Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chelsea in Need of a Tactical Overhaul


Chelsea under Luiz Felipe Scolari are suffering from tactical setbacks which need immediate attention if the Londoners are to mount a serious title challenge this season. Under the present set-up, more than half the job is complete if the opposition finds an effective way to stifle the attacking threat from Chelsea’s full backs. Relying upon full backs for width by itself isn’t the problem, but playing the system with a badly organized central midfield is a disaster waiting to happen. Chelsea have won only five of their eleven premier league games played at home and this evinces the tactical troubles that they are suffering from.

Chelsea’s present system of playing a cramped midfield five with John Obi Mikel acting as a defensive shield relies heavily on full backs Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole to provide the threat from wide areas. With inadequate width on offer in the final third, the likes of Lampard, Ballack and Deco are restricted to weaving pretty patterns in the middle without threatening the opposition with adequate creative vigour. The lone striker up front is easily countered by the opposition centre halves with the full backs tucking in to offset any attacking runs made from central midfield. Although Lampard, Ballack and Deco bring different skill sets to the team, their preference for playing in a similarly advanced central midfield role makes the area heavily congested and leads to the creation of space in other areas of the pitch for the opposition to exploit. Manchester United last week were able to effectively squeeze the trio into central areas and this allowed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Park Ji Sung and Wayne Rooney to fashion their magic in the acres of space made available to them.

Football formations and systems require players to either move into space or into specific positions. Teams like Barcelona and Arsenal arrange their players to exploit space as opposed to positions although not to the same degree as was utilised during the Dutch total football days under Rinus Michels. Liverpool under Rafael Benitez and a lot of the Italian teams play a rigid system wherein players stick to positions and although the system tends to sacrifice fluidity in attack, it infuses tremendous discipline making the team hard to break down. Chelsea themselves under Jose Mourniho were organised in a similarly rigid manner. The difference under Mourinho though was that width came from traditional wingers such as Arjen Robben and Damien Duff which enabled the team to break quickly on attaining possession. The fundamental problem with the present Chelsea team is that they are not able to either exploit space or positions on the football pitch. When the team does get possession in midfield, they are unable to release their wide players swiftly enough to be able to put pressure on the opposition. The likes of Lampard, Ballack and Deco tend to take up positions from which they can neither create nor exploit the creativeness of other players on the pitch.

Chelsea’s problems also stem from the fact that Obi Mikel lacks the quality to play as a deep lying central midfielder. If Chelsea are intent on playing with only one player as a front sweeper, the player necessarily must be a capable passer of the football. Mikel when isolated in his own half lacks the ability to get out of the situation with any inventive success. Deco is evidently past his sell-by date and is unable to control the tempo of the game in the manner in which he once did. With Essien out injured, the Blues lack a player who can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and make things happen on the pitch.

In the absence of a player who can create from deep positions, the present system seems unviable. If Chelsea are to attain sustained success this season, it will require a significant tactical overhaul from Scolari, one which could however continue to involve the offering of width from the full backs as opposed to the midfielders. Scolari could consider using three central defenders or shifting to a Christmas tree formation (4-3-2-1), which requires great discipline from the three central midfielders. The other option is to play a diamond in the middle of midfield with Frank Lampard at its apex and both Anelka and Drogba as strikers. Scolari though is unconvinced about Anelka and Drogba as a partnership and is therefore unlikely to experiment with such a structure. The only option is therefore to play a rigid system involving three disciplined central midfielders which will ensure that Chelsea aren’t left exposed by their bombarding fullbacks. This will also require the two playing behind the lone striker to constanly make diagonal runs behind the opposition centre halves to ensure a greater variety in attack. With the quality and depth that Chelsea posses, if Scolari can get it tactically correct, the Blues can certainly mount a serious title challenge.

1 comment:

Rahul Saha said...

All of this will become academic once the damn Russian sells.