After Chelsea’s shocking 5-3 loss to Spurs at White Hart Lane, most of us are searching for the chinks in the armor of the once unbeatable Blues. While the individual performances of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic were a let-down, most still believe that it was just a rare off day for Jose Mourinho’s men and they would bounce back stronger than before, learning from this disappointment. As the title race between the two main contenders Chelsea and Man City lies in absolute balance, we look forward to analyse the flaws, howsoever small they are, in the best team of the Premier League.
Chelsea’s strength has been totally different from their strengths of last season. Last season their main strength was that of having a resolute defence and a very hard working midfield to stop other teams from scoring. This season though, Chelsea’s main strength has been to dominate the game in terms of possession and chances created. It is clear progress when we consider the development that happened when Fabregas and Costa joined the Blues. But a slight disadvantage in playing a dominating attacking game is that the defence may get caught against pacey counter attacks.
Well, we are quite aware of how Chelsea dealt with that issue anyway, as one word- NEMANJA MATIC, ensures that the defence is not exposed. But yes, the defence was exposed against Spurs and has been exposed time and again this season as Chelsea have been pretty leaky when we consider unfocused defending or cheap goals. But the opinion of most people on this is that these are moments of individual let downs and the overall dominance of the team overshadows the occasional lack of composure by the defence.
Well, to be honest, it is far from true. The defence comprising of Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry and Azpilicueta is not the perfect defence for a dominant attacking game that Chelsea play. Terry is an excellent leader at the back and a defensive stalwart but his lack of pace is a major issue that gets exposed once in a while. Gary Cahill, despite being a rock of a functional defender, is not the one who defends on the front foot. Cahill won’t win the ball in defence and start an attack, he’ll rather choose to back off and block a shot. Ivanovic clearly has the speed and technique issues and Azpilicueta, though being one of the best one on one defenders in the world, lacks the sheer quality left foot to offer direct attacking options at left flank. Teams that have been successful in scoring against Chelsea have exploited each of these flaws in defenders which people pass off as “rare off days”. Newcastle United had Cahill on his heels when he backed off and failed in blocking a cross while he was totally tortured by Kane who had too much flair and determination on the New Year’s day. John Terry was severely lacking in pace when we consider Jonjo Shelvy’s goal in the 4-2 win against Swansea, he doesn’t have the agility to change directions of movements meaning he is very likely to get caught on his heels if the passer is clever enough. We all saw how Sadio Mane strolled through Terry when an unexpected long ball caught Terry on his heels.Well, most central defenders are slower than Mane and Terry is no different. But passing it off as a one-off occasion? No, these are occasions when Chelsea’s chinks in the armour are exposed.
How to exploit Chelsea’s weaknesses?
What Chelsea have done this season is work hard to make up for their mistakes. Ivanovic has strength but not the pace, so Willian helps him in that department. Matic is a front foot ball winner and a tactically aware player who protects Gary Cahill who in turn protects his slow veteran partner. Cesar Azpilicueta also adds energy into the central defence by narrowing the left flank while defending. There is teamwork in Chelsea, which has been extremely difficult to break this season. It is impossible for teams with lower quality of TEAMWORK to beat Chelsea. So, it is obvious that the team will have to have the best understanding to exploit Chelsea’s weaknesses.
Spurs did that to perfection. Pressing Chelsea high up the pitch and tempting Fabregas more forward was one key tactic. It could have faltered on any other day, but on 1st Jan, Harry Kane was the one who knew his game. High pressure centrally always has some sort of effect on Chelsea’s central midfield. Fabregas, Matic and Oscar are instinctive passers but Cahill, Terry and Ivanovic are far from that level. If a team is able to catch the lack of rhythm in this section of Chelsea’s passing ability, they can exploit the area in midfield. Harry Kane scored the fourth through a counter attack from Chelsea’s right flank as the Spurs team forced Chelsea to pass through Ivanovic who gets caught under pressure and in confined spaces. Usually when the Right Back, who is far forward on the pitch is put under pressure, the right winger (Willian in this case) needs to fall back to help, which he did in fact, but the fact that Spurs had men committed to deal with Chelsea’s numbers committed to defending nullified the teamwork that Chelsea planned. Dragging any of the center back wide to defend means that the famed Chelsea back four is stretched to its limit and a goal is possible.
How to bypass Nemanja Matic?
It is not possible to by pass through the midfield without facing Matic who absolutely destroys any offensive build-up through the attacking midfield. So as mentioned above, forcing the attacks through Chelsea’s right side of defence- Ivanovic and Cahill, is the best alternative. It is mostly achieved by pressing Matic and Fabregas in central midfield and winning the ball off Ivanovic and probably Willian, who is not as consistent a dribbler as Hazard. Also pushing Matic out wide-central to support Ivanovic can expose Fabregas. There are a lot of tactical possibilities on how to bypass Matic, who after all his human like us all.
Conclusion: How to give a real fight to the Blues when on most occasions, they are apparently working best in tandem?
The best a manager can do is identify the Chelsea player who’s not having the best of games (there is atleast one on most occasions) and attack through that area. Secondly, keeping in mind the individual deficiencies of Chelsea’s defensive players while attacking would also help. But the major point as always is to counter attack from the wings, and not depend on your number 10 to create chances. Modern football relies on a playmaker to work for the attack, but most of the goals Chelsea has let in have been created by wingers. So, is the Ivanovic and Cahill duo at Right Back and Center Back the one that can be tested by clever managers? We shall see, because Chelsea and Mourinho, on most days play flawless by working hard for each other on the pitch.