Chelsea confortably won his third Champions League game on the row after beating Schalke 04 on the same scoreline than two weeks ago (3-0). José Mourinho was furious at his players at the week end after the defeat at Newcastle. He blamed his players for thinking that the opening goal would come as it already did 5 times during October’s 6-game winning streak, without them putting any sort of effort to push for that goal. After the Schalke game, the Portuguese manager could be delighted with the input the squad he fielded – including 6 changes from the league encounter – put in order to apply his instructions and respect the roles every player was instructed to hold.
Note: this article isn’t aimed to go in depth on Chelsea’s gameplan this season. I wrote down my observations on José Mourinho’s set-up for TalkeChelsea.net on here if you want more information.
Schürrle – Oscar – Willian
Mikel – Ramires
Azpilicueta – Terry – Cahill – Ivanovic
Substitutions: Ba for Eto’o (77th), De Bruyne for Schürrle (78th), Lampard for Oscar (81)
Man of the Match: Andre Schürrle
Chelsea slightly adapt to Schalke 04’s gameplan
1st issue encountered: Schalke 04’s attacking full backs
The game started straight on as Chelsea tried to push back his opponent by fielding his wide attackers high up the pitch. Schalke reacted quickly on the break and got several times in dangerous positions in the opening ten minutes. The german side relied on his full backs’ runs forward against a narrow Chelsea’s back four with purpose to switch play quickly toward the other side.
2nd issue encountered: Schalke 04’s pressing and density in central areas
Jens Keller organized his team in a 4-2-3-1 shape on paper, fielding Draxler on the right side as he’s naturally tend to drift centrally. On the other side, Christian Fuchs represented a very much defensive option with possible view to allow more freedom to Draxler on the width of the pitch.
This forced Chelsea into a situation in which the double pivot of Mikel and Ramires was closed down from every side of the field.
Chelsea didn’t manage to find his attackers in between the lines in central areas as the latter (Oscar, Eto’o) were often in advanced positions in the early build up, that forced a predictable interplay between Mikel and his defenders. That was ideal for Schalke to trigger his pressing to try to push Chelsea back between the 10th and the half-hour mark.
Adjustment to the 1st issue encountered: wide attacking players double on flanks to allow the back four’s narrowness
After 10 minutes and several dangerous situations for Schalke 04, Chelsea’s wide players got deeper (-not speaking about propensity to track back efficiently here) in order to double on flanks to face the german side’s full back that camped in advanced positions to stretch the Chelsea block.
This forced a reaction from Chelsea who had to adapt to his usual recovery system based on forcing the ball wide to restrict the opponent’s options in 2v2 with support from the two central midfielders. Whilst the first pressing wave was applied as usual by the forward and his central attacking support (Eto’o – Oscar), the second pressing wave was then formed by the double-pivot ; something obvious on the ball recovery chart pointing at the central zones in which Chelsea gained possession in the first half.
Match event leading to the balance of force’s alteration: Samuel Eto’o’s opening goal
Team hoofing the ball in order to get the ball in control in the attacking half is still very much English Football’s background, especially with goalkeepers able to hit long diagonals with deadly accuracy onto the chest of any powerful forward willing to lay-off or flick-on the ball toward his close team-mates. Chelsea already encountered that issue twice this season in the league as Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) and Tim Krul (Newcastle) were either given too much room to get outside of their box or were actually kicking the ball out of their hands. Still, Samuel Eto’s cheeky contribution in Eden Hazard’s equalizer against Cardiff City is a good indication that this matter is being taken very seriously by the Chelsea staff.
The Cameroonese’s pressing run on Timo Hildebrand (admitedly encouraged by José Mourinho himself shouting from the sidelines) directly lead to the opening goal from a lucky bounce at the half-hour mark, very similar to the goal Fernando Torres scored one-year-minus-four-days ago against Shakhtar Donetsk. This inevitably altered the balance of force as Schalke opened up and couldn’t be satisfied by opposing or frustrating Chelsea anymore.
Chelsea’s attacking play: writting down Eto’o’s movements with Oscar and Willian’s engine
As the game opened up, this allowed to have a more precise idea of the movement pattern José Mourinho asked to his attackers. First of all, the presence of John Obi Mikel meant that Ramires was used a few steps ahead of his usual role to cover for Frank Lampard’s runs ; not only he did some runs forward (a regular feature of his interchanging with Oscar this season) but he also had to carry the ball forward in counter attack.
Since his arrival, Samuel Eto’o guideline is based on recovering a decent physical form, what caused to be an issue on the basis his first outings clearly highlighted the contrast between what he wanted to do and what he was actually able to do as his game still relies a lot on pace and dribbling. Just like Fernando Torres, the Cameroonese mostly ran the channel so far (left) or got in behind the opposing right back. That raised the issue of a lack of presence in central area against the opposition’s center backs, especially in order to cut crosses he contribued to set-up or simply, allowing more room to exploit for Chelsea’s attackers in front of the defence.
The all-rounder Oscar is among the first names José Mourinho puts down on his gamesheet every week, thanks to his tactical versatility and work-ethic that exceeds most tactical considerations related to whether Chelsea actually plays more in 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 on the ball, 4-4-1-1 off it. Against Schalke 04, the Brazilian was asked to hold another role than the one he was used to. For once, he wasn’t asked to act as the third midfielder dropping deep to collect the ball – thus allowing either Lampard or Ramires to run from deep. Oscar was used as the central focal point while Samuel Eto’o ran the channel on the left. Something a tad more formalized than the striker drifting wide while his support striker moves further up as both players were already positioned at the very moment that move is usually triggered. (87)
What leads us to both wide attackers’ role:
Willian’s role was to roam diagonally in front of the defence, in order to collect the ball and act as an off-centered playmaker, what he showed when assisting Samuel Eto’o on the second Chelsea goal. The Brazilian stayed either wide or got inside the field when his presence alongside Chelsea’s two midfielders was required, as much in possession than without the ball.
Andre Schürrle is my Man of the Match as his movement proved to be a threat Schalke didn’t manage to handle all game long. Reminescent of the set-up in which Hazard was proeminent on the first games of the season), Samuel Eto’o stretched the defensive interval in the channel. The synchronicity of Oscar and Schürrle’s movements confused even more the German side’s defence as the Brazilian pulled a defender while Schürrle started his diagonal runs toward goal, with or without the ball.
Opinion reacted quickly after the game on Chelsea’s double pivot’s efficiency, especially without the ball as the pressing was neatly realized, leading to recovering the ball numerous times in central areas. Still, one’s yet to see whether Mourinho will stick with Mikel and Ramires in the league as the former’s more positional game may not suit Chelsea midfielders’ interchanging game to José Mourinho’s eyes (I personally don’t regard that as an issue).
We can also wonder to what extent the double pivot’s efficiency against Schalke 04 is directly related to the german side fielding his full backs high up the pitch as both wide attackers’ deep positioning automatically forced Mikel and Ramires into a pressing with purpose to direct the ball wide. The teams Chelsea will face for the next month rely on a more conventional approach (WBA, West Ham) but the Saints game will be a fascinating game for many reasons. We may see then some features of the win against Schalke applied again against Pochettino’s shapeshifting Southampton.
As Fernando Torres is injured and may not play a part on the week end, I’d like to see the same lineup and gameplan against West Bromwich Albion as pulling the likes of Jonas Olsson out of the box always provides a fair share of amusement, what Oscar and Schürrle could have joy with.
Sébastien C. – @SeBlueLion