Chelsea relinquished a two year hold on the FA Cup when Everton crushed their already disappointing season further with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win in the fourth round replay.
Carlo Ancelotti switched from the 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, and paired the recalled Drogba with Kalou. Essien was relegated to a spot on the bench.
David Moyes played the standard system that has become associated with Everton: 4-4-1-1, Cahill dropping off Beckford.
Finally, a switch
While in some measures a change in system does not always represent an upturn in results, Ancelotti’s persistence with a 4-3-3 has left many Chelsea fans with a bone to pick, as the formation’s flaws become more and more evident game after game. Many were calling for a tactical switch to a traditional English 4-4-2.
It seemed a strange time to do such a switch, given the circumstance, but in other ways the theory made perfect sense, as Everton are rare to switch from the same set-up.
Both sides matched each other evenly across the pitch, tactically reverting the game to a by-gone era of matches where the side with the better players would emerge victorious.
The most noticeable clue that the 4-4-2 was in place was how high up the pitch Mikel was playing, in stark contrast to his usual role as a third defender.
The interesting thing about this game that you can analyse tactically, is how, while the formations may be the same, it is a side’s individual strengths that dictate it’s rhythm. Everton have strong crossers of the ball in Coleman and Baines, while Chelsea have the power down the centre of the park. Therefore, Everton often looked to play the ball out into wide areas, while the majority of Chelsea’s attacks were fostered down the middle.
Battlegrounds on the flank
Leighton Baines put in a sterling performance at left back, with a large number of crosses from his left hand side unsettling the Chelsea defence, and of course, he played his own role in Everton’s late comeback.
Earlier in the season Ancelotti switched to a 4-4-2 against Newcastle, looking to cut supply to Andy Carroll. Today a similar motive may have been in place, however it was largely ineffective due to a lack of genuine width on the right flank.
Ramires is essentially a carrielo (as I’ve said on numerous occasions), and his natural position is in the right midfield – not the right wing. Osman followed him inside when he strayed into the centre, leaving space for Ferriera to move into an attacking position.
As Ferriera had space, as did Baines, and being such a superb crosser of the ball as he is, he offered much more of a goal threat for Everton. This is where someone like Bosingwa would have been handy, given the space open on the flank.
On the left, it was Malouda and Ashley Cole for Chelsea, both inherently attacking players, who, in their search for goal, left room for Coleman to surge forward into Chelsea’s area. Everton’s width gave them plenty of options, whereas for Chelsea their midfield’s natural narrowness meant that they had to rely on their full backs to add some wide play. Cole was comfortably covered by Coleman, and Ferriera is not at his best high up the pitch. Chelsea’s weakness has been repeatedly shown up over and over – they lack genuine width high up the pitch, and now sides have an easy area to target when it comes to playing the defending champions.
Anelka added pace and threatened Everton’s tiring defence – and indeed it was the Frenchman who shaped the opening goal. This gives Ancelotti food for thought – perhaps Anelka’s best role for Chelsea now is as an impact player. Factor in his increasing age, and the opposition’s fatigue as matches approach the final stages, and it makes sense. Anelka operates by drifting deep, and shaping chances in tiring defences. His role would not be too dissimilar to Kanu’s for Nigeria at the 2006 African Cup of Nations. Kanu, who’s style resembles Anelka, was brillant as a substitute, but not as a starter. Teams were able to control the Nigerian when they were fresh and the tempo had not yet fallen to a lower level. Anelka’s position, the Trequartista, may have been consigned to the history books for now, but the flickering flame of the second striker may yet be revived when it comes to game-changing substitutions.
While the manner of defeat is disappointing – the seventh penalty shoot out failure from eight attempts – there are positives, lessons and solutions to be found. Most importantly, it cannot be understated that 4-4-2 may offer a genuine way forward for Ancelotti. As Wenger once put it, 4-4-2 offers the most even spread of players across a pitch, and offers a more flexible avenue for high pressing. Perhaps returning to their historical tactical roots may be, at the least, a short term option to salvage something from the season.