Almost everyone, including myself, predicted Jose and his Chelsea side would park the team bus away at Man City on Monday night. Wow, were we wrong!
What follows is a brief review of some key tactical points in Mourinho’s counter-attacking “masterclass” and the undoing of Man City in our important 0-1 victory.
After two successful defensive “parked bus” performances that resulted in stalemates away at Man Utd and Arsenal earlier in the season, where we stifled two very strong attacking teams but offered little goal-scoring threat of our own, Chelsea fans would not have been surprised or disappointed with the same at The Etihad. After all, a clean sheet and a point earned away to City, an undefeated home side that has averaged 4 goals a game on their own turf, is not to be sniffed at.
This current Chelsea team, however, is far more polished and advanced in its evolution than most pundits give us credit for. As witnessed in previous matches, including the home game against City at the Bridge, this team has already discovered and equated the balance between defensive and attacking play – performing to exceptionally high levels in and out of possession in the same game and being able to fully commit to one style of play without compromising the effectiveness of the other (something that City cannot do, as I’ll highlight later). This is why Mourinho was able to spring his tactical surprise on City and leave the team bus parked outside the stadium.
STEPPING OFF THE BUS INTO THE ATTACKING THIRD
At this point, it is useful to review comparative stats between the Man Utd, Arsenal and City matches to prove that Chelsea were not negative or only defending deep on Monday night. In the graphic above, the pie chart on the left depicts the total number of passes attempted (includes successful and failed passes) against City: 255. Of the 1,043 total passing attempts made across all 3 matches, only 24% of those were attempted in the City game. With a comparatively low pass total in the game, surely that suggests Chelsea were negative and on the back foot? Yet of the three contests, this was our most dominant attacking performance; how?
The key is the area in which the passes were attempted and the intent of our play when in possession. 40% of our passes on Monday were played in the attacking third, City’s defensive zone. Versus an all-out attacking team like City, that’s a high percentage and a lot of time in attack.
Chelsea did enjoy longer spells of possession against Man Utd and Arsenal but with no end product or dominating attacking threat. The bus was parked, remember. A “parked bus” game plan means a tighter defensive unit that has the tendency when in possession of the ball to progress more slowly up the pitch for fear of diminishing the team’s defensive shape and security, weakening its attacking promise.
With the perfect balance of defensive solidity and attacking freedom against City, Chelsea could quickly pass the ball into attacking areas of the pitch and commit players forward. We did not require the slower build up play as used in the Man Utd and Arsenal matches, passing sideways and backwards. It was less: defend first, attack if possible without opening ourselves up; more: keep a solid core at all times but commit many players on the counter and often.
THE CORRECT TACTICAL SETUP
Playing forward quickly and productively under pressure immediately after winning possession from City was vital. Azpilicueta, Matic and Ivanovic all had high percentages for forward passing attempts, 73%, 75% and 81% respectively; clear signs that Chelsea wanted to feed attacks at every opportunity. It was the changes Mourinho made in the team setup that encouraged this forward passing intent.
First and foremost, as any Mourinho side would be, Chelsea were organised defensively. When defending the shape was a 4-2-3-1 or at times, a 4-5-1. The astute tactical selection was to play Matic and Luiz alongside one another and in close proximity to Terry and Cahill. This gave Chelsea a very solid and mobile central core of 4 that allowed little space in between our midfield and defensive lines, where City’s creative attackers love to operate.
With no room to penetrate in the centre of the pitch, City’s attacks were developed in the wider areas. This was not a surprise as Chelsea – to good effect – forced City to play around the outside of a packed central midfield in the game at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season (read here for more detail). The minor difference at The Etihad was that playing Matic and Luiz in the centre, and getting Ramires to tuck in towards the middle and provide additional defensive assistance against Yaya Touré and David Silva, enticed City’s full-backs to advance high up the pitch every time they attacked.
Now, enticing Man City’s full-backs, Zabaleta and Kolarov to go forward is not difficult. Their fondness for participating in City’s all-out attacking philosophy is obvious, but their defensive tendencies against the counter not so much. That’s why pushing City’s forward play into wide areas and promoting the two full-backs to join in attacks was such a brilliant tactic. It left City almost defenseless.
The two red areas of the pitch in the graphic above were constantly wide open whenever City attacked, vacated by the full-backs, ready to be exploited by Chelsea’s front-line at will.
NO BUS, JUST DRAGSTERS
The graphic below shows Chelsea’s counter-attacking formation and the spaces where Hazard, Willian, Ramires and Ivanovic had lots of joy.
On the counter-attack, Hazard, Willian, Ramires and Ivanovic were given license to push forward and leave their defensive shape because of the constant security offered by Luiz, Matic, Terry and Cahill. This provided us with lots of forward passing options. Azpilicueta moved closer to midfield in order to mark Jesus Navas, immediately putting him under pressure when City retrieved possession and looked to counter us, resulting in a Chelsea attacking formation of 2-3-4-1.
Hazard, Willian and Ramires did a great job attacking with speed and exploiting the vacant spaces in behind Zabaleta, Kolarov and Demichelis after receiving the forward passes frequently given them by our deeper positioned players. For quick, incisive counter-attacks to work forward players must have success running with the ball and beating defenders in 1v1 situations at high speed. This is largely the reason for Chelsea’s small total of 255 passing attempts throughout the match.
We completed 17 of 37 take-ons, a good success rate of 46%. Hazard was successful on 11 of his 15 attempts (73% success rate), which is truly first-class.
Opting for the extra pace of Willian in that central attacking midfield role over Oscar and shifting Ramires out towards the right was another genius tactical decision. Their speed on the break made it difficult for City to recover their defensive shape and regularly awarded us a numerical advantage. Sitting in a parked bus this was not. This was counter-attacking in dragsters.
A quick assessment of Chelsea’s action heat map above demonstrates how effective the tactical decisions were. Number 1 is the partnership of Matic and Luiz, supported by Terry and Cahill. Number 2 represents the fantastic job Azpilicueta did engaging Navas and Zabaleta close to midfield, and Number 3 illustrates where Ivanovic and others found lots of attacking space on the right.
EXPOSING CITY’S WEAKNESS
Over the course of the game, Chelsea were defensively strong enough to withstand Man City’s attacking onslaught and sufficiently positive to give them cause for concern and score the winning goal. City’s all-out attacking philosophy leaves them weak at the back, wide open to the counter. We’ve proved that.
What would concern me if I was a City supporter, is the evident imbalance between their attacking and defensive efforts. At no point during the game did they alter their style and implement a change that might have curtailed the freedom and room Chelsea were experiencing on the counter. City fully commits to their attacking style of play, yet it comes at a defensive cost.
I’m delighted to say that Chelsea have the attack/defense balance worked out and this 0-1 victory was another result that confirms we are ready and able to perform at the highest level and win big games.
Come on Chelsea!
P.S. Look out for these tactics to be used in upcoming away Champions League matches as we progress in the tournament.
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