I thought Chelsea’s defeat to Shakhtar last night was quite interesting from a tactical point of view; the systems being used were almost identical, and I think everything which the Ukrainians did well, gave this Chelsea side clear indication as to ways in which they can improve.
Both teams played 4-2-3-1, with one fairly fixed holding midfielder alongside a more mobile and energetic box-to-box player. They also both used three attacking midfielders (none of whom were naturally wide players) behind a centre forward who had licence to roam anywhere in the final third. So with the two teams lining up with almost exactly the same formation, how is it the side with the more talented squad were so easily outplayed?
Well, the main reason is obviously the experience this Shakhtar team has of using a narrow 4-2-3-1 system. I think we’ve all noticed recently that it certainly isn’t an especially easy one to employ. It requires everyone to work hard and be disciplined in moving the ball forwards quickly, but also getting back to defend as team quickly as well. That’s one area where Shakhtar easily bested us last night – they were able to defend their flanks in numbers, whist none of Mata, Oscar or Hazard instinctively dropped back to support the full back when we lost possession – that’s something each of them needs to sort out.
Key Battles on the Pitch:
Fernandinho vs Ramires: This was probably the most interesting contest. Ramires played well but Fernandinho was just a cut above – probably the best player on the pitch. Ramires was supposed to start the game on the right wing but Lampard’s injury forced him back into midfield. This is the role we need him to master. If he can then I think he’ll become unquestionably our most important player – someone to not only win the ball in midfield but initiate counter attacks and get the ball quickly up to the front four, while they have enough time and space to hurt the opposition.
Willian, Texeira & Mkhitaryan vs Mata, Oscar & Hazard: So far, only good things have been said about our triumvirate of playmakers and rightly so. They’re still all so young and have barely played together at all. Shakhtar’s forwards may not be as gifted but they showed clearly the importance of cohesiveness and having knowledge of each other’s game. So far this year our attacks have been based on improvisation and imagination. We’ve scored mainly via moments of individual brilliance, as opposed to tap-ins off the back of long, intricate and well worked passing sequences. Which, I’ll be honest, doesn’t bother too much at this stage. For the Chelsea ‘Mazacar’ to look this good after playing together only 7 times, it’s almost certain that after 70 collective appearances, they’ll be something to behold. They’ll be, like this Shakhtar forward line, a devastating attacking unit, rather than just 3 world class individuals.
Listening to TalkSport last night, a lot Chelsea fans kept phoning in with the same two concerns after the game, and couldn’t help but agree:
1) The performance of Torres – who in spite of picking up so many great positions and stretching the Shakhtar the defence so effectively was as lamentably slow and indecisive with his decision making as ever. Off the ball, Torres is the perfect striker for this system, but it seems if he’s given any time at all to go against his instincts these days, then he will. I still choose to support Torres and think he can contribute a sizable number of goals this term, but a new big-money forward arriving in January is looking more likely by the week.
2) Chelsea’s poor penalty box defending – with the emphasis taken off defence with this new-look side and placed on attack, it’s only to be expected we’d concede more goals, and so far in the league, I think we’ve done well to only concede six in eight. At times though we haven’t looked nearly solid enough at the back and I think it’s hard to understand why, given the individual quality of all our defenders and the length of time they’ve been playing together.
Personally I believe that as the attacking cohesiveness of the side develops so will our ability to defend as a unit and remain compact for 90 minutes. I also think the relatively poor form of David Luiz and John Terry isn’t helping. Cahill could easily find himself back in the first XI, even after Terry’s ban, with a good run of performances this coming fortnight.
With regards to how the group looks now, I’d say Shakhtar are definitely the favourites to finish first. We absolutely have to beat the Ukrainians at home. We can’t be relying on Nordsjaellend to do us any more favours and we don’t want to need a win away at Juventus either. If last year’s campaign taught us anything though, it’s ‘bet against Chelsea progressing at your peril’.
Looking ahead to Sunday, I think we should expect another frantic, pretty shapeless game of football against a Manchester Utd team who are defending dreadfully at the minute. With an aging, out of form Rio Ferdinand, playing on the right next to Rafael da Silva (who doesn’t seem to like defending very much) there will be a lot of opportunity to hurt them down that flank – as Spurs showed a few weeks ago. Their forwards are all in form however, with Rooney, Van Persie and Welbeck all scoring against Stoke last week. We could be seeing a lot of goals that afternoon.
Clarky’s top tip: Take all Utd and Chelsea defenders out of your fantasy team.