Attacking flair and fluidity…
After a decade in charge, Roman Abramovich and the fans of Chelsea FC may finally have found what they most desired: an attacking and exciting style of football built around technically gifted, creative players. That is, if our first half performance against Hull City on Sunday afternoon is any indication of what lay ahead in this new Jose Mourinho era.
Today’s Chelsea has an abundance of creative options, each of whom excel when working in tight areas. Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle all fit naturally into Mourinho’s new attacking style that utilises fluidity within a disciplined team shape to enable these players to receive possession in the key areas, with as much time and space as possible, where they can function to maximise their abilities. Here’s how Jose allows this to play out…
In possession of the ball and starting to build play from Cech at the back, our team shape in the first half against Hull consistently began as a well-balanced and attacking 4-2-3-1, with Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic taking up starting positions a little deeper than we are used to seeing modern full-backs, more connected with the centre-back pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill. Stretching the pitch, and Hull’s defensive unit, high and long with Torres and wide with Hazard left and De Bruyne right, the team displayed a noteworthy level of discipline to return to this initial shape from which to build attacks each time we gained possession of the ball deep in our own half. This proved a tactical foundation for attacking success, allowing a recurring theme to torment Hull: the trio of Oscar, Hazard and De Bruyne receiving possession in dangerous areas with lots of time and space.
Oscar, Hazard and De Bruyne: The Key Tactical Point
“We know it is not easy in this country because teams keep compact and maintain good distances between the [midfield and defensive] lines,” said Mourinho after the game. “But our creative players had very good movement.” I believe Jose is referring to one key point: the movement of Hazard and De Bruyne from wide to central areas.
The movement of Hazard and De Bruyne when attacks were developing on their opposite flanks was the outstanding tactical shift and what gave Chelsea superiority in the match. Shown in the graphic above, as soon as the ball was passed out towards the left to Cole, Hazard or one of the two central midfielders, De Bruyne immediately drifted from his wide starting position on the right to a slot inside where he became a second attacking midfielder alongside Oscar. If the attacking move favoured the right hand side, De Bruyne would maintain his width while Hazard changed his location to the inside position closer to Oscar.
The Player Influence graphic (above) indicates the average position where each player is having most influence on the game. As you can see, De Bruyne, Hazard and Oscar’s impact upon the game during the first 26 minutes of the match, when Chelsea were in complete control, is in the key central attacking area of the pitch. More significantly, those positions were frequently in-between Hull’s two lines of defence, areas that create big problems for defenders.
This shift from outside to in by our wide players is a very astute one. Any left or right-back wanting to uphold their defensive shape and adhere to traditional defensive duties will never track their wide playing opponent into the central areas of the pitch, and it didn’t happen once to hinder Chelsea’s tactics. To prevent huge vacant spaces on the flanks, the defender always attempts to pass the responsibility of marking onto their midfielders. Rarely does this work as the defending midfielders are already matched up against their opposing central players. With no defender pressuring De Bruyne or Hazard as they moved into the central zones, Chelsea constantly created overload situations in the midfield and enjoyed attacking success. It is important to note the roles of Cole on the left and Ivanovic on the right here. When De Bruyne or Hazard made their shift infield, Cole and Ivanovic made their respective advances forward onto their opposing Hull full-back. Their presence in the attacking play increases the pressure on the Hull left or right-back, ensuring De Bruyne and Hazard are left unmarked inside.
Oscar’s goal – tactical success
Time and time again, Hazard and De Bruyne received the ball in high quality, attacking danger areas, unmarked, with time and space to execute attacks between Hull’s midfield and defensive lines. Hull had no answer. It was relentless. De Bruyne’s Player Dashboard (above) highlights the passes, shots and dribbles he was able to make during the first 26 minutes in and around the central attacking area. The Belgian was impressive on his Premier League debut; he was an effective passing outlet regularly appearing in that central attacking slot, from where he had the opportunity to get shots on goal and provide the assist for the opening goal.
Oscar’s opener was the ideal testimony to Mourinho’s new tactic. Preferring neat passing and quick interchanges (all but two of Oscar’s 58 passes against Hull were less than 35 yards in length), it’s no wonder Mourinho is encouraging the attacking trio to play in and amongst one another. It is where you see Oscar and Co. at their best. Showing good close control and awareness to thread the ball through to Oscar for the opening goal, De Bruyne illustrated the role a creative number 10 type player has in this new Chelsea side. If you see the goal again (the assist is the yellow arrow on the Player Dashboard graphic above), you’ll notice where De Bruyne receives the short pass from Hazard before poking it through the defender’s legs to Oscar, and just how much time he has in an area of the pitch that should be closely guarded by Hull players.
How different this current tactic is compared to the attacking roles Arjen Robben and Damien Duff used to play in Mourinho’s old Chelsea. Both were asked to provide width at all times, to beat defenders on the flanks to generate crossing opportunities or dribble from outside to inside, beating full-backs in order to take shots on goal. Either way, like any great manager Mourinho laid out his tactics to utilise the strengths of Robben and Duff – get them the ball in wide areas where they can face 1v1 situations against defenders, where they can be of greatest threat to the opposition. Today’s creative players are gifted the same benefits. With the shift in position from outside to in, Mourinho is utilising his most potent attacking options and granting them more ideal situations in which to hurt opponents. Any great manager adapts his tactics to exploit the tools at his disposal.
The addition of a second Chelsea midfielder into the more advanced areas of the attacking third not only amplified the interconnections between our creative, ball-loving technicians, it promoted a further positional shift and freedom of movement. The one player who benefitted the most was Oscar. With Lampard and/or Ramires joining Oscar, Hazard and De Bruyne from deeper positions, Oscar was able to break from his initial attacking shape to join up and make more penetrating forward runs beyond Torres. This freedom to run beyond the Hull back-four was evident during, and one of the reasons for, Oscar’s opening goal.
Mourinho’s post-match comments summed up our attacking play and the success we had in those creative areas:
“There is no doubt we deserved the victory. It was a brilliant first half with high intensity, high quality, great movement, great football. The game was always under control…Our creative players had very good understanding, very good movement and I think the football was brilliant. If we had been 3-0 or 4-0 ahead at half-time it would not be surprising.”
If the first half performance against Hull City on Sunday was an indication of the type of Chelsea team we have this season, we are in for an entertaining campaign full of attacking flair and fluidity. Mourinho’s early season tactics, the attack minded 4-2-3-1 that allows Hazard and De Bruyne to drift from wide areas into the central attacking areas behind Torres and alongside Oscar, are giving Chelsea’s creative players the time and space to dictate the game.
Although his philosophy remains the same – play hard, with formational discipline and attacking speed and directness – Jose’s tactics in this new Chelsea era are moulding around the talented creative attacking players at his disposal, offering them the best opportunities to express their brilliance.
Written by Chris Wales. You can follow him on Twitter here
Please note : the views in many of our blogs are written by fans of Chelsea FC and are not necessarily the views of the club