We spoke with the editor of both Sports Blog Nation's Soccer and Chelsea blogs Graham MacAree ahead of Sunderland vs Chelsea to pick his brains on the ongoing turmoil at Stamford Bridge and more.
Wow, where to start with Chelsea this season? What was your take on the Di Matteo mess?
Graham MacAree: It was extraordinarily ugly. Obviously, the team was going through a very rough spell, and his final game in charge of the club was the key blow which knocked us out of the Champions League, but I would have hoped that a man so respected at the Bridge for his accomplishments as a player and a manager would be treated with a little more decency than he ultimately was. But then again, that's life at Chelsea.
Rafa in or Rafa out?
GM: I'm not a Rafa Benitez fan, and I hope he goes far, far away at the end of the season. But sacking him now would be kind of pointless - we're already scraping the bottom of the barrel, and even if we find a manager more palatable with the fans it's unlikely that they'll be competent enough to steer the ship. So, a grudging ‘in' from me, I suppose... although I sympathise pretty heavily with the out movement.
How do you solve a problem like Fernando Torres?
GM: Well I would use a one-way ticket to Siberia. My patience with him wore thin some time ago. How Chelsea solve it, I don't know. Play against Nordsjaelland all the time? I would really like to see him go away, even if the club have to pay most of his wages
Its not all doom and gloom at the bridge however, in Mata, Oscar and Hazard you have one of the most exciting attack minded set of players in the league.
GM: We do. There's quite a lot to love about that trio, although I think they're slightly miscast as a set of attacking midfielders. Deploying all three of them at once in a 4-2-3-1 creates a huge imbalance in the team and is ultimately what got di Matteo fired. The team shape needs to be tweaked slightly to accommodate them all. This isn't a very good answer, but then again I'm not actually responding to a question.
Moving on to Sunderland have you had the misfortune of seeing much of our disappointing term so far?
GM: I've seen the vast majority of Sunderland matches. It's been pretty grim viewing, even for the neutral.
What's your opinion on O'Neill? From doing this piece this season opinion on our gaffer from a neutral perspective seems to be diminishing by the week.
GM: I think that Martin O'Neill is the same manager he's always been, which is a nice way of saying he hasn't really adapted tactically in the past few years and that other sides are more capable of dealing with his style. I'm surprised that Sunderland's defensive organisation isn't a little better with him in charge, but I'd be more inclined to look at player form than the manager as a root cause. That said, a new manager might give the players the kick up the bottom they seem to need.
How can Benitez set up his side to take all three points on Saturday?
GM: Control the ball but watch for fast counterattacks down the wings. Stephane Sessagnon is less of a threat in the middle if you can dominate possession, but Chelsea are very vulnerable to being caught out of position, especially on the flanks. I might suggest leaving Hazard and Oscar out, starting Mata in the middle and using a pair of (more) defensive wingers, but that might be too conservative considering our lack of firepower at centre forward.
Conversely how can Sunderland shape up to mastermind a victory?
GM: Defend well enough to frustrate Chelsea into pushing up to high, then use a combination of McClean and Fletcher to score once you've won the ball. Cutbacks to Gardner might also be effective. Essentially, the flanks will probably be open, so exploiting those will give y'all a very good change of driving me to drink some more.
GM: This is a mean question for someone with absolutely no faith in his side to do anything useful. 0-0.