Chelsea face the uphill task of beating a side in Shakhtar Donetsk that soundly beat the Blues just a fortnight ago in Donetsk. The worrying thing about that defeat was that not only were Chelsea not very good on the night, but their opponents were able to carve them open seemingly at will.
I think there are a couple factors to what happened, and I think Roberto Di Matteo planned a more pragmatic approach, seeing that 4 points from the two matches with Shakhtar would give them an excellent chance of winning the group. However, it all changed very early with the first goal and the injury to Frank Lampard. There are a few tweaks to be made, but Shakhtar are a very good side, and I believe have given other teams a blueprint for how to attack us.
First point: I think Di Matteo had the intent to defend in the first leg. He showed us much with his lineup.
The inclusion of Frank Lampard and Ramires being moved to the right showed that Di Matteo was concerned about their attacking prowess and the need to get a point. I think the idea was to have Ramires act as a shield for Branislav Ivanovic on the right against the attacks of Razvan Rat and I think Juan Mata is a more willing defender to shield Ashley Cole on the left instead of Hazard.
That mostly changed with the early injury to Lampard. Because of the lack of quality central midfielders after the loaning of Michael Essien and the sale of Raul Meireles, Eden Hazard came on for Lampard, and the side immediately became more attacking, but also a side that was more likely to give space down the flanks. That’s exactly how they attacked.
The first change that needs to be made is an effort to protect the fullbacks more.
Shakhtar actually did a brilliant job of exploiting their numerical advantage on the flanks in a style that Manchester United would repeat five days later. If you invite Chelsea to push their attackers forward, you isolate their fullbacks since Mata and Hazard both come inside. In that instance, if you can get a ball out to your wide men against and get your fullback behind Mata or Hazard, you can run 2 v 1’s all day. That’s exactly what they did.
Willian and Alex Texeira were brilliant in moving just enough into the channels inside the fullbacks that neither Cole nor Ivanovic could truly track them or the overlapping fullback. It’s not a coincidence that both Rat and Darijo Srna looked a danger to get the ball into the box at any time.
In addition to causing issues for the fullbacks, now you have an issue between midfield and defence on who tracks the attackers coming through the middle when the ball goes out wide.
Our second biggest problem is the midfield line and how high they tend to play.
The midfield dynamic is something that is a delicate balance because you have to have your base 2 players able to defend and hold space, but they also have to offer some level of attacking threat if the three ahead of them aren’t able to create the chances or the opponent is sitting deep.
If you play too high, teams that play between the lines, as Shakhtar do will know that if they get behind the fullbacks and get their attackers by the base of the midfield, they can create anything they want. In addition, it’s much easier to do because of the amount of space that is left between the lines, especially when the two midfielders aren’t mobile enough to make up the ground.
Also, you also can’t sit them too deep, or you make it easy for a team to counter attack. Essentially, that’s what happened against Swansea in the first half. The base of Oriol Romeu and John Mikel Obi were too defensive and left the four forward attackers alone. It allowed Swansea to basically put 6 men behind the attacking 4, and look to counter down the flanks with their pace and intelligent players.
I have a gut feeling that will be something Shakhtar will look for Wednesday night.
So, how do we win?
Essentially, we play in a similar fashion that we have been, but we have to find a better midfield line. The problem is that neither Ramires nor Mikel truly want to sit and hold. If you watch Mikel lately, you’ll find that he’s wandering forward and joining the attack much more as of late. The problem is that it leaves a giant gap between him and the defence, and teams are just killing us there.
What I would like to see is Mikel sit deeper and play just ahead of the midfield and central to allow Ramires the freedom to roam and play as if he was a true holding midfielder. If he doesn’t do that, you find what happened with Swansea. The four attackers find lots of space behind the midfield. The fullbacks are pinned back, and now you have to find a way to stop them from playing through the spaces.
In addition, Chelsea must stop the overlapping fullbacks. Either you have to push Srna and Rat back deeper, or you have to make them pay when they press too far forward. As of now, opponents are launching their fullbacks forward in overlap without any repercussions from us for doing so.
Fernando Torres has a make-or-break month coming up.
Oh, Fernando. You’re the only striker we have, but when you play badly, you’re rather abysmal. Swansea might be his low point of the season. To be fair, his team were not great around him, but he showed less effort than I’ve seen from him in any match since he joined us. He must show up to play because he’s the focal point that the attacking three behind him use. However, if he’s not moving in good positions and he’s not scoring, what does he give you?
I have a feeling that should we get out of the group and Torres not start showing better form, another top striker will be coming in, and one might be coming anyway due to lack of depth. That just underlines that Torres has to play, but it’s time for him to raise his game.