Ballack Symbolizes All of Chelsea's Troubles

Michael Ballack's behavior on Saturday shows Chelsea has more than one problem player at Stamford Bridge. (Photo: ZumaPress)

Michael Ballack’s Saturday performance has been heretofore overshadowed by the traumatic injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey, but while there has been a debate as to the fairness of Ryan Shawcross’s tackle on the Welsh protégé, there can be no doubt about Ballack’s embarrassing attack on Carlos Tévez.

The score was 3-1, Manchester City in the 81st minute. Ballack was carrying a yellow card, had avoided another that should have resulted by attempting to punch a ball into Shay Given’s net, and had continued his disturbing practice of referee intimidation (see picture).

But late in Saturday’s match Ballack descended to an embarrassing low when he went launched himself into Carlos Tévez, coming from behind, targeting the back of the knee, wrapping his legs around the Argentine and taking him to ground with no attempt to play a ball that had yet to arrive.

Video and more analysis of Michael Ballack’s tackle on Carlos Tévez, after the jump.

Forward the following video to the 11:45 mark to see the tackle.

Call Ryan Shawcross’s tackle reckless, call it an act of blind aggression, but you would be stretching to call it an intent to injure. Ballack’s tackle, however, was either an intent to injure or, at best, an malicious act without regard to a player’s safety.

My partner Ray Curren at Set Piece Analysts did a good job of summarizing the Shawcross versus Ballack debate. Here I wish to focus on Chelsea’s problematic German.

Ballack may have been defending John Terry, who Tévez had embarrassed earlier in the half , but Michael Ballack has no need to fight John Terry’s battles (however much of a “battle” this was), let alone fight it in such a cowardly, cynical manner.

As this year has progressed, Ballack has come to embody all of Chelsea’s problems. He is aging, slowing, and fragile. When he was playing on the right side of the midfield diamond, he has been unable to augment the width the Blues have lacked since José Bosingwa went out.

Even Ballack’s virtues are becoming marginalized. On a team where Didier Drogba is having to shoulder an increased scoring load, Ballack’s decreased goal output represents a further limitation. When Branislav Ivanovic plays, Ballack’s aerial prowess is less needed, and Drogba’s emerging dominance of direct kicks overshadows another potential Ballack contribution.

Whether this confrontation precipitated a Ballack motive to send Carlos Tévez a message, the German midfielder's actions are indicative of a bigger problem. (Photo: ZumaPress)

With Ballack foul-prone through the middle of the pitch and Chelsea’s problems defending set pieces, the German is quickly becoming a negative contributor.

Beyond his play, Ballack’s attitude is a problem. His decision to excuse himself from Saturday’s match by forcing the referee to give him a second yellow was tantamount to quitting on his team. While players like Drogba and Frank Lampard continued playing, and even the struggling Terry attempted to fight through increasing problems, Ballack – with his team already down to ten men – quit, getting dismissed with nine minutes of regulation time remaining.

Can a Chelsea-supporter be comfortable with Ballack’s decision to cripple their slim comeback hopes?  It’s not as if Chelsea is in a title race or anything.

Going forward, should Carlo Ancellotti and staff maintain their confidence in Ballack? When Micheal Essien returns, it may be helpful to consider keeping John Mikel Obi in the lineup and permanently putting Essien in a more advanced position.  Granted, the limitations of the young Mikel have been evident during Essien’s absence; however, Ballack’s decreased standard of play and his embarrassing behavior warrants this consideration:

Is Ballack a better choice than Mikel?

Chelsea’s success during this glorious era means the Blues have had to deal with very little adversity.  With the possible exception of the Scolari era, Chelsea has not had to fight through a crisis of confidence into which they have now been thrown.  We saw Carlos Tévez directly attack their leader, looking dead into the face of a man whose eyes show a fire that’s dimmed through his public trials.

With their leader unsteady, their team disorganized and their results waning, does Chelsea need the additional problem of starting a player upon whom you can not rely?

Ballack’s play has not been good enough to let him act-out as he did on Saturday, but even if it were, playing with such disrespect for other players is something a club should not tolerate.

After the tackle, Tévez rose with a limp, played a few more minutes before being subbed. Hopefully Tévez – one of the great stories of this season – will not see his campaign sacrificed to petulance.

It’s time for Carlo Ancellotti and the players’ leadership to address the Ballack problem. If they have already attempted to do so, it’s time to remove Ballack from the team. If they have not previously talked to Ballack about his disrespectful behavior, they need to make the first time the last.

And that assumes Ballack’s play even warrants such consideration.

Chelsea has inherent problems that, to this point, they’ve managed to overcome.  They are relatively old and slow, and they have developed a negative attitude, embodied by their attitude toward referees.  For an in-form John Terry to exemplify these traits is something that can be overcome, but when Michael Ballack volunteers himself to be the symbol of the club’s problems, it’s time to find a new symbol.

But your thoughts:  Register your vote, below, and add your comments – what should be done (if anything) about Michael Ballack?

For even more on this, Kartik Krishnaiyer and myself explore the topic on today’s edition of the Set Piece Analysts’ daily podcast.

15 thoughts on “Ballack Symbolizes All of Chelsea's Troubles”

  1. Yes – performance based. (I am Chelsea, BTW)

    The tackle was reckless, dumb, horrible and ill-timed. Sadly, I can say the same for most of his defensive efforts this season.

    Hiddink last year at least was able to use him moderately well in a 4-3-3 system, but in the diamond, Ballack has no place, except for maybe the tip, and he isn’t going to fit in there as well as he would others, like Deco, Malouda, Anelka…

    The huge misconception this season, and past, about him is that he somehow retains his aerial prowess, shooting ability, and defensive tackling. In reality, week in and week out, he is getting outmuscled in the air and ground by smaller, more youthful players. Tackling, he is late to the ball or his angle, and his shooting…well, we would be leading the league in goals scored if the goal was in row Z.

    His only value at this point is to be used primarily as a European midfielder, for his experience, penalty taking, and maybe one or two bits of magic that he can conjure on the grandest stage. Ballack is done as a week in, week out league midfielder, and Saturday’s horrid result for us only was further reinforcement of that truth.

    1. I totally agree with both Brian and the article. Ballack, as well as a few others, need some time on the bench to rediscover their form. While Ballack still conjures up his old magic from time to time, his weekly form has been poor for quite some time now.

      1. Agreed with both of you.

        We really need Essien back to hold that dynamic box-to-box midfield role! I remember someone saying it, but seriously, look at results when Essien is on the pitch compared to when he isn’t. There’s an element of stability that he brings to the table that makes the back 4 seem impenetrable.

  2. Ballack’s play was abysmal, as was the play of pretty much the entire Chelsea side. He deserves a benching for getting sent off and, essentially, quitting on his team.

    I don’t know that I would call his behavior “referee intimidation.” The second half of that match was not called fairly, and if I were on the pitch, I would have been screaming at the referee, as well. It’s one thing to have a team beat you – which would have probably been the result, anyway – but to have the referee take away any chance at an equalizer, however slim, was infuriating, and I was just in my living room.

    His tackle of Tevez was reckless, at least. Deliberate? I guess I’ll have to watch it a couple more times, but I think that’s going too far. My opinion may be colored by my loathing of Tevez, but it didn’t look like a deliberate attempt to hurt him.

    1. I think those are fair points, Duke. I’m not inside Ballack’s head so I can’t know with 100% certainty that Ballack’s process was “I want out of here, and there’s that Tévez guy. This one’s for John!”

      However, I’m not sure I go that far, either. I know I don’t use the word deliberate; however, it would be fair to say I insinuate it.

      Just from my personal experience combined with what I saw on Saturday, maybe “lack of focus” is a better way to put it?

  3. Ballack may not have intended to hurt Tevez, but he certainly didn’t attempt to play the ball, either. I would chalk it up to frustration, not only with the way the game was going, but with his recent (lack of) form. I really don’t think Ballack does any more than many other players in terms of referee intimidation, however. Not excusing it but I see diving and whining/intimidating/bitching to the ref as the two main problems the EPL or FA needs to address.

    When I look back at Ballack’s Chelsea career in the balance, I see a purely average contributor- and that’s not at all what I thought they were getting when they signed him.

  4. that’s hilarious. who’s ther bigger douchebag? that home wreckin terry or that benedict arnold tevez?

    1. I’d take Tevez over Terry anyday. Tevez was driven out because lack of playing time the guy clearly deserved. Man U felt the need to bring in Berbatov for whatever reason eventhough Tevez was clearly producing and earned his spot as a full time starter. Terry just bangs teamates wives and girlfriends than give media “behind the scenes tours”….

  5. I’ve read from countless sources in the past few days that players don’t intentionally try to hurt other players….that challenge on Tevez was deliberate and blatant at the very least. Was he making a play on the ball??…no way. The guy has quality at times but when he loses his head his he’s a complete hacker.

  6. When Essien returns, neither Mikel or Ballack should be playing. The midfield 4 should be Lampard, Malouda, Essien with the fourth being either Kalou or Cole, whomever has better form…

    I do agree with others – I’m not sure what Ballack really offers the squad that has Ivanovic in it… You have the prolific headers from set pieces covered when Ivanovic is there too – he never takes free kicks – those are Drogba, or maybe Lampard… defensive midfield is all he can really do… and he does seem to make less mistakes than Mikel, so I guess that is the preferred role he could play in. Anelka and Drogba up top, Lamps on top, with Malouda left and Essien right with Ballack as DM… although Lamps didn’t play too great in that formation either, which is why I think we’ve been seeing more Christmas tree or 4-3-3 formations…

  7. I am glad that someone else shares my belief that Ballack is a bully of referees. I have not seen two players on one team that do this more than Ballack and John Terry.

  8. I just don’t understand why Carlo reverted to the Christmas tree or the narrow 4-3-3. We’ve seen with Phil Scolari that Anekla despises playing out wide but we’ve also seen how great he and Drogba work together as tandem strikers. I mean, look at the success that we had under that 4-1-2-1-2 during the first part of the season…I dunno, it just seems that there’s much less flow to the play under these new formation tinkerings.

  9. What Ballack did was very wrong but its hard to speak on it.

    I mean these guys are professionals but we all know what kind of attitude Tevez has towards people he sees as disrespecting him.

    if he had a row with Ballack he can’t have said very nice things to him. Of course its no excuse for Ballack but I’m not even a Chelsea fan and I can understand he might have been pissed.

  10. you are addressing the wrong issue…John Terry is the issue and the problem….that day, and lately.
    Agreed Ballack looked like walking out on his team, but there was no way they were going to win that tie anyway…

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