RSS

Tag Archives: Diego Costa

Christian Eriksen’s guile sparks Spurs past Conte’s imperious Chelsea

Embed from Getty Images

Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs have developed a knack of producing their finest performances against top Premier League opponents at White Hart Lane. Spurs’ first half display against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City set the bar this season, but ending Chelsea’s 13-game winning streak may hold higher value given the Blues’ dominance since their 3-0 defeat at Arsenal a few months ago.

Where other managers have adjusted their shape with hopes of halting Chelsea’s remarkable form, Pochettino’s move to a 3-4-2-1 felt natural considering he’s utilized the system on a few occasions – most recently in Spurs win over Watford a fortnight ago. Spurs obliterated Watford based on extremely poor defensive play from the hosts so it was difficult to truly assess the system’s value, and the decision to replicate the league leaders’ default system aimed to man-mark across the pitch.

The recurring issue involving two sides adopting identical systems is that it often produces uneventful, cagey battles. With the midfield zone containing physical ball-winning midfielders opposed to creative no.10’s ensured this was expected to be a scrappy affair between two well-drilled units.

In central areas, Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama harried N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic when they pushed forward, so the midfield duos were often restricted to safe passes from deeper positions. However, the midfielders were effective in various manners – Kante and Matic were protecting space in central areas to clog space that Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen preferred to receive possession. Meanwhile, Dembele flourished when he dribbled past opponents in the left channel, while Wanyama sat deep attempting to thwart Hazard’s threat in transition.

Elsewhere, Spurs’ possession dominance combined with Chelsea’s reluctance to press high witnessed Danny Rose and Kyle Walker maintain advanced positions to peg Chelsea wing-backs Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses into their half. Chelsea’s best spell in the initial meeting at Stamford Bridge involved Moses eventually pushing forward beyond Eriksen towards the Spurs box, which is why the switch to a 3-4-2-1 was a logical move, here. Therefore, the two sides created dangerous attacking moves in contrasting manners.

In the opening phase of the match, Chelsea’s long diagonals into wide positions exploited Spurs’ high defensive line with Hazard’s wasting a quality chance via Matic’s reverse pass from midfield. Chelsea’s swift counter-attacks amongst the front three easily bypassed Spurs midfield, but the away side’s inability to complete the final pass around the box was pivotal to their downfall.

From a defensive aspect Chelsea were far more reserved. Conte’s men maintained their base 5-4-1 and retreated into their half to negate Spurs’ clever movement and intricate passing between the lines. The away side only pushed forward as a unit when passes were played back to Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris with hopes of building attacks from deep.

Spurs, on the other hand, struggled to find space between the lines, and heavily relied on their energetic organized pressing to breach the Chelsea back-line. Prior to Alli’s opener, Spurs received two openings in a minute span that epitomized their identity under Pochettino: Wanyama intercepting a pass into Hazard and Eriksen subsequently picking up a loose Kante pass in midfield, but both men guided their efforts wide.

The key element to Spurs defensive instructions involved Alli and Eriksen tucking in centrally to prevent Kante and Matic from receiving possession in the midfield zone. Chelsea were often forced to play long balls into the channels for Costa, or have Hazard drop extremely deep to receive the ball in a midfield zone, but the Blues encountered difficulties finding a natural rhythm in possession.

Although Alli will dominate headlines for the game-winning brace, the key man, here, was Eriksen. Eriksen, in truth, is an extremely misunderstood footballer under Pochettino. Once believed to develop into a creative dynamo, the Dane now represents a functional attacker capable of playing throughout the midfield.

But where other key players struggled to perform in congested areas, Eriksen varied his movement to receive possession and play key passes throughout. Alli often aided Kane in pressing from the front, but when the Spurs striker pulled Luiz out of position, the former attempted to charge behind the Chelsea back-line.

This was the ideal movement required to pull Conte’s back-three out of position – Kane dropped deep, Alli charging behind and Eriksen forcing Cahill away from the six-yard box – and was evident in the buildup to both goals, though a collective defensive breakdown was the catalyst for the opener. Walker’s pull back to Eriksen attracted four defenders to the ball, but Luiz’s attempt to play offside, and Cahill’s intent to join three teammates to close down the Dane, enabled Alli to tower over Cesar Azpilicueta to freely nod a well weighed cross past Thibaut Courtois.

Despite a positive Chelsea onslaught to start the second half – Spurs retreated into their base shape, keen to play on the counter – Spurs secured maximum points in a similar manner. Walker’s advanced positioning, along with Eriksen floating deeper in the right channel, led to another superb cross into the box that provided another example of Alli’s fine heading ability over the diminutive Azpilicueta. Though Chelsea were better positioned for Alli’s second, isolating Azpilicueta and exploiting his lack of height at centre-back was a clever – though far from innovative – ploy from Pochettino.

Chelsea were forced to chase the remainder of the match, but a lack of sharp and precise passing ensured Spurs coped well defensively. Conte received plenty of deserved praise for reinvigorating Chelsea’s season, but clever movement, patience and perhaps Cahill’s early booking – bypassed by Eriksen following a poor header and virtually halting his aggressive tight marking on the Dane – resulted in Spurs’ trident attack outwitting a resolute Blues back-line.

Nevertheless, similar to Spurs’ defeat over City earlier this season, this doesn’t appear to be a reliable template in consistently defeating Conte’s Chelsea side. Poor performances from key players combined with various sides’ inability to replicate Spurs pressing and energy levels over extensive periods, suggests Chelsea should rarely encounter sustained vulnerable periods of this nature.

However, although this serves as a great reminder that Chelsea’s road to another league title is far from over, it equally highlights that an efficient tactical scheme will be required to overwhelm Conte’s diligent regime.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 5, 2017 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea

Embed from Getty Images

Antonio Conte’s Chelsea recorded their eighth consecutive Premier League victory at Manchester City in a fairly open tactical showcase.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-7-48-22-pm

Pep Guardiola made several changes to the side that defeated Burnley at Turf Moor last weekend. Ilkay Gundogan joined Fernandinho in midfield, whereas Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas operated as wingers. Opting for power against a decent counter-attacking Burnley outfit, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva were recalled, here, for their creativity and guile in the final third.

Conte was forced into replacing the injured Nemanja Matic, and therefore turned to Cesc Fabregas to form a midfield duo with N’Golo Kante.

For large portions of the match it appeared Guardiola had conquered Conte’s 3-4-2-1, but City’s profligacy in the final third provided Chelsea a lifeline to punish the hosts with efficient direct attacks.

Guardiola’s shape

City’s flexibility following Guardiola’s appointment meant the pre-match team sheet offered no hints regarding the hosts’ default system. Guardiola tends to find weaknesses in the opposition’s set up – that could explain why Matic’s injury wasn’t mentioned by Conte in the buildup to the match –  and bases his XI on his own analysis of the opposition, but the Spaniard replicated Everton manager Ronald Koeman’s decision to also employ a three-man defensive system.

What was initially meant to be a 3-2-2-3 was actually a similar 3-2-4-1 with Sane and Navas operating as wing-backs, whilst De Bruyne and Silva floated around pockets of spaces behind Aguero. Ultimately the risk of a dull encounter was possible due to sole overloads between the centre backs and lone striker, but both sides possessed personnel issues that resulted in structural deficiencies.

Wing-backs

The key feature of the match in the opening 45 minutes involved the wing-backs. One of Chelsea weak points in the system should lie here: Marcos Alonso is vulnerable against pacy runners, whereas Moses isn’t a natural defender. Yet, the opening stages of the first half witnessed Moses and Alonso maintain advanced positions to peg back the City wide men, which made Guardiola’s shape look like a 5-2-2-1 out of possession.

More so the early frenetic stages presented an open end-to-end encounter based heavily on transitional play. But both sides enjoyed spells of dominance in the first half that was predominantly based around the individual displays of their wing-backs.

Chelsea chances

Conte’s men were positive in the opening half hour comfortably bypassing City’s occasional high press with swift passes, while Hazard’s quick combinations with Diego Costa steered the Blues towards goal. Hazard constantly got the better of Otamendi on the half turn, and quickly aimed to play quick intricate passes with the Chelsea striker, but a sole shot from distance that flew wide served as their main threat when Pedro latched onto a poor John Stones header.

attachment-1-40

But where Moses and Alonso surged into good crossing positions during this period, and Hazard’s ability to turn defence to attack with his dribbling posed danger, the away side failed to convert positive moves into goals. Majority of Chelsea’s moves stemmed down the channels behind the space of City wing-backs as Guardiola’s men were unable to contain Hazard’s transitional threat until they gained control of the overall tempo.

City overload the right

Guardiola’s men also enjoyed space behind the wing-backs, but there appeared to be a designed model that they continuously followed to exploit space in the channels. Initially, it was believed that encouraging Navas to run at Alonso would be pivotal – this did result in City’s opener – but Silva and De Bruyne’s movement were the catalyst to the hosts’ best moves.

Within the opening 10 minutes De Bruyne had already made two clever darts into space behind Alonso only to have his cross cut out after he embarrassed Cahill, and force Azpilicueta to cover ample ground to make a vital tackle. Silva and De Bruyne constantly took turns drifting behind the Chelsea midfield pair and charging down the right channel with the intent to launch counters.

attachment-1-37

The other aspect of the creative duo’s threat was their positioning. Converted to a deep-lying central midfield position under Guardiola, here, they predominantly floated around pockets of space on the right side to overload that area of the pitch. When De Bruyne held a wide position, Silva was central in half spaces to form passing triangles with Navas and vice versa.

attachment-1-38

Still, De Bruyne was often finding space deeper behind Hazard who was clearly reluctant to track back and not quick enough to close down his compatriot’s dangerous crosses – Cahill was then dragged into these positions – into the six-yard box that forced Chelsea defenders into desperate lunges to avoid potential Aguero tap-ins.

Silva, on the other hand, played two clever reverse balls over the Chelsea defence when he dropped deeper to pick up possession. First, Luiz had to recover to block Aguero’s effort, then Sane exploited Moses’ wing-back positioning and darted behind the Nigerian to receive the pass, but Azpilicueta blocked Aguero’s tap-in.

Silva and De Bruyne were expected to pose threats in these areas, but the formation change offered an element of surprise. Nonetheless, the overloads on the right and the ability to identify pockets of space throughout the final third perplexed Conte’s men in the latter stages of the first half and they were fortunate to head into half-time trailing by a solitary goal.

City fail to capitalize

The peculiar factor surrounding the final result involved City failing to increase their first half lead. Put simply, Guardiola’s men were dominant during the opening 15 minutes of the second half by forcing Chelsea players into sloppy passing via pressing.

Costa’s lazy pass in City’s third ignited an individual mazy run from Sane that eventually led to Thibaut Courtois making a key save, whereas miscommunication from Alonso and Cahill enabled Aguero to round the Belgian keeper only to be denied by a last-ditch block from the latter. Frankly, De Bruyne’s missed sitter subsequent to a swift Navas break potentially turned the tide, as it was the best chance City created prior to Chelsea’s equalizer.

Fabregas

The other key element to City’s dangerous spell was Silva’s appreciation of space behind the Chelsea midfield. Kante and Matic, two of the league’s best ball-winners and tacklers, protect the back four by maintaining their central position and quickly closing down opposing central midfielders, but they also deprive Chelsea of astute passing from deep, hence the significance of Luiz.

But with Fabregas operating alongside Kante, the Spaniard displayed the pros and cons of his overall game. Throughout the match, Silva freely roamed between the lines, often adopting positions to either side of Fabregas or behind his compatriot. Silva may have spent extensive periods in wide areas attempting to create overloads, but his best moments in open play and transition stemmed when he drifted laterally into space behind Fabregas.

attachment-1-39

However, it was extremely odd that City players weren’t wary of Fabregas’ passing range, thus allowing the Spaniard to play forward passes opposed to applying pressure. City were warned in the first half when Fabregas’ long range pass into space behind Otamendi and Navas played Hazard free to round Claudio Bravo, yet the Belgian opted to pass rather than shoot into an open net.

Fabregas may have his defensive limitations in terms of his work-rate and lack of pace, but he remains an elite Premier League passer, and City’s reluctance to close down the midfielder’s passing lanes was pivotal to the equalizer. The Spaniard received time and space to look up twice and hit a long ranged pass into Costa, who had time to chest the ball beyond Otamendi and equalize.

Chelsea were struggling to bypass City’s 5-4-1 defensive shape with patient possession, and Fabregas’ passing range provided an alternative direct outlet to bypass the hosts’ midfield block. It must be said that given Fabregas played under Guardiola at Barcelona, failing to press the Spaniard when he dropped into deep positions in the Chelsea half was an unlikely goal source prior to kick off.

Chelsea’s swift counters

It’s difficult to determine whether Pedro’s substitution was tactical or related to the minor knock he picked up in the first half, but the introduction of Willian proved beneficial to Chelsea’s counter-attacking threat. While Pedro’s threat running behind is essential, Willian’s ability to transition from defence to attack meant Chelsea didn’t have to solely rely on Hazard.

With City pushing for a go-ahead goal, and lacking natural defensive midfielders – Fernandinho and Gundogan are purely box-to-box players than ball-winning pivots – counter-attacks were always plausible outlets for Conte’s men. Regardless that both goals stemmed from this route of attack, the significant feat was the ruthless direct finishing from the Blues.

First, Costa cleverly turned Otamendi at the halfway line to play in Willian who stormed into the box to slide the ball beyond Bravo. The move from Chelsea’s box to the City goal ignited by the Blues trio (Hazard-Costa-Willian) lasted 12 seconds, further summarizing the threat they posed. Hazard’s stoppage-time goal was strictly direct, but again, it followed an identical template to the Costa’s equalizer: Alonso clipping a ball in space beyond Otamendi, and Hazard shrugged off pressure from Kolarov to secure three points.

Chelsea’s threat on the break was evident through Hazard’s dribbling in the opening stage, but Willian’s speed, and Costa varying his movement to link play and drag both City defenders out of position was decisive. The simplicity in Chelsea’s attack shouldn’t be understated, as Conte’s men quickly facilitated the attackers with the ball once possession was regained, placing them in positions to bypass one defender en route to goal.

Final 20 minutes

Now the onus was on City to push men forward and accepting the possibility of conceding more goals on the counter. Navas and Silva continued to find openings around the box but last ditch interventions ensured City couldn’t find a breakthrough inside the box.

Guardiola summoned Yaya Toure and Kelechi Iheanacho and transitioned into more of a 3-5-2 that still had Silva floating around, and encouraged substitute Gael Clichy to move forward, but even then, the hosts struggled to identify an opening. Chelsea sat deeper in a narrow 5-4-1 and eventually brought on youngster Nathan Chalobah for Costa – who couldn’t continue – to protect the centre of the pitch.

Embed from Getty Images

City’s key play-makers ran out of ideas in the final third, and the Chelsea defence coped with Aguero’s threat around the penalty area, which could explain his frustration and eventual sending off for a poor challenge on Luiz. Chelsea’s “smash and grab” second half performance flustered Guardiola’s men, and once the Blues retreated deeper into their half, there was less space for Silva to exploit between the lines, and limited opportunities to exploit the wing-backs.

Conclusion

From a tactical perspective, neither manager would be pleased with the open nature of the encounter, but it vividly describes the work and additional personnel required to take both clubs to the next level. The battle, nonetheless, may have been won by Conte, but Guardiola’s approach was successful for a large portion of the match.

Though Guardiola’s philosophy is a work in progress, City are still creating ample chances, but failure to keep clean sheets is a product of the lack of balance and possibly a defensive issue amongst individuals. While Chelsea encountered issues with their wing-backs and Fabregas’ positional deficiencies, the decision to push the attackers higher and quickly facilitate balls to their feet was logical.

On two separate occasions the Blues overcame deficits against intense high pressure, and though their first half displays may worry Conte, the response following half-time represents resilience within the Chelsea camp. 3-4-2-1 vs. 3-2-4-1 was an intriguing tactical battle that’s refreshing to modern-day Premier League football, and Conte’s decision to push the floating attackers in advanced positions and encourage his men to bypass the City press with instant balls into their feet trumped what was nearly a classic Guardiola display.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 5, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chelsea’s new system faces potential halt against energetic Spurs

Embed from Getty Images

What a difference a few weeks make. Ask Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side and they’ll provide a detailed summary.

Consecutive losses to Liverpool and Arsenal left many questioning Conte’s merit as an elite manager, whilst declaring the Blues out of the title race before it really began. Now, they sit top of the Premier League, scoring 17 goals and recording six clean sheets in that span, yet all it took was a simple tactical shift following the arrival of David Luiz and Marcos Alonso.

Chelsea now look like a well-equipped machine with all the tools capable of mounting a legitimate title challenge, and finally stepping away from the Jose Mourinho aura that’s incessantly floated around West London for over a decade. Unlike the Portuguese manager’s initial departure – where the Blues failed to find a new identity – Conte has stamped his philosophy at Stamford Bridge in a fair manner.

But the significant feat in Conte’s brief success in England was his overall approach to the situation. Roman Abramovich’s rash decisions to freely sack managers based on the club’s form was no secret to the Italian, yet he still carried forward in a pragmatic manner.

Avoiding the mistake of attempting to make initial drastic alterations like Andre Villas-Boas and Filipe Luiz Scolari, two foreign managers that were hired based on success abroad was wise. Also, Conte couldn’t rely on Mourinho’s failed approach like previous managers, so the Italian simply offered the players a chance to prove their worth in a defensive-oriented 4-1-4-1 heavily based around structure.

The Blues simply didn’t possess the personnel to operate in the 4-2-4 Conte previously deployed prior to his appointment at Juventus. Moreover, Conte also didn’t have the centre-back options to accommodate the 3-5-2 that was successful during his tenure in Turin. A 4-1-4-1, on the other hand, was logical because the Blues simply didn’t have a No.10 that could dominate or win games in a free role.

Interestingly, this was the default Chelsea system till the turn of the decade due to the abundance of top-class central midfielders at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti attempted to stray away from the system with some success with a 4-4-2 diamond and eventually the 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree system, but Conte doesn’t possess similar quality midfielders.

This has to do with the West London clubs brief obsession with diminutive technically gifted players following their Champions League triumph. Chelsea moved to a 4-2-3-1 and were slowly playing captivating football but were retrospectively feeble in central areas, lacking a creative cog and ball-winner to protect the back four.

Although Chelsea enjoyed a perfect start to the Conte era, the performances weren’t convincing, as the Blues struggled to create chances from open play. Ultimately, individual lapses and a peculiar defensive approach – sitting off technically gifted dynamic sides and not applying pressure in their own half – left many questioning the quality of current crop of players and Conte’s ability to succeed overseas.

Consecutive dropped points could serve as in indicator that change was required, and it was certainly beneficial that injuries in key areas enabled Conte’s system alteration without dissent. Two of last season’s major underachievers Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic were eased out of the XI, and though John Terry started the season well, at some point this season Conte would have to consider a future without the Chelsea captain.

Conte tried it their way and Chelsea were played off the park by potential title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal, and more worryingly conceded eight goal in three games. With Terry and Ivanovic injured, and Fabregas failing to impress like many Chelsea supporters hoped he would against former club Arsenal, Conte’s switch to a 3-4-2-1 was not only logical, but desperately required.

Frankly, late deadline day signings were possibly acquired specifically for this system. Marcos Alonso was one of Serie A’s standout defenders in a left wing-back role for Fiorentina last season, whereas David Luiz impact with and out of possession is significant.

Luiz’s most recent display against Middlesborough striker Alvaro Negredo displayed astute defending and the aggression that’s not associated with the Brazilian. Likewise, the 29-year-old’s proficient passing typifies the defender as deep-lying playmaker from centre-back, as he consistently builds plays with long diagonals into the channel – this is also essential due to Fabregas’ exclusion deprived the XI of a genuine ball-player in deep zones.

More so, Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 frees Eden Hazard of lengthy defensive duties – now he roams into central positions from the left, drifts into space in the channels, and is beginning to shoot more, which is significant to his world-class form. Pedro Rodriguez is also familiar with coming off the right flank and utilizing his speed to break beyond the defence in a three-man attack.

The midfield duo consisting of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic is built around dynamism and quickly regaining possession, thus providing the Blues with the solid base they’ve lacked in recent years. Meanwhile, Diego Costa’s rediscovered the goal-scoring form that widely regards the Spanish international as one of the best strikers in the sport.

“Diego is a very good player,” Conte said. “It’s important for me, for his teammates, to see that in every game, Diego works a lot with the ball and without the ball. He’s an example for all. And I want to continue this way.

“If he continues to score, I’ll be very happy. But I’ll be happier to see this commitment, this work-rate during training and in games, to work with the team with and without the ball. If all the players are able to think in this way, it’s fantastic and we’ll be a good team, a very tough team to play.

But possibly the most fascinating aspect of Conte’s shift is their current run of clean sheets. Once proving to be a pair prone to mistakes, Luiz and Gary Cahill have been near flawless, and Cesar Azpilicueta has adapted superbly to an exterior centre-back role. Elsewhere, Alonso and Moses offer proper balance at wing-back: Moses is a tricky dribbler, while Alonso’s crosses from the left are consistently dangerous.

Embed from Getty Images

Modern day Premier League teams predominantly utilize three-man defences as a reactive system to the opposition, but Conte’s Chelsea are currently bucking the trend. Coincidentally, this week’s MLS East final showcased the potential risk in wide areas when playing a back-three, yet even in this respect, Luiz and Azpilicueta’s recovery runs negate this threat. But similar to the last time Chelsea were defeated in the league, upcoming fixtures against Spurs and Manchester City will provide proper tests.

Evidently, Chelsea improved in every area subsequent to the formation switch, but their performances are equally reminiscent of a genuine title contender. Conte’s men have comfortably dispatched of Everton, Leicester, and Manchester United at home, whereas their away wins at Hull, Southampton and Middlesborough were professional and tidy, thoroughly displayed defensively solidity and togetherness.

In particular, this weekend’s derby with the former should be cagey following Chelsea’s late recovery which put an end to Spurs’ title run at the conclusion of last season. Mauricio Pochettino’s men can match Chelsea’s strength in midfield with Moussa Dembele and Victor Wanyama, congest the box with Vincent Janssen’s presence, or even rely on the intricate passing and vertical threat of Son Heung-min, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen. Still, it will be interesting to see how the Spurs manager attempts to halt the Blues’ fine form.

“It’s a good challenge for us to go and play them at the moment,” said Pochettino. “They are in very good form. They have a great manager that I know very well and they have great players too,”

“It’s an advantage not being involved in European competition or the cups now. They have time to train and develop their philosophy. They are, not only in England but in Europe, the team most in form today.”

Spurs haven’t been overly-impressive domestically, but still remain the sole unbeaten side in the league, aiming to disrupt the sharp passing Chelsea displayed in recent weeks. Still, injury woes at the back, the suspension of Danny Rose, and favourable battles in Spurs’ third suggests the Blues are favourites t build on their flawless streak. Similar to in-game substitutions or the appointment of a new manager, teams tend to improve following change, further justifying the fascination involving Chelsea’s form.

The culture shift at Stamford Bridge is well underway, and though non-involvement in European competitions is valuable, Conte’s intensity and meticulous defensive regime could see Chelsea utilize 3-4-2-1 as their optimum shape until additional recruits join the club. Nevertheless, Conte’s bold decision signifies a new era at Stamford Bridge, as he is one of many foreign managers reviving the tactical proficiency English football recently lacked.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 26, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Everton

Embed from Getty Images

Chelsea’s current form indicates that they’re vying to partake in this year’s title race, but they encounter a stern test against Ronald Koeman’s Everton. Koeman’s arrival has witnessed Everton improve their defensive shape, but the Toffees’ poor record at Stamford Bridge means the Blues start the match as favourites.

Chelsea have won four consecutive league games since moving to a back three, and more importantly have yet to concede a goal during that time. Therefore, Antonio Conte is expected to make few changes to his starting lineup following impressive victories over Leicester City, Manchester United, and Southampton.

David Luiz and Gary Cahill appear more assertive at the back with Cesar Azpilicueta sweeping up where necessary, and the Brazilian’s ability to play positive passes in advanced areas will likely keep captain John Terry out of the lineup. Marcos Alonso and the in-form Victor Moses will retain their roles as wing-backs, but both men represent potential defensive liabilities against Everton’s swift wide players.

“He [Luiz] has made us solid in defence but I am not surprised. He is a good player and won a lot in his career,” said Conte.

“But we must win more and that is why he is at the club. We wanted to buy him for this reason.”

Koeman possesses excellent dribblers – Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas or Yannick Bolasie – that can play from the flanks, and the Everton manager will encourage his wingers to attack the Chelsea wing-backs. Also, with Seamus Coleman capable of motoring forward, Conte may swap Eden Hazard and Pedro to avoid potential overloads against Alonso.

On the other hand, Hazard’s form has substantially improved since Chelsea moved to a 3-4-2-1, as the wide players now have license to move into central positions and beyond Diego Costa. However, with Idrissa Gueye suspended and Leighton Baines unavailable due to injury, Hazard can pose issues in both areas.

Bryan Oviedo endured a difficult time against Michail Antonio last weekend and could be overwhelmed by Hazard’s dribbling if he drifts towards the right flank. Meanwhile, Gueye’s dynamism has aided Gareth Barry throughout the season, and the former England international may struggle against Hazard’s quick movement and sharp turns between the lines.

With James McCarthy also unavailable, Koeman may turn to Tom Cleverley’s energy alongside Barry, opposed to sacrificing Ross Barkley’s potential threat in transition. Nonetheless, the midfield zone is expected to be scrappy with Conte expected to persist with the midfield duo of N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic that’s based around strength and tackling.

This also places emphasis on whether Koeman will field Barkley – who has struggled to impose himself against competent defensive shield’s this season – in the no.10 role, or perhaps place a direct outlet in Bolasie or Mirallas centrally. Koeman’s arrival has also offered Everton flexibility, which means they’re capable of reverting to a back three or shifting to a 4-3-3 to ensure they clog spaces in central areas, which proved to be a successful ploy against Manchester City.

Ultimately, Romelu Lukaku and Diego Costa, two of the three leading goal-scorers this season will face stern challenges. Lukaku’s service has decreased due to the emphasis on getting the ball into wide areas, but he remains a proficient finisher around the box and can’t be awarded space in the final third. However, it will likely be 3v1 at the back, though Lukaku will likely aim to isolate the diminutive Azpilicueta to attack crosses in the box – yet, he poses an advantage in similar scenarios against Cahill or Luiz.

Elsewhere, Costa will face another physical battle against Ashley Williams and Funes Mori, here. Costa’s showcased his all-round talent throughout this current season, but the combination of athleticism and power could limit the Chelsea striker’s link-up play, though he should receive space to work the channels and charge forward into the box. There’s also the possibility of replicating Chelsea’s system to include Phil Jagielka in a back three to negate Costa’s threat upfront, and rely on individual battles across the pitch.

“We know that Chelsea is a strong team, a different team than last year,” said Koeman.

“They play with a lot of intensity and are aggressive. They have a different system, have got a lot of clean sheets and are winning games.”

Nevertheless, Costa and Hazard remain Chelsea’s difference-makers, with the latter in particular, favoured to continue his impressive form due to Everton’s deficiencies in the centre of the pitch and their left flank. Everton also pose a threat in transition, and if they can get their wingers to run at the wing-backs or Lukaku isolating centre-backs in the box, Conte’s men face a realistic possibility of conceding their first goal in over a month.

Chelsea will likely dominate possession for large spells and locate space to create chances, but the pace and power Everton pose on the counter presents a genuine challenge to the Blues’ improved defensive structure under Antonio Conte.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 4, 2016 in Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Manchester United

Embed from Getty Images

Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge is the main storyline in the Premier League this weekend. Sacked less than a year ago, Mourinho will face Antonio Conte for the first time and attempt to overpass his former employers in the league table.

It will be United’s second consecutive away match against the traditional top four and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Mourinho’s men play on the counter-attack once again. United added power to the midfield by moving to a 4-3-3, with Marouane Fellaini joining Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera to frustrate Liverpool at Anfield, and it’s likely he’ll adopt a similar approach here.

‘I knew that, working in England and staying in the Premier League, sooner or later I had to play against Chelsea and go to Stamford Bridge,’ Mourinho said. ‘The computer has decided it is to go now. And here we go.’

‘I don’t have to analyze their start to the season,’ he added. ‘But you look to the table and you see where they are. They are in a good position. So the start of the season cannot be bad if they are where they are.’

Although Chelsea pose a considerably different threat going forward, it would be surprising to see Mourinho revert back to a 4-2-3-1. Ander Herrera has performed excellent in a deeper role in recent weeks, but with Paul Pogba likely given the license to push forward in a midfield duo, the former would be forced to cover too much space in central areas.

It’s likely Fellaini will retain his place in the midfield trio, but Mourinho’s main decision is where he’ll position the personnel. At Anfield, Pogba operated closest to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and though he rarely influenced the match, the Frenchman did create the best chance for his Swedish teammate.

Herrera is unlikely to feature as the no.10 despite his goal threat around the box, and Mourinho could opt to utilize Fellaini’s aerial presence to fluster Chelsea’s back-line. Gary Cahill has struggled against Ibrahimovic in the past, and Mourinho could instruct the Swede or Fellaini to isolate the out-of-form England international or target David Luiz.

The other major decision involves the wide positions – Mourinho’s traditional no.10’s have operated in wider positions this season, and assuming he doesn’t utilize a 4-2-3-1, this may be his preference against Chelsea. Ashley Young’s efficient performance in a defensive winger role should merit another start on the left, but the big question is whether Mourinho opts for Juan Mata’s guile, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s creativity and transitional threat, or Marcus Rashford’s direct dribbling on the opposite flank.

United’s back four, on the other hand, should remain unchanged. Daley Blind and Antonio Valencia have performed well at the full-back position, while Eric Baily and Chris Smalling’s physical stature will provide a stern test against the league’s leading goal-scorer Diego Costa.

Chelsea’s mini-resurgence following two embarrassing defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal involved Conte shifting his side’s shape to a 3-4-2-1. However, Manchester United’s visit to Stamford Bridge will display whether the system is a long-term solution for the Blues.

The return of John Terry could see Cesar Azpilicueta move to a right wing-back role, with Gary Cahill moving to the right of David Luiz. This would provide interesting battles in wide areas with Ashley Young responsible for Azpilicueta, whereas United must be wary of Marcos Alonso’s positioning on the left.

Nonetheless, Chelsea’s centre-backs should cope with Ibrahimovic’s threat in a 3v1 situation, as the Swede lacks natural pace to get behind Conte’s defence. However, the threat of Martial and Rashford breaking into wide areas beyond the wing-backs or into the channels to isolate exterior centre-backs could prove costly.

N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic are expected to continue in midfield, and the former has gradually improved playing slightly ahead of the latter. Chelsea’s midfield possesses tenacity, strength, ball-winning skills, and the willingness to press the opposing midfielders which is why Mourinho may be tempted to summon Fellaini.

Conte will have Oscar and Willian available for selection, but Victor Moses’ positive performance last weekend may merit a start alongside Eden Hazard. Hazard remains the key player, here, though, and may be the reason Mourinho sticks with a 4-3-3 due to his new positional freedom to roam between the lines or break beyond the centre-backs. Once an individual battle between Hazard and Valencia will now require an additional midfielder or centre-back to negate the Belgian.

This also is another opportunity for Costa to provide a big-game moment, following disappointing performances against Laurent Koscielny and Joel Matip in previous weeks. Mourinho may replicate the successful approach of man-marking the Spaniard tightly and encouraging his centre-backs to sacrifice fouls away from the box. Smalling and Bailly have developed a suitable partnership with the latter sweeping danger when required, but against an excellent all-rounder in Costa, this will be no easy task for the United duo.

“I think that it arrives at the right moment for us,” said Conte.

“It’s important to continue this way. The last game we beat a good team that last season won the title and this was important. On Sunday we face another great team. I want to see progress compared to Liverpool and Arsenal. I am confident about this. I saw fantastic commitment this week.”

Chelsea will likely intend to dominate possession and peg United into their own half, but that’s not an issue for Mourinho who will aim to l avoid defeat on his return to Stamford Bridge. Traditionally, United have leant towards width in bigger matches, and here, this appears to be a clear outlet to success.

But limiting Costa and Hazard’s threat will be Mourinho’s main priority against a Chelsea side that’s fairly average in terms of creating chances from open-play. Therefore, Mourinho’s caution and intent to disrupt may lead to another drab encounter involving two sides that will focus on defensive structure, as neither manager can afford to lose another game.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 22, 2016 in Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Leicester City

Embed from Getty Images

Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off features the two most recent Premier League champions Chelsea and Leicester City. The former failed to defeat the latter on both occasions last year, with Claudio Ranieri coincidentally claiming the title at Stamford Bridge.

Nevertheless, Leicester’s return to Stamford Bridge presents additional pressure towards the reigning champions considering the Foxes have conceded four goals against two of the traditional top four sides away from the King Power Stadium. While Chelsea’s form remains somewhat inconsistent – despite a bounce back away win at Hull – Antonio Conte’s switch to a 3-4-2-1 has been effective following humbling defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.

The main selection issue for Conte rests in who plays behind Diego Costa alongside Eden Hazard. It’s uncertain that Willian will feature following the sudden passing of the Brazilian’s mother, so Conte could turn to Victor Moses direct running or Oscar’s guile and creativity on the right. Conte’s recent system alteration has left Oscar without a place in the current XI, but his dynamism and tireless work-rate could result in a potential recall.

Frankly there shouldn’t be any changes to the current Chelsea midfield bank: N’Golo Kante enjoyed freedom playing slightly ahead of Nemanja Matic, and should feature in that role against his former employers. Meanwhile, Marcos Alonso should continue at left-wing back, and the return of John Terry would push Cesar Azpilicueta to right wing-back.

“It’s important for me to see every day the shape, every day the situation,” said the Italian.

“Tomorrow I have four central defenders and I have to take a decision for three, I have to value the situation – one must go on the bench.”

Elsewhere, Conte will be hoping Terry’s potential return will provide stability to a back-four that’s been unconvincing since his injury. With that being said, Gary Cahill will feature on the opposing side of David Luiz, as the Brazilian will be expected to build attacks from the back. The Blues will rely on Luiz’s passing from deep with Cesc Fabregas on the bench and it will be interesting to see whether Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy will step forward to negate the Brazilian’s productivity.

In terms of individual battles, Chelsea’s key men are unsurprisingly their best attacking players in Diego Costa and Hazard. Costa is currently the highest goal-scorer in the league and should relish individual battles with centre-backs Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, who have been thoroughly exposed against direct attackers since Kante’s departure.

On the other hand, Hazard’s role behind Costa offers the Belgian freedom to drift into pockets of space in central areas if he’s not positioned towards the left flank, but here, he should dominate either way. Daniel Amartey hasn’t performed poorly in midfield, but his partnership with Danny Drinkwater still witnesses the duo concede far too much space in central areas. The possible inclusion of Andy King – a midfielder renowned for making late runs into the box – would leave Drinkwater further isolated in midfield and Hazard shouldn’t encounter difficulties receiving the ball in dangerous areas.

Likewise, one of Leicester’s weaknesses stems down their right flank due to Riyad Mahrez’s reluctance to protect right-back Danny Simpson. Simpson can prove to be a liability in 1v1 situations, and unless protection from midfield or Mahrez is provided, Hazard and Alonso’s overloads could be the decisive factor.

There shouldn’t be any major changes to Leicester’s shape or their personnel, but Ranieri’s attacking quartet could shape the general tempo of the match. Islam Slimani and Jamie Vardy are expected to start from the front and the latter’s runs into the channel could trouble Cahill or Terry in exterior centre-back positions. If Kante plays further forward to press Drinkwater and prevent long diagonals towards Vardy, Matic’s positioning will be key in terms of bypassing the duo’s pressing and ensuring Slimani doesn’t isolate David Luiz.

Ranieri could summon Ahmed Musa towards the left to peg back Azpilicueta, but with Chelsea likely to dominate possession he may prefer the diligent Marc Albrighton. If Leicester can quickly facilitate possession into wide areas, Slimani may be instructed to target the struggling Gary Cahill to win aerial duels in the box.

“Conte changed everything, and now it’s important that the [Chelsea] players follow him,” said Ranieri.

“It will be another tough match,” he added. “Conte has changed the shape of Chelsea so we have to fight.

Although Chelsea have been underwhelming in open play when presented the task of breaking down organized opposition, Leicester remains vulnerable defending set-pieces. Conte may opt to designate set-piece duties elsewhere due to Willian’s significant decline in this area, as Chelsea possess ample aerial threats that could exploit Leicester’s deficiencies.

Perhaps Leicester have stumbled against the traditional English elite thus far, but Chelsea’s issue creating chances and inefficient finishing suggests that they won’t be blown out at Stamford Bridge. However, the Foxes’ poor away record and predictable attack should ensure that Chelsea will cope better with their threat this time around due to improved defensive structure under Conte.

Neither side are the defensive giants that claimed the Premier League title in previous seasons so there will be goals, but it’s vital that Leicester score first – they have yet to showcase their ability to turnaround a result on the road this season – if they intend on claiming maximum points.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 14, 2016 in Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: Chelsea – Liverpool

Embed from Getty Images

Liverpool’s trip to Stamford Bridge features two sides that may remain optimistic about a potential title challenge this season.

Neither side were active in last year’s title race but without European football to focus on Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte will have enough time to solely prepare for league fixtures. Essentially Klopp and Conte are similar: two managers popularizing a brand of football to win domestic trophies abroad and now being asked to guide their current side back to prominence.

Where the verdict is still out on whether Conte’s Chelsea can compete against the better sides in the league, Klopp’s men have developed a habit of doing so. The Reds already dispatched of last year’s runner-ups Arsenal and Leicester City – scoring four goals on each occasion – but a trip to Chelsea should pose a different test. Conte’s arrival now witnesses a team that now possesses the organization and discipline that went missing last year, combined with a legitimate counter-attacking threat in transition.

“I think Liverpool are a really good team,” said Conte. “They play with high intensity, they bring many players in offensive situations, they are very good.”

“We must pay great attention tomorrow because we know they are very strong.”

Liverpool’s major decision rests on whether to start Daniel Sturridge upfront. The striker’s pace posed several issues for Leicester last weekend, but Klopp’s big game XI’s have often featured Roberto Firmino in a central role. The Brazilian’s movement pressing is integral to Klopp’s set-up, but likewise, his outside runs into the channels to create space, and willingness to drop deep and play quick intricate passes encourages forward runners into the box.

Sadio Mane’s pace and willingness to track back should merit a start on the right, whereas Philippe Coutinho may return to the XI on the left. Coutinho remains an interesting proposition that constantly intends on shooting from distance opposed to influencing his side’s buildup play within the final third, but similar to Firmino, Klopp turns to the Brazilian in the big games.

Therefore, it’s unlikely Sturridge will still start upfront, with Firmino drifting infield from the left hand side, and attempt to find space goal-side of N’Golo Kante. Klopp will also be hoping to recall one of his centre-backs following Lucas’ error that resulted in Jamie Vardy’s goal last week. While the Brazilian already lacks height, it’s evident Conte would encourage Costa to exploit his defensive deficiencies and unfamiliarity with the position.

On the other hand, though the midfield trio excelled thus far, this could be one area of concern for a Reds side yet to face an opposing group with proficient ball-winning traits. Liverpool lack that type of player in their midfield, opting to field Jordan Henderson as the deepest midfielder, along with Lallana’s creativity and Georginio Wijnaldum’s verticality and late runs into the box.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-4-43-04-pm

Projected Starting XI’s

However, Conte’s Chelsea eradicated last year’s issues in midfield by moving to a 4-1-4-1 with Nemanja Matic and Oscar pressing the opposition midfielders while Kante sits deeper to protect the back four. Liverpool’s midfield will face their first stern test in terms of pressing across the pitch, and they may have to revert to a more cautious shape to encourage the Blues forward and play on the counter.

In attack, Chelsea aren’t expected to make any changes: Eden Hazard and Willian should feature on the flanks, with the latter possibly providing a greater threat if Coutinho operates from the left due to his unwillingness to track. That would leave makeshift left-back James Milner vulnerable against the speedy Brazilian and the high possibility of Branislav Ivanovic surging forward on the overlap. On the opposite flank, Hazard has displayed signs that he’s rediscovering his best form and Nathaniel Clyne will likely adopt cautious positions in fear of the Belgian’s threat behind him.

Meanwhile, Costa is the joint-leading goal-scorer in the league, and may finally relish a battle against a Liverpool defence lacking a physically imposing centre-back following Martin Skrtel’s departure. Klopp should be able to feature his preferred centre-back partnership with Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, but they lack familiarity and natural aggression, thus making Costa’s presence their most difficult task to date.

“[He’s] world class,” Klopp said of Costa. “The best thing I can say, if other supporters love you then that’s not a good sign!”

“But he’s a real warrior on the pitch and he uses his body all the time. That’s a quality and what you need to know.

The major change in Chelsea’s XI will see the debut of David Luiz for the injured John Terry. Kante’s arrival at Stamford Bridge was beneficial to preserving the aging back-line, and Conte will hope Luiz’s indiscipline and constant habit of making mistakes will be protected until he fully adjusts into the Italian’s methodology.

However, Mane’s pace and the positional intelligence of Firmino could bamboozle the Brazilian and inconsistent Cahill. Nonetheless, if Conte’s men can cope with Liverpool’s first phase of aggressive gegenpressing, Luiz’s ball-playing skills will be an instant improvement to Chelsea’s build-up play from deeper positions.

Two contrasting styles consisting of a cagey midfield battle presents an interesting spectacle. Neither back-line, though, is sturdy or reliable, but Chelsea’s Kante could make the difference whereas Henderson could be overrun. Both sides have been wasteful in the final third this season, and this may simply rest on efficiency in the final third and which outfit can overcome the opposition’s dissimilar pressing schemes.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 15, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,