A perfect tactical setup from Jose Mourinho that shaped a dominant first half display and a period of solid, but undesirable defensive effort at the close was enough for three more points against the Swans on Boxing Day.
The game saw the return to our attacking 4-2-3-1 system but with a slight twist, in favour of the more defensive 4-3-3 setup used at Arsenal, allowing Oscar, Mata and Hazard the freedom to interchange beneath Eto’o and the entire team to press the reshuffled Swansea side as soon as they gained possession of the ball.
4-2-3-1, MORE OF A 4-2-4
The 4-2-3-1 shape that we are familiar seeing Chelsea play underwent a minor tactical adjustment that changed our method to an ultra-attacking 4-2-4. Instead of Oscar, Hazard and Mata playing underneath the lone striker the attacking midfield trio joined Eto’o as far forward as the last line of Swansea’s defense as often as possible. These forward four were constantly seeking to stretch the play deep into Swansea’s territory, pinning the visitors into their own half of the pitch.
It was evident from the outset that Chelsea wanted to get the ball forward quickly and get on the front foot. Effectively playing with four forwards, when the Chelsea back-four were in possession of the ball their first look was to play into the front and bypass the defensive midfield duo of Mikel and Ramires. David Luiz’s long range passing ability in particular was proving a key asset as his accurate passes over the top into the path of onrushing forwards or along the floor into feet helped forced Swansea backwards.
The graphic above depicts Chelsea’s attacking play during the opening 16 minutes of the game. Almost all of the passes were played into the final third of the pitch and not received in the centre circle area by Mikel or Ramires. By adding the build-up passes Chelsea made in their half to the same attacking play (see image below), it becomes even more apparent that there was a concerted effort to get the ball forward quickly, without the extra short passes through the centre of midfield. If a forward pass from the defensive third directly into the attacking third was not immediately available then play was shifted wide to Ivanovic or Cole, who then combined with the forward four (suggested by green arrows).
As a result of this direct attacking intent Chelsea’s first, second and third highest pass combinations in the match were as follows:
Cole to Hazard (12), Ivanovic to Hazard (11), Cole to Oscar (10).
Compared to the Arsenal match where John Terry passed to Mikel on 11 occasions, against Swansea he combined only 1 time. Of a similarly low combination tally was Ivanoic to Mikel (2), Luiz to Mikel (3), Luiz to Ramires (3) and Cole to Mikel (4).
Getting our creative players in possession sooner and in more advanced and threatening areas of the pitch from the off, Chelsea were able to set the tone for the remainder of the half and were soon in full control and creating chances almost at will.
FREEDOM TO ATTACK
With Cañas and Britton in the side Swansea had a well-protected middle area of the pitch – neither of the defensive midfield pair ventured beyond the middle third to join attacking moves, both retaining their position as defensive screens ahead of their back-four. For this reason, Mourinho’s tactical shift and instruction to pass through or around and not in front of the pair was very clever.
Though Cañas and Britton’s constant presence in the centre of the pitch offered the Swans defensive stability, it meant they devoted one less player into attack. This allowed Chelsea to commit Oscar, Hazard and Mata to stay in close proximity to Eto’o, further forward than they would be encouraged to be in the usual 4-2-3-1 system. Playing with four targets high up the pitch beyond the defensive cover supplied by Cañas and Britton enabled Chelsea defenders to easily turn defense into attack with direct passing that bypassed the Swansea midfield.
SUPPORT FOR ETO’O
The 4-2-4 formation has an added benefit as it allows Chelsea to supply better support to the striker. Against Swansea, Eto’o always had passing options in Oscar, Hazard or Mata and was able to contribute to the creative combination play. If you have teammates in closer proximity, as opposed to being isolated up front, then you will be more effective.
During the game, Eto’o had 4 shots all inside the penalty area, received 30 passes, attempted 23 passes with a completion rate of 74%, and created 4 chances. Against Arsenal, the isolated Torres in the 4-3-3 system had 3 shots, but only 1 inside the area, received 23 passes, attempted 18 with a completion rate of 67%, and created 1 chance. Yes, Torres was playing in a defensive formation in a game where Chelsea were organised not to lose, however, these comparisons show the advantages of having creative players with a freedom to attack closer to the lone striker.
Other than scoring a goal to seal the victory, Eto’o had a great game because of the system Chelsea used.
HIGH LINE & PRESSURE
Another Mourinho tactic imposed by the switch to a 4-2-4 formation was the relentless defensive pressure and will to regain possession by Chelsea’s front four players. Faced with the constant presence of four Chelsea forwards pressing high up the pitch, Swansea’s normally confident passing game along the back line, and the usual starting point for their successful attacking play, gained no momentum. For the entire first half Swansea were not allowed to settle and gain comfortable control of the ball or have an easy time connecting with their midfield passing outlets.
The amount of ball recoveries (graphic above) Chelsea made during the first half is a great indication that they pressed successfully as a team (read on for second half thoughts). Chelsea recovered the ball 13 times inside Swansea territory, 5 of those within our attacking third. Other defensive first half stats included, 10 out of 13 tackles won (5 in Swansea’s half) and 7 out of 11 interceptions made between Swansea’s goal and 5 yards into Chelsea’s half.
This enthusiastic defensive effort lead by the front line increased Chelsea’s tempo and encouraged our quick, energetic play. If a team defends with vigour it is inevitable their attacking play will display the same intensity. And as Chelsea proved, a team will create chances if it continues to retrieve possession high up the field and has attacking numbers in place to exploit the opponents’ instability at the point of transition from attack to defense.
1-0, A GOAL MADE FROM TACTICS
When Alvaro Vazquez received a pass near the centre circle on 29 minutes, influenced by the constant defensive effort from Chelsea throughout the first half, he knew he would not have time to dwell on the ball and play a fully considered, confident pass. Feeling the pressure from Hazard and Oscar, Vazquez’s attempted pass to the overlapping Ragnel on the right wing was weak, misplaced and intercepted by Cole just inside the Chelsea half. Cole immediately played forward into Hazard, using a quick turnover of possession to expose the Swansea defense before seeing his low shot squirm under Tremmel.
KILL THEM OFF OR FIGHT TO THE END
Since Chelsea were unable to score another goal in the first half or from the opening passage of play in the second period with Eto’o’s close range volley, it was unavoidable that the Swans would grow in confidence and offer more attacking threat. Also, pressing the ball when you do not have possession with energy and enthusiasm for a whole game is very difficult. With more time on the ball, Swansea gained better possession in the middle of the pitch and opportunities to attack the outnumbered Ramires and Mikel.
Comparing the first and second half defensive dashboards (above) tells the story. In the first half Chelsea regained possession from tackles and interceptions on 15 occasions in the middle and attacking thirds. In the second half, as a result of the reduced defensive pressure, the team was only capable of retrieving the ball with tackles and interceptions in the middle and attacking thirds 8 times.
Enforced by Swansea’s play, Jose reverted to the 4-3-3 system that we used so effectively against Arsenal and Lampard was brought on to help gain some equilibrium in the centre of midfield.
Swansea forced us to fight to the end and continue competing when we should have been comfortable with at least a two-goal cushion. As a game progresses the team that believes it cannot score the killer goal will stop committing players forward for attack and drop deeper for fear of losing the lead it holds. Mourinho summed it up succinctly in one of his post-match comments:
“At half-time, we all should be relaxed with a comfortable result and we weren’t. Time goes on, we don’t score a second goal, and the opponent believes, risks a bit more, puts on a second striker, and you are a bit in trouble. You finish feeling you are going to concede.”
Though we were unable to score the goals our fine attacking play warranted, it was a solid performance from the Blues and one that offers us the opportunity to move 4 points ahead of Liverpool on Sunday.
Written by Chris Wales, 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