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  1. It’s been 3 full seasons Chelsea last won the domestic crown. Ever since, 3 managers have taken charge at Stamford Bridge with mixed success; until José Mourinho returned to the club that he had been the manager of from 2004 to 2007. Chelsea ended the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons 25 and 14 points below the top of the table respectively. This gap must be taken into consideration in light of recent criticism aimed towards Jose Mourinho as he is being pressured to modify the club's footballing philosophy. This article is a short chronology summarizing the work made by Andre Villas Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez; focusing on how the team recovered the ball back, based on data from the Stats Zone app. This, in order to contextualize the situation the club was at when José Mourinho took the job in July. The concluding chart aims to give food for thought in order to make clearer the question whether or not Chelsea is on the right track. Quick reminder Please note that I got in depth on some points in previous articles during the last year Des problèmes actuels de Chelsea (17/09/2012) Notes on Chelsea vs Manchester United (02/11/2013) Chelsea, et maintenant ? (23/11/2012) Rafael Benitez’s début, foot for thought (26/11/2012) What will José Mourinho’s Chelsea look like (15/09/2013) Analysis: Chelsea vs Schalke 04 (7/11/2013) Andre Villas Boas came with grand plans which, despite their relevance, were implemented too quickly without the team being properly adapted to every facet of the new gameplan. One game summarizes Villas Boas’ tenure at Chelsea: the 3-5 defeat at Stamford Bridge in hands of Arsenal. Villas Boas wanted to change the playing style of the London club through a possession-based game, Chelsea surprisingly featured a high defensive block even before the coupled and necessary pressing being fully functional (Chart 1) Andre Villas Boas’ failure: high line without efficient pressing Despite a fairly decent 63 ball recoveries in that game, Chelsea regularily failed to control the red zones under Andre Villas Boas. This was due to a lack of synchronization between the three midfielders (Mikel, Ramires and Lampard) whose roles didn’t apper clear when they had to press and cover one another. Arsenal managed to create an impressive 10 chances after succesfuly exploiting Chelsea’s inefficient pressing ahead of the defensive line and space to attack in behind. On the left and right side, Mata and Sturridge’s inability to coexist and work off the ball (being part of the first wave of pressure and duly tracking back afterwards) was the main explanation behind Ashley Cole and José Bosingwa’s form, having been left to defend 1v2 all season. - As Chelsea judged that AVB’s lack of experience wouldn’t allow the due reaction to put the London club back on track, the Portuguese’s assistant Roberto Di Matteo was handed the team. Relying on very defensive tactics and togetherness, the former WBA manager lead Chelsea to an unlikely Champions League (and FA Cup) success despite giving away any possibility to qualify via the European top flight competition through the league finish starting from March (!). Despite adopting tactics mocked as “parking the bus” (Chart 2 – left), Chelsea somehow carried home European glory despite conceding more than 20 chances per leg in the knock-out phase, with the 43 chances conceded over two hours of football at Munich as the final stage of an irrational 2011-2012 Champions League campaign. Di Matteo’s all-for-defense approach (March-May 2012, left) and all-for-attack approach (August 2012-November 2012) on the right An – already – indicative two weeks after being crowned Champions in Munich, Di Matteo was eventually handed the Chelsea job for one year with another one in option. With fresh blood arriving to replace experienced players in an ever smaller squad set to play 8 competitions over the course of the season, Di Matteo probably knew he wouldn’t survive the first turbulences. One may argue it’s the reason he fielded virtually the same starting eleven until getting the sack at the wake of an early Champions League exit in November. Di Matteo’s attacking triumvirate of Mata, Hazard and Oscar had freshness, pace, trickery and made the headlines for a team winning 10 of his 11 first games. But on the other hand, Chelsea often looked like that team cut in two parts in all phases of play. Di Matteo asked his 4 attackers to press teams high up the pitch via high intensity (pure loss ?) closing down. Lack of structure and a questionable shape made often easy for opponents to get past that first wave, resting in hands of the players left the task to sweep the entire width of the pitch ; mostly to prevent/block/deal with crosses. (Chart 2 – right) What proved to be efficient as long as the players were fresh and scored goals wasn’t anymore starting from when Chelsea had to play twice a week. - Less than a week after Di Matteo’s departure, Chelsea made the controversial decision to hire Spanish manager Rafael Benitez, a decision that caused backlash amongst fans. For all that and given the urgency of the situation, Benitez’ immediate fixes proved to be relevant in a short term based approach. He asked his team to defend deep in two banks of four, relying on Oscar and Hazard to block the sides in order to release completely 19 goals and 35 assists Juan Mata of defensive duties. Rafael Benitez’s setup: funnelling the ball centrally, recover it deep before counter attacking Chelsea’s zonal defending coupled with a deep block meant that the ball was recovered in the defensive third after having been funneled centrally. (Chart 3) Benitez’s re-focalisation on Fernando Torres in counter-attack coupled to the fact the wide players were behind the ball allowed the Spaniard to enjoy more space behind defences, eventually ending the season with 23 goals in all competitions. Rafael Benitez instructed his team to be “compact” at all times Without the former Liverpool manager’s ground grid pattern being a sufficient plateform to deal with in-games situations such as dealing with crosses, the constant 2v3 in midfield (due to Mata’s lack of impact on the opposition’s deep midfielder) or keeping two-goal leads against promoted teams ; Chelsea still managed to end the season in third place, winning a – fairly dull – Europa League campaign. What is the plan ? Answering to Sky’s pundits after the 2-0 win over Fulham, José Mourinho gave indications on what his plan is: Mourinho’s first and biggest task for a more long-term based approach to what has been done by the two previous managers is to rebalance the defensive and attacking duties. I won’t get in depth on Mourinho’s gameplan as I already did back in September but here are the two main guidelines. A better sharing of duties without the ball: In order to recover the ball quickly and high up the pitch, Mourinho has removed all the licenses and wants every player to contribute to recover the ball. Chelsea’s system wasn’t viable as it did rely on Ramires or David Luiz’s propensity to cover and sweep immense zones. Juan has to learn the way I want to play. Has to be more consistent, has to be more participative when the team loses the ball. I think it’s not his fault, it’s just a consequence of the way he was played the last years, since his arrival at Chelsea, Chelsea was playing very defensive football, Chelsea was playing with a low block all the time, was playing with Oscar open on the line – and when he’s open on the line, he covers completely. In the other side, was playing Ramires, because Ramires plays most of the time wide on the side and Frank with David [Luiz] or Frank with Mikel in the center of the midfield. And Juan was playing as the number ten. The team was playing with two lines of four, playing with two lines of four. Benitez released Mata from defensive duties I’m not ready to change Oscar’s position. Oscar is a number 10, he’s a player that gives us creativity but at the same time when we want to press up , Oscar is a runner, Oscar is a player capable of press (sic). [Oscar is able to play] even [when]the double pivot plays like Parker and Sidwell with a distance of 15-20m between them José Mourinho for Saturday Night Football (SkySports – 21/10/2013) A better sharing of duties with the ball: supposed to end the irrelevance of players supposed to hide to the team’s attacking inefficiency by creating chances/goals out of nowhere with isolated pieces of brilliance. Why is Chelsea heading onto the right direction Mourinho’s plan relies on a high pressing game in order to recover the ball as high as possible. As the article wanted to show, Mourinho hasn’t had a base to work on, so pretty much had to start from stage one. Pressing is the first stage to keep the ball, as you press to have the ball. This requires synchronicity from a collective point of view and actual defending abilities (athletically, tactically and technically). The second point explains some choices of personel, including Oscar and Willian instead of Mata or Kevin de Bruyne since the start of the season. Chelsea’s pressing shape with Mourinho: aim is to recover the ball high up or wide Players should get to a level of fitness in order to be able to “track back” without for all that being knackered. In that case and transversely (In case of Mata), it also includes hitting the gym to be able to make a better use of one’s body in between the ball and a direct opponent. The Spaniard’s apparitions (Arsenal in League Cup, Southampton H) showed his drastic improvement in terms of propensity to press and hold the ball under pressure. But players should also be able to take advantage of space in order to maximize every move to the benefit of the whole pressing shape. Far from any Neil Warnock-Tony Pulis-esque “just run straight at ‘em” conception of pressing, blocking passing lanes through a spacial awareness to get in between opponents and scan what happens around is crucial. That’s an aspect Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in instance had a massive room for improvement not so long ago. Progress on that aspect is quite obvious When the pressing shape is okay in terms of positioning, triggers etc… the last point is down to the actual defending, what is often related to recovering the ball in the opponent’s feet in the attacking half. Some players are naturally more eager to get stuck in than others. A couple of other points: Mourinho’s selections were questioned as people wondered whether he knew what was his strongest starting lineup. In stark contrast, people should rather point at the fact it’s the first time for a long time a Chelsea manager has actual options and is able to rotate his squad week and week out. Focusing on how players reacts to squad selections is a good way to get to know better his players. Despite Chelsea producing one of his finest performance of the season against Schalke at Home, Mourinho decided to change his plans to face WBA on the week end (without success). On the following game, he picked a Chelsea team which ran over West Ham. The same team (bar Willian for Hazard) was unable to prevent a defeat at Basel. Football isn’t a science and a part of the Chelsea fan base seems to have conceptual issues with the sole fact of experimenting week and week out (i.e: keeping or not the same XI or gameplan). Mourinho’s reactiveness during games might hold the key of the Premier League ambitions of the club, and it’s also a quite remarkable parry if things does not turn as expected during games (never settling for a draw, in instance). The three points listed above are what differences between some players lie on. Willian, Oscar, Schürrle suit the description whereas for players such as Hazard, Mata, De Bruyne, it requires work in order to get on level with the manager/gameplan’s expectations/requirements. For all that, it’s not some Football Manager game in which man-management can be left aside. One example: Mata played 59mn against Cardiff on the 19 of october, did not participate against City one week later but had a solid performance at the Emirates the 29th in League Cup, bagging a goal in the process. This probably explains why he *had* to start at Newcastle three days later even if the choice of personel didn’t look right in isolation. A tad similar to the situation encountered at Stoke where Mata had to play Willian’s role and didn’t impact the game at all. All of that due to the need to rotate players as a close to 100% fit player is likely to have more sharpness than a 80-ish player, even if the former appears as less suited tactically than the latter to what is wanted on paper. The proof: The footballing interpretation in context of Chelsea’s will to implement a high pressing games lies on the comparative tallies. The higher the ball is recovered, the less likely it is to be recovered in the defensive third. The amount times the possession won is obviously a good indicator on 90mn, and the trend depicts a rise on the big picture, especially in recent weeks. Chelsea’s “november slump” appears as the plunge following the Manchester City game. If the City game’s low tally reflects the 15-20pts distance that separated the two teams on the table the previous seasons, the Newcastle performance was clearly sub-par. WBA happily conceded possession and Chelsea’s struggles were as they weren’t able to dictate a quick enough tempo to challenge their hosts. But the West Ham, Southampton quite complete performances indicates a levelling off of Chelsea’s standards. The Sunderland and Stoke games indicates what appears as the issue related to that high intensity pressing: the ultimate aim of it is to reduce the distance to cruise with the ball in order to reach the opponent’s goal, and is supposed to be the platform to get regular half or clear scoring opportunities which must be taken. As it hasn’t been the case at Stoke, that raises the fact that the opposing team is likely to gain momentum and come back into the game with more mental and physical freshness than Chelsea if the Blues keep fluffing chances in quick succession. The Sunderland game primarily highlighted the impact of individual mistakes on goals conceded to make a final scoreline not reflecting at all how the game turned. This explains Mourinho pointing at the contrast between his side”s “production” and “lack of goals” as if his team was able to get back at half time with a two or three goals cushion, it would obviously be a better situation to cope with an average home team’s momentum in second half when trailed on the scoreboard. - A win at Arsenal next week and Chelsea would take off the Gunners of the top spot in the League, and surely tone critics down in the process. Especially given Chelsea is on the rise with players only set to get better and better as the season goes on such as Juan Mata, Willian, Eden Hazard, André Schürrle or even Samuel Eto’o and David Luiz. Sébastien Chapuis (@SeBlueLion) Click here to view the article Click here to view the article
  2. Chelsea began a new sporting era marked by the return of Jose Mourinho to the position he was employed between 2004 and 2007. It thus put an end to the last fifteen months during which the team was assigned to temporary managers as Rafael Benítez succeeded Roberto Di Matteo. This last point proves to be crucial ahead of the new season, especially after a 69-game season played all over the world. Chelsea suffered from the lack of rotation options in many positions. Therefore, it seemed reasonable to expect from the London club a greater freedom of movement granted to the Portuguese manager, resulting in the addition of several players in order to improve the competition for places and complete the XI which was established the last ten months. It also gave Mourinho ammunition to enhance the very much short term based gameplans in use until now. After a meaningful pre-season, Chelsea played four official matches including two wins and two draws. Here is a roadmap of options explored until now, in which we we look at how Chelsea is now able to respond effectively to situations encountered during the various phases of play. Note: This is the translation from an article written in french you can read on here or here. It has been written during the international break and translated the week after. The return of the Special OneWhat tactical approach ?What attacking application ?Create a launch pad by submerging the opponentWhat roles in the double pivot ?Full backs don't camp at the forefront anymoreMourinho's tactical overbiddingEden Hazard, between Joe Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo ?The blackboardThe art of counter-attackThe attackers' dual role, an insoluble dilemma?What's the Mata with the Special Juan ?The recovery system : suffocate the opponent on the flanksThe funnel in the closet, let's use the waffle ironHow to deal with crosses: the communicating vesselsA look at the rosterConclusionThe return of the Special One The expectations on the Portuguese manager are based in particular on his ability to play Chelsea's numerous attackers while maintaining a form of balance on the collective plan. If the approach the doomed Roberto Di Matteo freed attackers at the expense of any organization (to ensure a form of entertainment every week?), that of Rafael Benítez however bridled individualities in favor of a ground grid that did partially meet the challenges set up by the opposition. It is possible though to link this lack of noticeable evolution in terms of handling situations as such (beyond the positioning) to the heavy schedule Chelsea faced, preventing an in-depth look at different aspects. The pre-season played in Southeast Asia and the United States saw Chelsea take on opponents of heterogeneous level on agrarian pitches, which, however, left possible to observe the various attacking applications in 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 and actual ways to handle opponent's attacks. " He reminds me of myself it was ten years ago when I contested every decision. I wanted to lead my team while having the whistle in my mouth. He is my spitting image " Jose Mourinho on Paul Lambert after the game. In the jungle of the Premier League, Mourinho being a character of his own is a welcome breath of fresh air in contrast to the complacency of Carlo Ancelotti or Rafael Benitez with the referees. Chelsea started the season with a victory against newly promoted Hull City (2-0) dominating their opponent in the first half. Aston Villa proved to be a very different opposition three days later, being able to partially oppose moves initiated by Chelsea in order to counter them. It has ultimately been the replacements made by Mourinho in the last half hour that tipped the scales in favor of his team in turning a 1-1 scoreline to a 2-1 win over Paul Lambert's team. Back-to-back meetings against Manchester United (0-0) and Bayern Munich (2-2) saw Chelsea drop low to wait for their opponent and then use fast-break, triggering a tidal wave of negative reactions. However, the implementation of Jose Mourinho seems actually much richer than this simplistic observation (as evidenced by the first two official meetings) and is proving to be once again a true adaptive system based on the forces available or the attitude of the opponent. However, due primarily to the disparate state of form of key elements, who came back from their holidays consecutive to their involvement in the Confederations Cup, Chelsea has especially been in control defensively and could deploy its new offensive system only in rather limited sequences during games. What tactical approach? José Mourinho is described as a true 4-3-3 manager although he's actually only eager to monitor the trend related to the comparative advantages of a system over another in the landscape in which his team plays. This was the case at the time of benefit from the contribution of Claude Makelele in the role that subsequently took his name, it is the same as the desire to build his team around a central attacking midfielder who has led the use of 4-2-3-1 ("[his] favorite system ") to Inter Milan or Real Madrid. The Portuguese coach said shortly after his arrival that this system also corresponded to forces in his new roster, a system "in which De Bruyne, Oscar, Mata and Hazard like to play." Mourinho is likely to primarily use the same 4-2-3-1 than its predecessors. It is then interesting to consider this choice to the extent that the double European Champion has been noticeable for his anthology of tactical flaws for two years. Roberto Di Matteo's set-up certainly reflected the precarious position of his job and may explain why his team made the show more than it sought to impose its control in all circumstances; once the first wave of pressure formed by all four attackers get past through by the opponent, Chelsea found himself outnumbered in the middle of the park and in the flanks, resulting in a line of average recovery at the edge of its own penalty box. Rafael Benítez changed his wide attackers' defensive instructions, asking them to flank two midfielders so that his team could feature two lines of four players behind the ball. And only if Eden Hazard and Juan Mata's proximity towards Lampard and Ramires allowed them to get out more easily to press, it didn't resolve the latent issue related to handling the opponent's deeper midfielder; preeminent in the tribulations of the club London since the work of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in the center position is still largely insufficient in this regard. It appears in fact that only the presence of Oscar allows Chelsea to feature a real triangle in midfield, in which the Brazilian can effectively oppose to players such as Andrea Pirlo, Michael Carrick, while allowing his team have a "hub" in the central areas when in possession ; Oscar proving to be the ideal technical and tactical relay between Hazard and Mata. For blackboard addicts, Chelsea so strongly looked 4-2-4ish under Roberto Di Matteo (4 attackers ahead of the ball when it was played in the midfield area) and 4-4-2ish under Rafael Benítez (due to the lack of impact on the CAM against the aforementioned opposition's deep midfielder). Beyond a working implementation of the team block, the team's pressing shape is dependent on the attackers' willingness to retreat in areas where they can then act effectively to facilitate the work of their partners, as we shall see later, triggering the following stages of the ball recovery system. Everything being related to athletic settings or tactical instructions. Figure 1: The buzzword in Europe: rotating midfield with three hybrid profiles. Here, Lucas Piazon drops while Essien pushes forward to compensate while Ramires takes the place of the Ghanaian. Only possible if the profiles are not split between defensive minded midfielders and support attackers. Chelsea therefore include three players behind the ball in midfield this season, which ultimately consists in the most effective solution to counter opposing organizations featuring four defenders and one out-and-out striker, regardless of the name the formation is labelled on the team sheet. What attacking application ? Create a launch pad by outnumbering the opponent If the implementation of Jose Mourinho in his previous spell at the club included three strikers supported by three midfielders with high activity; it has evolved and now puts forward an elaborate formula based on a fluid interchanging, probably even more difficult to handle for the opposition. This development has resulted in maintaining or not individual instructions which were practiced recently. What roles in the "double pivot"? Until the beginning of the calendar year, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez usually lined up a duo of John Obi Mikel and Ramires in which the latter played a few steps ahead of his teammate. Mikel then had an option between the lines to try to create the link with the attackers - which the latter hardly helped to create otherwise. Figure 2 : Mikel plays very much in his zone and feeds the ball to players asked to play the ball further in the attacking build up (left) while Ramires moves from a zone to another. Frank Lampard's return into consideration in 2013 because of his recovered form and his motivation related to the club all-time scoring record even more closer week and week out (and eventually surpassed thanks to a brace at Villa Park in mid-May, bringing its total to 203 goals) led the former Liverpool manager to change the instructions set to Ramires after John Obi Mikel's departure to the African Cup of Nations. The Brazilian was then allocated the role of axial hub to ensure the first distribution, in parallel with his positioning to cover for Lampard's attacking bursts or runs to come out to press. Figure 3: While Ramires provides a first sideways distribution, Frank Lampard takes things in hand with riskier passing choices. The season sees a similar establishment in which Ramires supplies his central defenders to feed full backs or midfielders dropping on level to him. Ramires, who used to make of 37 passes per game (two-thirds forward for a 85.5% success rate) in 2012/ 2013, has almost doubled its volume of play with an average which now stands at 67.3 passes per game (88.8 % success rate with the same hand played forward that during the previous season). Figure 4: Ramires gets the ball in the center circle and keeps the tempo of the game by feeding options on level. It can also be folded back on backwards options in order to make himself available again. Full backs don't camp at the forefront anymore Full back's role has evolved considerably when we remember the almost suffocating 3-2-5 under Carlo Ancelotti the season of Chelsea's last domestic crowning three years ago. The lack of rigor in Di Matteo's attackers forced full backs to provide attacking width by themselves but thus leaving the back all the more exposed. By asking the attackers to play more in zone, Rafael Benítez did set up on paper conditions in order to make his wide attackers and full backs link up altogether, although the latter were ultimately as reluctant to use runners on the overlap. Figure 5: Ivanovic and Cole are two options on level with Ramires while Lampard and Oscar complete the triangle by simultaneous movements : while one drops back, the other gets to the symmetrical area. Now, Ivanovic and Ashley Cole are now asked to be on level with Chelsea's deepest midfielder, Nascimento Ramires. This point is twofold, the first is to re-establish the offensive as key players in the attacking set-up and not mere consumers of balls received onto their their feet in the final third as has too often been the case in last ten months. So then, runs forward haven't the purpose to be systematic whatever happens, it is precisely triggered by how the situation requires or not support from behind. We will discuss the second purpose later on managing transitions and crosses. Mourinho tactical overbidding During the first two league games, Chelsea met two teams from defending their club crest based on an organization in 4-3-3. This organization was intended to be modeled on the theoretical lineup in 4-2-3-1 of the Londoners and oppose a deep anchor (David Meyler, Ashley Westwood) to Oscar Mata central position and two enforcers (Brady/Koren then El-Ahmadi/Delph) to Lampard and Ramires. Figure 6: Aerial view of the implementation of the Chelsea 4-2-3-1 that seeks to thwart Steve Bruce with a 4-3-3 lineup. However, the mobility of Oscar and tactical nous have contributed greatly to pull the opposition's anchor man away from the central zone he was supposed to keep in check (to cover for pressing runs and block passing lanes toward the inside of the field). Dropping to the left of Ramires allowed Juan Mata to insert into his preferred zone and become an additional "runner " in between the lines. The presence of the lone Demba Ba then allowed the left Villa center back Villa Ciaran Clark to get out of his line of defense to keep the Spanish in check (and cancel the overload), but since breaking the defensive alignment of four defenders. Figure 7: This is Juan Mata's favoured zone where he can cut inside to meet the runs of his team-mates. That positioning allows him to benefit from necessary adjustment seconds to the full back and one central midfielder in order to pass the marking instructions in between them. Eden Hazard, between Joe Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo? In addition, this season should be exciting to follow the work of José Mourinho with Eden Hazard, in order to keep the process to create a more complete player offensively, especially in terms of off-the-ball movements not only in order to receive the ball in central zones. The Portuguese announced its policy towards the Belgian striker during the preseason highlighting that due to his talent, the former Lille player would have to "give always more" and could no longer be satisfied of "isolated pieces of brilliance" Mourinho expects from the 22- years to translate his talent into goals and assists, an approach combining the work with Joe Cole (tactical and defensive rigor) and Cristiano Ronaldo (efficiency in front of goal) in the past. Until now, Eden Hazard has served most often as a "balance attacking player" (yellow on Figure 10), one of crucial importance in the context already mentioned to rely exclusively on attackers to stretch or overload the opposing defence. The Belgian therefore has several options at its disposal to thwart the defenses and exploit the gaps vacated by a defender pulled out of his line : The first is to play or call the ball on the outside to allow a teammate to insert in between defenders. This is the situatuon of the Torres' run that will lead to Lampard's missed penalty and Oscar's goal resulting from the run of the Brazilian between Hazard and Torres against Hull City. Figure 8 : Hazard pulled the right side of the defense of Hull (Davies and "Elmo") by working in the channel. Oscar did not ask for less to insert in between the central defenders (red) while Torres attracts Chester, that breaks the defensive alignment. The second option is to come in the central areas combine to allow the insertion of a late runner, such as Frank Lampard. The third is based on the possibility of it ideally exploit his outstanding finishing ability with genuine angled runs (relatively rare last season because of his tendency to go central, preventing him to make diagonal runs towards goal). This is the configuration in which Hazard forced Antonio Luna to concede an own goal after a diagonal run in behind the Villa defence of Aston Villa (Figure 9). The run follows a switch of play from Ramires controlled by the Belgian on the sideline a few seconds before. Figure 9: Demba Ba weighs and helps to pull the defensive line Villa. Due to El Ahmadi misplaced pass in his defensive third, Vlaar comes out on Oscar who tricks him. Hazard can make a diagonal run toward goal and receive the ball through the broken Aston Villa defensive alignment. Note the central overload of Chelsea that the Dutch stopper attempted to cancel. It is understood that this animation depicts the roles that can take all among Juan Mata, Oscar, Kevin de Bruyne and Willian and that its success is conditioned by appropriate and proper use of the space, leaving the individual quality of the players involved speak by itself otherwise. However, beyond the tactical (not yet quite on level) it is a costly implementation in energy that will also depend on how effective the squad rotation will be made during the season. The blackboard Figure 10: Chelsea is almost akin to a 4-4-2 diamond, which takes an asymmetrical shape to the needs of the set up of the attack. Note the system that puts Oscar Mata and Lampard in rotation and even allows Ramires to switch with Oscar punctually. In the configuration observed this season, Chelsea creates an overload in central areas (45 % of the attacks occurred in there is only 5 points lower than first of the class Swansea) using four midfielders (514 short passes per game, nearly 80 more than last season). These are complemented by an attacker pulling the defense and proving to be an option back to goal on ground (that Wayne Rooney, Samuel Eto'o or Aruna Kone are able to do - illustrated by their average pass completion rate over 80%) prior to the in-depth pass toward a player running from a wide position or behind. This corresponds more or less to the task of " false number nine," a task that Fernando Torres has also never really been able to be effective for two seasons because of his technical shortcomings. This tactic is a credible response to pop packed defenses and allow insertion of Mata or Hazard from behind. The art of counter-attack If one had to sum ​​up the philosophy of Jose Mourinho through a phase of the game, it would certainly be attackings transitions. The Portuguese is one of the technicians who are particularly looking into the different ways of managing the five seconds following the ball turnover to build their offensive circuits. According to Mourinho, it's the "perfect time to exploit the fact that an opponent is out of position" as "spaces are hard to find when the two teams are in place". The tactical irrelevance of the last season (offensive quartet expected to play possession in the attacking half, finally forced to play counter-attacking football due to where the remaining players used to recover the ball - edge of the box), however, served to illustrate Eden Hazard or Victor Moses abilities on the break. Chelsea strengthened his attacking line with the arrivals of Kevin De Bruyne and André Schürrle which also arise in excellent options to exploit space in the back of adventurous opposing teams thanks to their running and ability to provide the final sevice. Fernando Torres starting on the bench at Old Trafford unleashed his predictable lot of casual conclusions, we read in instance that Chelsea played without an out-and-out, using a "false 9" in the presence of Andre Schurrle. This finding is not entirely accurate since it is was German who ran in depth (and not one of his teammates in an actual "false 9" set up). In a match or neither team wanted to commit themselves and therefore refused to come out to press the opponent, the very low defensive line performed by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was David Moyes men's answer to the former Leverkusen man's excellent runs through space. Attackers' dual role, an insoluble dilemma? José Mourinho picked Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne in the left and right flanks, a choice that made ​​sense on paper in the context of operating in fast break. However, the two Belgians were also given the defensive tasks to oppose to Valencia and Evra's activity. If Manchester didn't subsequently blew Chelsea in wide areas as the first leg of the reverse fixture last season (2-3), the Blues failed to take over their opponent in the same areas. It appears in fact that while most of Chelsea's attacking options are now able to block - to some extent - their flank on request (against Barcelona Mata, Hazard and De Bruyne at Old Trafford), it therefore limits their offensive impact the last third of the field (an important element to consider in the big games where the balance between attacking free-license and defensive instructions stands as a real headache with kinds of players hardly able to string 180 minutes per week). It should also be borne in mind that the absence of instructions defensive has certainly had the effect of distorting lens when analyzing the performance of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard in the past, which then clearly shows their lack of sharpness when they are subject to the lower orders. Over-used in club and country for three years, Juan Mata is also about to see his status coming back to a less crazy dimension, what the press was quick to translate as an expression of a lack of consideration from José Mourinho against him ; stirring the ideas of the so-called Mourinhesque player type which Mata would obviously not tick the boxes. Only Ramires or Victor Moses demonstrated their abilities to operate in a configuration in which they have to repeat runs in the channel while retaining enough energy to take over at bothe nds of their playing zone. So then, one can then question the decision to loan the Nigerian striker out (if not in quantitative terms related to places in the list of 25 players for the Premier League) when we know that Ramires seems been converted into positional midfielder - although the Brazilian is appeared a few steps higher than Mikel at Goodison Park. What's the Mata with the Special Juan? Juan Mata is definitely a player as great as he is unique. This makes it difficult to label the style of play (offcentered playmaker ? Support striker ? Central winger ?) of the one who visits museums or reads Bukowski when he doesn't drops the ball on the boot of his potted attackers that Demba Ba or Fernando Torres appear most of the time (55 assists in three seasons in all competitions). Not a genuine playmaker due to his propensity to play penetrative passes into his attackers' path, unbalancing defenses through one pass (reason why the more conservative Silva is preferred to him in Spain's defensive possession game), the Special Juan is regularly uneasy when tightly closed down - and regularly gives the ball away to the benefit of the illustrious strangers of the game. This then puts further enhance on his propensity to exploit "pockets of space" in order to escape from his direct opponent. But those sideways or backwards first touches towards the open spaces allow the opponent to get back in position (which, paradoxically, does not prevent the Spanish to find a teammate with surgical precision even in a more dense area). But his stall away from the direct line of the opposing pressure and away from teammate that he automatically isolates passing the ball, when to provide close support. Hence the contrast with Oscar's ball retention who is magneting his opponents and establish the Brazilian as a much safer option in central areas, in particular to provide close support under opponent's pressure (very similar to his link-up play with Neymar for Brazil). In addition, Juan Mata is a player capable of reading the game better than the common human being, especially when he copes for his lack of pace with a run of perfect path and timing, which allowed him to put his name on 31 goals in the last three seasons, ending up in the right place at the right time in front or behind the defenses. Finally, the diminutive Spanish simply pays the price for his athletic limitations, especially noticeable as he's is one of those hyper-decisive players at any moment even with very little impact in open play or in the attacking build-up (before last two assists), forcing his coaches to expect an exploit from him until the last minute of each game. The close mate of Oriol Romeu and Esteban Granero has played 43 matches in 2010 /2011, 52 in 2011/ 2012 and 64 during the previous year in three seasons which he hended with participations in the U21 Euro 2011 Euro 2012, the 2012 Olympics and the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013. His reduced playing time this term than in previous seasons is simply the corollary of a more reasonable use by Jose Mourinho, in order to exploit the qualities of the Special Juan and not resting the relative effectiveness of a ruined attacking set up on the weekly pieces of brilliance of an sole individual-fig leaf. The recovery system: Suffocate the opponent on the flanks Put the funnel in the closet, let's use the waffle iron Jose Mourinho took advantage of the months of July and August to work on the establishment of a ball recovery system with purpose to suffocate the opponent in wide areas to regain control of the ball. This marks an evolution with Rafael Benítez's instructions who aimed to block the flanks to direct the opponent toward Lampard and Ramires' pressing (covered by David Luiz tracking runners in between the lines). Figure 11: Left: Mourinho method (waffle iron), right, the now Napoli head-coach (funnel). Chelsea fills blue areas to direct opponents toward to defined recovery areas (green): flanks this season, the central funnel last season. Note the difference between the limits of recovery zones formed by the bylines or of the penalty area (ie : the center backs as last bastion before the goalkeeper), as the size of the areas to cover recovery. Line (indicative) of average recovery of the ball is shown in yellow (density of defensive actions). This new system has resulted in new instructions transmitted to the full backs and the central midfielders. The latters as the second pressing wave under Benítez (the first being the attacker and his central support) have now seen demoted one rank in the hierarchy. About transitions and how it translates this into his training sessions, Mourinho says he often asks his team to "maintain a minimum of five players behind the ball" in order to "maintain a good defensive base if the ball is lost. " Full backs' role having also evolved (see elsewhere), this allows to Chelsea permanently have a real defensive base able to protect the center and flanks in frast-breaks (a tactic that was not limited to the confrontation against Villa and the presence of Agbonlahor and Weimann as it was reported). Protecting the defensive line now makes queries accessories about Cahill or Ivanovic's abilities to defend effectively beyond their penalty box as they are now rarely drawn out of it. Figure 12: Chelsea's pressing shape forces the opponent to get the ball out through a predefined circuit, which allows the Blues to stake on the course. Chelsea is the sky blue area. Midfielders act as the third blade to cut passes in the purple zone. The central overload when the team sets-up its attacks therefore naturally provides the platform to guide the ball onto the sides of the field : the first wave of pressure consists in - as usual in England - the attacker and his central support who will attack the pair of central defenders centrally to leave them only sideways options (Torres (9) and Oscar (11)). Once the full back is on the ball in his defensive zone, his forwards playing angle is automatically halved. The work of the wide attacker (Hazard - 17) is then to block the inside of the field while the central attacking midfielder gets back back to recover marking duties on the opponent down the middle. Both prevent lateral movement to seek an option inside and thus lead him to play in front of him toward his only option, back to goal. This then triggers the energetic pressing run from the full back (here, Cole - 3) to force his opponent to lay back. In case he manages to convey the ball to a partner in the middle of the field, it is then the responsibility of the midfielders to cut out the pass (Ramires and Lampard - 7 and 8) Figure 13: Welbeck receives the ball from Evra while De Bruyne slides laterally to close the inside of the field. Ramires follows Rooney occupying his zone and blocks the option on the ground. Ivanovic comes out to press Welbeck. In spite of these three stages, the opponent sometimes manages to get his sequence going and tries to switch play quickly. Chelsea faced this scenario during the visit of Aston Villa when Mata went through its intervention on Antonio Luna, forcing Ramires to come and support, without more success. Oscar positioned to block the backwards option, therefore couldn't to step back as well and monitor Villa's third midfielder bursting forward. Karim El Ahmadi was then offered an avenue to get in a shooting position. Figure 14: Antonio Luna gets on the turn and manages to get past Juan Mata and Ramires. The ball comes to Benteke who plays a square ball to Karim El Ahmadi who bursted forward. Ivanovic can not come out to help Mata due to the high positioning of Agbonlahor. Lampard is rooted in its position : as Oscar blocks Ashley Westwood, Delph and El-Ahmadi aren't told twice they can bomb forward. Cahill can not close down Benteke at the risk of the latter to play in his his back through One Directioners' new favorite footballer. How to deal with crosses, the communicating vessels Last season's tactical flaws regularly created intractable situations at the back. Dealing with crosses was one of those aspects with room for improvement as attackers not tracking back left full backs in 1v2 situation where they were often written off. In case the covering center back went to cover and cancel the overload, it thus left only two defenders in the six yard box. If Mikel dropped alongside the center back left, it created then another inbalance situation at the edge of the box, leaving Lampard or Ramires the double duty to get on the second ball while seing the opponent's third midfielder getting in shooting position (Diamé at West Ham, Sissoko at Newcastle) Oscar falling back facilitates therefore the system of communicating vessels : Ramires uses his pace to cut in behind his full back if the former faces a 2v1. Meanwhile, Chelsea packs his six yard box with three defenders while Ramires' partner and Oscar drops to get in between the edge of the box and the penalty area. Ramires is drawn to the channel to cancel the 1v2 Wallace faced. Piazon (occupying Oscar's CAM role) got alongside Essien. This allows Chelsea to dominate every area numerically, the first step in order to deal properly with the situation afterwards. A look at the roster Shortly after his previous "début" at Chelsea, José Mourinho stated his views on the composition of the ideal roster. According to the Portuguese coach, 22 players and three goalkeepers are required to to "meet the needs of the various competitions." For three seasons, the Premier League has also set up a list of 25 players each club must fulfill ; including eight players considered "home grown" (i.e. having spent the equivalent of three seasons - 36 months - in a English or Welsh club before 21). Chelsea could only register five players in this sub- list - Terry, Cole, Lampard, Cahill and Bertrand - actually making the list of 25 players a list of 23 players completed by Tomas Kalas and Wulfert Cornelius "Marco" Van Ginkel (listed as U21 and don't needing to be registered to play). The arrival of Mark Schwarzer will provide Petr Cech competition he had gradually forgotten since the departure of Carlo Cudicini four years ago as Hilario's contract renewal should only bother Christophe Lollichon to be able to implement training sessions for four (considering as well Jamal Blackman - U21). After sitting around a table, Mourinho and Ivanovic raised the possibility of the latter to play as much as right back as in central defence. The Serb will be the alternative to the right back position along with Cesar Azpilicueta, giving the Portuguese different tactical options. For the CB pairing, David Luiz will be joined by Gary Cahill or John Terry while Tomas Kalas will provide squad depth in this position. Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand should appreciate their new role on the left flank, in order to break the routine which set them as dummy runners with overlapping runs left unanswered. In midfield, central positions should be distributed between Ramires and Lampard, followed by Mikel. Michael Essien and Marco Van Ginkel (both used as deep midfielders in pre-season) seem to have been granted the status of squad players, coming in late in games or in case Chelsea plays a reasonable opponent. No matter how the press transcribed the summer moves on the transfer market in recent weeks, Chelsea is not in overcapacity in attacking positions: Eden Hazard and Willian should share their time playing on the left wing with the busy schedule in mind, especially as the first can not assume the frequency alone. The former Shakhtar Donetsk attacker will be entitled to begin the European meetings at the expense of Belgium on the basis of its good performances in the Champions League. Oscar seems indisputable centrally while Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne will share the role of off-centered attacking midfielder on the right, as both are eager to get into pockets of spaces in between opponents's defensive zones. Schürrle can play equally on the right or left as he can stretch opponents and run in behind defences. If Mourinho usually fields a lone striker, it is common to see his team end games with two strikers, especially when his team does not win or is trailed on the scoreboard. That's why he wanted to have three reliable out-and-out forwards in Samuel Eto'o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba (at least for the route one football). Romelu Lukaku has been loaned out to Everton. The Belgian will have the opportunity to improve his overral game (Everton being an antagonist to the counter-attacking WBA) and improve his play on the ball (lay backs, link up), while having the opportunity to gain experience earning playing time to improve his body balance and aerial timing under Roberto Martínez's guidance (as we remember his impact on Victor Moses.) Conclusion Chelsea strengthened quantitatively and qualitatively, which marks a clear evolution with the previous season. Interrogation elements however remain about the relative value of players away from their optimal form ( Hazard, Mata, Eto'o ) which must then make sure to optimize their running to the benefit of the group before being able to make differences with the ball. Chelsea has also again a manager who does not hesitates to change his plans very quickly, an facet where temporary technicians since Mou's departure showed nothing for the sake of seeking the best formula effective in the short term. Scolari, Ancelotti and Villas Boas meanwhile left to stagnate for weeks their set-up despite its apparent flaws. Mourinho has not hesitated to put sharp attacking options in the battle when his team held the draw ( Lukaku getting the decisive blow floors in the space created by racing Schürrle face Aston Villa) while the shift towards a defense against asymmetric three Roma in preseason ( 2-1 victory forcing ) and Everton ( without preventing the narrow defeat ) arose as an unimaginable option there are still a few months to force a decision. Chelsea should be a relevant contender for the top three since the Blues have still earned 75 points in 2012/2013, which can be added as the only unflattering total of 14 points lost from winning positions (i.e.: the gap with Manchester United crowned with 89 points ). The "winning mentality" instigated by Jose Mourinho should allow to make the difference a fair amount of times times this season between draws (title race's only ennemy) and victories. It will be interesting to look at the propensity of different players to blend into the system and lead roles while the big games leave however the issue of what role to give to individuals in relation to the need to maintain a form of collective balance. Will Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Samuel Eto'o to Chelsea be able to make differencies at key moments with new responsibilities ? Will they even combine impact of the game and ability to convert the momentum of their team in goals and wins ? Sébastien Chapuis Follow me on twitter: @SeBlueLion Click here to view the article
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