What will José Mourinho’s Chelsea look like ?

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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 (15/09/2013) you can read on here or here. It has been written during the international break and translated the week after. Initially published on TalkChelsea.net

  • The return of the Special One
  • What tactical approach ?
  • What attacking application ?
    • Create a launch pad by submerging the opponent
      • What roles in the double pivot ?
      • Full backs don’t camp at the forefront anymore
      • Mourinho’s tactical overbidding
      • Eden Hazard, between Joe Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo ?
      • The blackboard
    • The art of counter-attack
    • The attackers’ dual role, an insoluble dilemma?
    • What’s the Mata with the Special Juan ?
  • The recovery system : suffocate the opponent on the flanks
    • The funnel in the closet, let’s use the waffle iron
    • How to deal with crosses: the communicating vessels
  • A look at the roster
  • Conclusion

The 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.

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” 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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

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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.

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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).

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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? 

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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).

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.)


Posted Image 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

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