Is Chelsea's gameplan too predictable? Part 1
In the first of these two articles, I review the club’s season match by match and end by explaining the need for an alternative game plan. The next article will explore the possibilities of alternate formations.
Chelsea started the season with the same formation that they had employed for the previous few months, a 4-2-3-1. The 9-0-1 jokes aside, the formation helped them win the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
The season started brightly with wins against Wigan, Reading and Newcastle. But some warning signs were already present, when Reading scored two goals at Stamford Bridge. And the frailties were soon brutally exposed by Radamel Falcao and his teammates in a 4-1 demolition in the UEFA Super Cup. Yes, John Terry was missing, but that hardly counts as an excuse for shipping in four goals. Most of the blame was put on Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel, for not properly executing the responsibilities of the double pivot. The lesson learnt from that game?
Chelsea’s double pivot is weak, weaker still is their back four in the absence of John Terry. Next was a drab goalless draw at Loftus Road, followed by the season’s’ first Champions League game – at home against Juventus, which ended 2-2. Chelsea should never have let a 2-0 lead slip. But again, Mikel took most of the blame as it was his dispossession of the ball that started the move for Juventus’ second goal. Much more crucial in that goal which was not highlighted as much was how the back four were desperately out of position. Better defensive coordination would have ensured the goal would never have been scored.
Ramires and Ryan Bertrand were being played out of position – in the front three. That is defenitely not the ideal position for two players who are primarily defense oriented. This part of the formation demands flair and creativity. That was soon rectified in the next game – an utterly unconvincing 1-0 home win over Stoke. This saw the pairing of John Obi Mikel with Ramires in the double pivot for the first time (RDM bravely dropped Frank Lampard to the bench), and started Hazard, Oscar, Mata together for the first time. The same double pivot was trusted for the next league game at the Emirates which Chelsea won 2-1. One defensive mistake which stood out was the Gervinho goal – he should never have been given so much time to control and score. But otherwise, it was a fine performance.
In the next game against FC Nordsjaelland, there were some warning signs, but none too serious. The 4-0 scoreline does not tell the whole story. A faultless 4-1 win over Norwich followed, followed by an equally impressive 4-2 win at Spurs. By now, MAZACAR were running the show and earning glittering tributes. But the storm was still to come. Shakthar Donetsk, beat Chelsea 2-1. The same old mistakes/faults occurred - weak defending (this time, Terry was playing) and Lampard starting alongside Mikel. He injured himself early on and was replaced by Hazard, Ramires partnering Mikel.
The double pivot was caught out of position and did not have the legs to stop Shakthar’s midfield. Coming to the 3-2 home defeat to Manchester United – Luiz made a mess early on, and Ashley Cole was beaten all ends up for the cross which led to RVP’s goal. From then on, Chelsea dominated thoroughly, dominating the game, and should have won it, but for some strange decisions. The next four games were all unconvincing, 1-1 draws against Swansea and Liverpool, sandwiched between yet another drab display at home to Shakthar which they should have lost, but somehow ended up winning (Victor Moses, the savior). The midfield was almost non existent in that game. The gloom still persisted, as Chelsea crashed 2-1 at The Hawthorns.
Two things stand out (apart from Chelsea’s alarming and perennial November slump) – the defense is weak without John Terry in it, and the formation is always the same.
So are Chelsea becoming too predictable?
Previous managers were unsure about their BEST eleven, but this time around, even other teams’ managers are sure about it. They set up their gameplan knowing that Chelsea will start a 4-2-3-1 with the following line-up:
Cech, Ivanovic/Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill/Luiz, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Hazard, Mata, Oscar, Torres.
The back for has been changing, primarily due to non availability of certain players. Otherwise, the rest of the team is predictable. Opponents have the following as priorities:
i) Don’t give space to the Holy Trinity, mark them tightly and make a crunching challenge here and there- this nullifies their threat and completely cuts off the main striker
ii) draw the pivot out of position. This makes the defense panic and players like Luiz will draw themselves out of position in order to take the ball, thus creating a hole at the back.
This needs to be sorted as Chelsea have not yet perfected the double pivot.
Thus, there arises a need for a new formation. An alternative, a Plan B. What needs to be done? Use some other players in a new formation? Or just tweak the same eleven to a more effective system?
Watch out for the next article.