After overseeing two successive home losses for the first time in the Abramovich era, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has faced renewed speculation as to his future at Chelsea. Such talk is inevitable - I said, inevitable - thanks to his boss' propensity for firing managers. Expected, sure, and unfair given his short tenure, but is sack-talk even warranted?
Let's examine AVB's remit: to win - or at least compete - for the Premier League and Champions' League titles, replenish an ageing squad, get Fernando Torres firing, all the time playing attractive football. The season is about 100 days old; to expect all of the above to occur by now is quite obviously laughable.
What has the 34-year old done to warrant such attention? Presiding over three losses in four, OK, but the play behind those losses hasn't been horrible. To fire a manager on results rather than overall quality of play, while common, is a last-ditch move; Abramovich must have second, third and fourth-line plans rather than just nuking it all and starting over.
Villas-Boas has been tactically sound, if prone to an ambitiously high defensive line. The Blues assemble in a compact formation usually featuring Torres up front, ostensibly allowing incision from Juan Mata and width players Malouda and Sturridge. In keeping with the reinvigoration part of his mandate, offensive focus isn't on players nearly his own age (Drogba, Anelka and Lampard) but guys entering their prime.
Neither has the manager redefined roles - his men play where and when they perform best. Spectators haven't seen Lampard lying deep before the defence - he isn't suited to it and won't or can't play that position effectively. While spectacularly unsuited to a high defensive line, John Terry isn't being empowered to act as a Libero. So far, with only a few exceptions - and one notable inclusion - guys deserving it have played.
The Blues still score goals - over two per. Torres, while not the blistering El Nino of old, has regained his blonde locks, and with them a semblance of form. Mata looks to be one of the buys of the offseason, while it shouldn't take long to replace Jon Obi Mikel with Raul Meireles (even though it's harsh to blame the Nigerian for Maxi Rodriguez' goal on Sunday). The team is now much less stiff-legged than last year; an athleticism AVB hoped to take advantage of with a new game style.
In short, Chelsea haven't won more because his men have given away poor goals and, at times, failed to take advantage of fruitful situations. Suggested "fixes" for Villas-Boas and the Blues have focused on improving the defence, big-upping Mata and finally choosing between Torres and Drogba. This is only kind of true: the defence certainly needs addressing, but Mata by virtue of skill alone is becoming a featured player. Villas-Boas already has chosen Torres over Drogba - the cards are on the table - but now needs the dressing room's waning alpha-dogs to embrace change.
No-one's calling Terry and Lampard old dogs - well, nearly no-one - but it takes time for players to adapt to another, especially one which prioritises out-and-out speed over muscularity. Villas-Boas will be fine, as will Chelsea. The same can't be said for Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.