two seasons was little in evidence either. It was a game both sides needed to win, especially so Ranieri, who had sacked Vialli's backroom staff earlier in the week, notably Wilkins and Rix.
Ranieri's arrival at Chelsea was billed as that of a disciplinarian in the English press. This has never been apparent to the outside observer. Maybe he does make the players train more than Vialli did and commands their repect more but looking at him one would say he is a kinder, more reasonable man that Vialli whose born-to-rule demeanour seems to have led him last year into disagreement with older players like Deschamps, Leboeuf, Petrescu and Ferrer.
The overriding impression one gets of Ranieri's tenure to date is that he has been playing newcomer's politics, not necessarily to the benefit of the performance on the field.
Zola, Hasselbaink and Leboeuf seem to have been those most likely to have had something to gain from his arrival and it is noticeable that Ranieri has rarely omitted any of these, his natural supporters, from the team. Whether this has been correct tactics is questionable.
Flo, a patient and skillful player, had a better scoring record over the last two seasons than Zola, and was more of a team player than Hasselbaink, and needed to be given more games to prevent him leaving. These Ranieri failed to provide and although, in those circumstances, it has been better for both Flo and Chelsea that he has gone to Rangers, Chelsea is now left without a world class player to take Hasselbaink's place when he is suspended.
Perhaps Ranieri's experience in Spain has taught him not to alienate the powerful in a club early on, including the most vocal players. He has not, however, handled the British press well, resulting in a blistering attack on him in The Sunday Times from Joe Lovejoy on the morning of this game. Fortunately, Ranieri probably does not read much of the English press.
What Chelsea may lack just now is leadership. It has had three players strong on leadership in recent years, Wise, Deschamps and Vialli himself when he still played some games as a forward. Wise leads in a British way but Dechamps led in a continental way and playing in front of the two French centre backs one had confidence that the trio and Ferrer would let little through. In retrospect, the departure of Deschamps, the water carrier, has been the biggest loss to Chelsea. Ranieri is not filling the gap in leadership himself or with suitable players.
It would have been instructive to know what use Venables, with no shortage of leadership skills, would have made of such an array of existing talent in a world of more games and squad rotation - one in which he has not yet managed.
Whether Vialli's policy of using established stars was wrong is very much open to doubt. They may have been a lttle slower but will to win and experience more than made up for it. Add to that Poyet, Ferrer, Flo, Desailly, Deschamps and Leboeuf were picked up for relatively little in recent years and it is as good a route as any to get to the top. Even Manchester United's top scorer, Teddy Sheringham is 34.
Another current failing of Chelsea is a lack of consistent formation. Changing tactics during the course of a game is frequently essential and Vialli's lack of preparedness to change quickly enough may have been a failing which Ranieri does not have but the latter's tactics still seem to miss a settled and confident approach. So the players are visibly confused and sometimes leaderless.
What Ranieri is probably good at is building a young team. He is probably better at leading and encouraging young players, too. He seemed visibly happier at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, free to be his own man without Wilkins et al. in support. His team provided opportunities for many youngsters, some experienced, some not so. Terry, Dalla Bona, Babayaro, Morris, Melchiot and Gudjohnsen started and Harley came on as a substitute. They also won, if scrappily.
Ranieri needs the opportunity to build a team that will play his game. Whether his game will provide the leadership, experience, tactics that frighten the opposition, to win consistently in the Premiership and in Europe is the open question.
Can he achieve what Arsene Wenger has - mix old stars with new players destined to be stars and win?