The Tactical Preamble
Saturday’s early kick off gave us the unenviable task of trying to kick-start our increasingly iffy away form against a bubbling Chelsea side.
The West Londoners deservedly top the table – unless of course points are given for games lost to dark forces / corruption – and have dropped just four points at home all season which is the best record in the top flight. In Mourinho they also have the league’s best tactician and man-manager, and also perhaps also the most irritating.
For Mourinho enthusiasts, even when he loans out arguably his best striker its some kind of brilliant insurgent strategy designed to undermine rivals, whilst bullying a geriatric french pensioner is intelligence worthy of Alain De Botton. He’s clearly not in the same league as Tony Soprano however, as this scene demonstrates.
Anyway, I digress.
Martinez dilemma was whether he sticks to the rigid deep defensive line and limited pressure on the ball that brought us a 1-0 win against the same opposition earlier this season and concede space between the lines for Chelsea’s fluid attacking midfield trio to turn and run at us. Or does he try and play more aggressive further up the pitch and nip Chelsea’s attacks in the bud around the midfield zone as citteh did pretty well in the cup last week.
From a defensive point of view our win in the corresponding fixture was a bit more of a Moyes style grind-off than the brown brogue free love approach of Martinez. Our blue sky thinking boss did engage in some tactical jousting in the second period to counter Mourinho’s switch to a 3-5-2 by replacing Jelavic with McCarthy. This was designed to get more bodies in deep midfield areas and use Mirallas as the outball through the midde with Nasimith playing a key role on the flanks to win diagonals in the air.
Taking control of this game was going to be tricky but not insurmountable. Our passing share v top sides on the road has been impressive (54% average). This ball hogging against the big sides has yielded just 2 goals on the road though and with just 1 goal from open play in our last 4 away games it was clear we had a job on in terms of scoring, particularly with Chelsea having the best defensive record in the league.
Chelsea’s preferred back four was re-united with Ivanovic and Azpilcueta in the fullback slots and Cahill and Terry in the middle. Matic and Lampard played as the midfield shield with the attacking midfield trio of William, the impish and industrious Oscar and star man Eden Hazard behind benchmark mercenary Eto’o.
With no Lukaku the big ‘selection dilemma’ for us concerned who would lead the line with Traore, who showed on his debut he can be ace and cack in equal measure, initially preferred to the more consistent if less shiny Steven Nasimith, however due to an injury in the warm up the Scot got the nod.
Whilst Chelsea settled the better in the first ten minutes Everton then completely took control and bossed the remainder of the half. The combination play was particularly good down the left side with Barry – who along with McCarthy was immense throughout – finding Baines at will, who in turn was threading some nicely angled forward passes into Naismith who was linking play superbly with on rushing midfielders. Indeed, the two best chances of the game at this stage came from such scenarios with Naismith teeing up first Osman and then Mirallas. After such a dominant display in the opening 45 mins there was more than a whiff of the Spurs defeat at half time as despite bossing possession and territory we had amassed just one shot on target.
Chelsea opted to not get sucked in by our passing and instead dropped off to be more compact in their own defensive third. Going forward our hosts produced virtually nothing with Oscar well shackled and Hazard frustrated by Coleman and ending the half on the right flank.
In the second period Ramires was brought on for Oscar, who having made a few fouls since his earlier booking was in risk of being sent off and was generally below par. Ramires added more intensity and Chelsea played a bit more of a direct 4-3-3.
Going forward the attacking dynamic of Barry > Baines > Naismith was much less of an option after the break, going from 20 combinations in the first half to just 4 in the second period. Naismith looked a tad more isolated and whilst he did his best he struggled in the air against Terry and Cahill, winning just 3 of the 18 aerial duels he contested.
Indeed, with the exception of a deflected effort from Osman we hardly created anything after the break with just 6 chances created in open play to our hosts 13 over the 90mins. Attacking midfield trio Barkley, Deulofeu and McGeady all came on and with Chelsea now in the ascendancy it seemed the strategy was to hit Chelsea on the break but as with the Spurs game the subs provided nothing. Barkley was particularly poor and frequently lost possession although with the 90 minutes now up it seemed that we were going to get the point we deserved.
Chelsea had been on top after the break and in their search for a goal the comically bad Torres was brought on with the specific instruction of squealing like a pig at the referee at every opportunity. Luckily for Chelsea, the malignant forward is an expert in such situations from his time served across the park. Ramires, a player adept at ‘engaging contact’ with opponents won more fouls than any other player in the 90 mins and after a coming together with Jagielka it was Cheslea who were to have the game’s final opportunity deep into injury time. As Lampard sized up the free kick and our defensive line retreated way too far back there was a feeling of inevitability about what followed as the presence of the odious Terry led to the previously excellent Howard being caught in 8 minds and forcing the ball over his own line.
There was a lot of similarities with the Spurs defeat here. A first half that we dominated with several decent chances was followed by a second period in which we created little and then got stung by a set play. There was plenty of positives to take from the game , however, notably the way we controlled possession as well as the attacking passing combinations in the first half along with some great defending from Jagielka and Distin. As mentioned at the start, getting a goal was always going to be difficult and ultimately the lack of a cutting edge has again cost us. League wise, three home games now follow – all against crud sides we should web everywhere – so all is not lost dear readers.