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