Jose Mourinho believes that the world is against him. The Portuguese manager has brushed off any belief that his side has defensive issues, and even claimed that Chelsea could possibly concede against a training dummy, because “all the rebounds are going in.”
To his understanding, Chelsea isn’t efficient in the attacking third, and it puts pressure on his defenders to make minimal errors. But, one could make the case that their attacking issues lie on their non-existent tactical identity, and their inability to create numerous chances in the final third.
However, Chelsea displayed a different approach in their Capital One Cup quarterfinal against Sunderland. Opposed to dropping into two banks of four and solely breaking on the counter, Chelsea pressed Sunderland high up the pitch. When Gus Poyet’s men attempted to play out of the back, the West London club boxed the home side into Sunderland’s half, and won possession.
Wes Brown and John O’Shea failed to cope with Chelsea’s pressure, and although Lee Cattermole dropped between the centreback duo to build attacks, Sunderland often conceded possession in their third. This was a logical approach from the away side, but similar to previous away matches this season, Chelsea was poor in front of goal.
On the upside, Willian continued to shine in Chelsea’s trident. He was the best player on the pitch, completing five key passes, and completing 90 passes with a 93% pass accuracy rate. The Brazilian’s ability to retain possession in the final third is impressive, and he calmly completed numerous passes in key areas. But most importantly, his dynamism allows him to evade challenges, find pockets of space to receive the ball, and play incisive passes.
Chelsea fortuitously took the lead seconds into second half, courtesy of Lampard’s persistence to attack the box to meet Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross in the six-yard box. Chelsea fully controlled the remainder of the half, and they continued to close down Sunderland in their third, but Eto’o, Lampard, and Kevin De Bruyne squandered legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.
Mourinho was forced to introduce Michael Essien for Azpilicueta, as he was unable to complete the full 90, and he also opted to bring on Eden Hazard and Demba Ba. Chelsea slowed down the tempo of the match in the final 25 minutes, and David Luiz began spraying long diagonal balls to the Senegalese striker, but Ba’s impact was minimal.
Chelsea’s inability to convert countless opportunities in the second half haunted them, when Cattermole broke past Ba’s press, and played a pass to Emanuele Giaccherini, who found Jozy Altidore in the box.
Mark Schwarzer, stopped Altidore’s shot but substitute Fabio Borini tapped in the rebound, with three minutes to play. Chelsea’s energy levels dipped in extra-time and substitute Ki-Sung Yueng’s composed finish in the 118th minute pushed the Black Cats into the semi-finals.
Chelsea didn’t produce a master class performance, but they were the better side for majority of the match. Although Chelsea doesn’t possess a tactical identity and have several areas in their squad to improve, the manner in which they’ve lost domestic away matches has been similar. Mourinho’s men may not be playing the best football, but they’ve put themselves in situations to win matches – however, they dissipate too many opportunities in front of goal.
Chelsea’s high-pressing approach was successful, but it caused them to tire in the latter stages of the match, and Poyet’s energetic substitute’s instilled belief, and produced goals.