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Tactical deficiencies in Chelsea: Part 2- Midfielders are weak in defense

Just before playing United in EPL, i wrote about the deficiencies in the Chelsea defense which Man Utd can exploit. As a Chelsea fan, I feel both sad and happy about that post. Sad because the analysis turned out to be true and happy because it turned out to be true! So this post is a continuation of the previous one, in which I’ll discuss and further justify the faults which still remain in the team.

It is never possible to have a team free of faults. Every team as a soft spot which the opponent can exploit. As Gary Cahill said, it important to find a perfect balance between attack and defense.

Many Chelsea fans are pointing out that fullbacks are our main weakness. To a certain extent, this statement is true. Chelsea do look vulnerable to the attack from the wings. However, as I said in the previous post, our weaknesses are first the defensive midfielders, and then the fullbacks. Defensively, our holding midfielders are not doing a good job at all. Sometimes even Oscar fails to mark a run; but to be fair to him, defense is not his primary job. The pressing and the transition from defense to attack is good, but the transition back to defense is really slow. Its difficult to blame either Ramirez or Mikel. Both share equal amount of blame in this matter.

Mikel and Ramirez are not doing a good enough job. The main analysis will be based on the game against Shakhtar.

1st goal.

Shakhtar scored the first goal after Fernandinho made a powering run into the box and pulled back the ball into the penalty area where Willian was waiting unmarked to fire the ball into the net. Now how did this happen?

In this frame, the positioning of all the players, except Ramirez is good. Mikel is in the right place to cover the empty space between Luiz and Cahill. Willian is unmarked, but it is not yet dangerous.

However, one slip by Bertrand changes the whole situation. Willian has continued his run unmarked. Both Mikel and Oscar fail to see the free player. The blame should be more on Mikel as he gets pulled towards the ball really easy. There are already 3 players on Fernandinho and Mikel needs to look out for the pass instead of going for the ball.

Even Ramirez is way out of position. He needs to get in the the free space shown, or at least mark the player in front of him.

In this last frame, Fernandinho has cut in the ball to Willian who has already taken the shot. Look at how far Mikel is from the ball. He should have rushed in to block the shot. We can notice that even after Willian has taken the shot, Mikel is just about starting to move towards Willian. The reaction by Mikel is a bit slow.

On the bottom edge of the screen, we can see Ramirez, who has not moved a single yard during the whole attack. Last year, Chelsea was perfectly organised in the defence with two rows of 4 players closing down each and every opponent. However, in this photo, we can see how far the two defensive mids are from each other and how the player to right of Willian is still unmarked.

2nd goal

The second goal for Shakhtar also originated from the wings and a similar pass into the box resulted in a goal by Willian. People were quick to blame Bertrand and Hazard for the mistake.


In this frame, all players are in a good position. Bertrand is marking the player and Hazard is a bit wide to mark the winger. The positioning and awareness of Hazard is a little poor but one cannot put much blame on a attacking player for not defending well. Also, the exquisite through pass by Fernandinho made the positioning  by Hazard look even worse.

Now in this second frame, we can again see poor marking by Mikel. While Cahill and Luiz are marking the player closest to them, Mikel is simply jogging into the box without picking out any runs. The reading of the game by Mikel is really poor. Willian is running unmarked and both Mikel and Oscar fail to notice him.


Now, in the last frame, we can see now Mikel and Oscar are caught watching the ball without noticing the players around them. Once the ball came to Willian, he simply took the shot. In the match, after the goal, you could see Luiz pointing out to Mikel that he should have been marking Willian. This goal was a result of laziness in Mikel’s part.

As a no.1 choice defensive mid, Mikel should really pull up his socks. Such mistakes win or lose matches. Even though Mikel has improved a lot from the last season, some work still needs to be done.

It has happened before

Now, this is not the first match where opponents are finding it easy to roam about in the hole between our defense and midfield. Ramirez and Mikel fail to close in that space, time and again. Against Man Utd in Premier League, Van Persie, like Willian, was simply waiting in front of the defensive line to receive the ball and shoot. Both the goals by United were very similar in the set up.

Against Tottenham, many sharp runs by Defoe were not being picked up.

We can also notice the goal by Gervinho in Arsenal vs Chelsea game. The goal was a result of a slight error by the defense, but one of our defensive mids should have been there to stop the pass to Gervinho in the first place.

Chelsea fullbacks need to improve but our defensive mids have an enormous amount of work to do. Attack wins games but defense wins titles. Saying this, I wish that Chelsea don’t sacrifice a lot in the defense for the sake of free flowing football.

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