Tactical Takeaways: Swansea 0-5 Chelsea

On a day when many Premier League ties were decided by one goal, and a couple were decided at the death, those choosing to tune into Swansea – Chelsea may have felt robbed. Unless of course Benny Hill is their thing, in which case the Blues’ 5-0 thrashing of their hosts would have been a feast.

Trouble is, it’s so hard to analyse the league leaders when the opposition seemed to do everything possible to shoot itself in the foot. Swansea’s incompetence was so breathtaking that J.R. Ross – the wrestling announcer you often hear superimposed on Germany 7-1 Brazil videos- should have been called in to commentate the rout. By the time goal number three sailed in, it was pretty evident that Garry Monk’s men had thrown in the towel, which ironically meant an end to all the cute backpasses they provided Chelsea.

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Chelsea tripped up on Tyneside

Newcastle is Chelsea’s twilight zone. Jose Mourinho has yet to win a league game here, though he tried to make up for that by making three changes at half-time to counter a Patrick Kluivert goal back in 2005. Though the Dutchman and his dreadlocks wouldn’t last at St James’ Park – he left the following season – his goal would go down in lore, knocking Chelsea out of that year’s FA Cup, thus ending their chances of winning the quadruple.

What’s truly bothersome about today’s defeat is that this isn’t a very good Newcastle side, even with its ten absent pieces back in the fold. Though the Toon obviously deserved their win, Chelsea arguably played themselves out of contention after a promising start, and look to have allowed Manchester City to come back within three points. At least the preposterously early invincibility theme is behind us.

What Pardew got right… and what he got wrong

It’s fair to say that the former West Ham and Southampton man isn’t every punter’s cup of tea. But credit must go to him for a number of choices, beginning from the use of Jack Colback in midfield. His late run in the first run wasn’t picked up by Fabregas, but by the onrushing Courtois, who deprived him of a clear-cut chance. Colback was everywhere, and a huge nuisance to the Blues. Tottenham could have done with a destroyer of his ilk in midweek.

Pardew’s choice to try quick vertical attacks also occasionally bore fruit, as the speedy Ayoze was able to turn his marker a couple of times in the first half and release the wings. Without the domineering Matic around, Newcastle knew they could chance their hand in the middle, and did so.

That considered, it’s hard to work out exactly what kind of strategy Pardew had in mind for this game. It may explain why his teams are so maddeningly inconsistent, how they can be world-beaters one minute, and masochists the next. Key to this was his midfield’s lumbering build-up. Often exposed to the counter, Newcastle left their defence unprotected on more than one occasion, and Chelsea should really have taken advantage.

Newcastle’s midfielders were guilty of either rushing too eagerly towards Hazard – which allowed the Belgian to slot a pass across the edge of the box to the onrushing Willian, who flashed his effort wide – or unable to cover space when their fullbacks tucked in. One such oversight from Ameobi allowed Willian to rush into the box unmolested, and could have proved costly. Newcastle’s midfielders were very poor on cutbacks, which include Hazard’s effort on the post late on. Almost everybody rushed to the front post.

Chelsea’s missed opportunity… and Gary Cahill

Whilst they didn’t create an overwhelming amount of chances, the Blues were clearly on top in the first twenty minutes, and should simply have done more to expose Newcastle’s frailties. The midfield’s regular counters – thanks in no small part to Oscar and being cleverly positioned in key passing lanes- should have led to an early Chelsea strike.  Apart from Willian’s strike, Costa chose to have a crack from the edge of the box when nobody was on Oscar- another open cutback option.

After that, Chelsea allowed Newcastle back in the game, though the sloppiness would come back with a vengeance when Gary Cahill fluffed a clearance, allowing Newcastle to open the scoring a few minutes into the second half. Gary Cahill simply hasn’t developed into the leader Chelsea were hoping to mould to replace Terry. He still needs training wheels, over two seasons after playing the game of his life in Munich.

Their backs to the wall, Chelsea finally woke up again: Fabregas’ diagonal chips in the box offered Chelsea some good alternatives, especially when Drogba was able to knock one down for Costa, whose effort found both Coloccini and Taylor in its way.

Despite my misplaced twitter cynicism, Jose Mourinho actually got his subs right. Drogba pulled one back for Chelsea and was an incredible physical presence in the box. The choice to throw in Schurrle may not have been so rewarding, though he looked decent trying to drop deep and build things up. It was, however, a necessary move, as Willian and Oscar seemed to have left their heads in the changing room.

Tactical takeaways: Chelsea 3-0 Tottenham

It’s not every day that a club buys Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Érik Lamela and falls off a cliff. Yet that is what has happened to Tottenham Hotspur, who despite another summer of sexy acquisitions are still miles off fulfilling their potential, or flashing more than glimpses of the passing football Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton was capable of. The aforementioned players aren’t hipster football icons, the preserve of those among us who choose to follow alternative leagues: they’re good, in some cases damn good. They undoubtedly have their flaws, but are mostly young and can learn.

Yet here in North London their skill is a thing of the past, a relic the Spurs faithful are desperately clinging onto, in the hope that this tunnel really does lead back to the great outdoors.

Yesterday’s game perfectly encapsulated this, as an interesting start from the Lilywhites quickly turned into a nightmare when Chelsea landed a fierce one-two to put their opponents on the ropes. Tottenham never recovered. So much promise, so little to write home about. Chadli’s criminally late entrance wasn’t enough to change things.

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Jose’s Doubled-Edged Sword

“So, you won the Champions League and you were sacked…”
“You get right to the point.”

It didn’t take long for the press to remind Roberto di Matteo of that night, or indeed that cold morning in Cobham when he was given his marching orders, a mere six months after taking over from Andre Villas-Boas.

It took even less for Jose Mourinho to fire one of his traditional broadsides.

“The Champions League, many, many times I say, is not a consequence of a great work,” the Portuguese manager told reporters. “Sometimes it is not. You can win the Champions League in the worst season. You can finish fifth and win the Champions League… Liverpool did, and Chelsea, too.”

These statements are obviously a classic Jose mind game, but they go further than that. The Champions League may be hard to predict, but this does not explain why, say, Chelsea won it all in 2012 with a depleted squad and why they didn’t in 2005. This kind of comment has a lot to do with the Portuguese’s hurt pride than he would like to admit.

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Champions League Preview: Maribor – Chelsea

Chelsea visit Maribor tomorrow evening hoping to put their qualification to the second round on ice- the Londoners can move clear of Schalke if the latter fail to beat Sporting Lisbon.

Celtic fans will certainly be hoping that Maribor can pull off a coup against Chelsea tomorrow, as the Bhoys were knocked out of European contention by the Slovenians, who were embarassed 6-0 at Stamford Bridge two weeks ago.

And the Slovenian outfit certainly has what it takes to pull off a shock- especially if the Blues fall victim to fatigue: this will be their fourth game in 11 days. We saw some signs of that on Saturday against Queens Park Rangers, where Eden Hazard rescued his side from the spot fifteen minutes from time.

With some form of turnover likely names like John Obi Mikel and Ramires have been doing the rounds. Another hot topic is Andre Schürrle, though Hazard and Oscar’s youthful energy are also in the mix. Mourinho’s biggest question mark is the form of Diego Costa. With the Spaniard’s fragile legs always in need of rest, Didier Drogba’s recent form may prove decisive.

The Blues are heavy favourites, but would do well not to underestimate their opponents, whose 6-0 drubbing was still a testament to just how impressive their Champions league campaign has been, it being their ninth game in this year’s edition.

Far from embarassing themselves, the Purple had aquitted themselves well before facing Chelsea, pulling off two draws against European regulars Schalke 04 and Sporting Lisbon. Though both sides have endured a difficult start to the season, there is no doubt that few expected Maribor to come away with points. Chelsea have been warned.

The Slovenians will be without defender Aleksander Rajcevic (out with a head injury) and Ales Mejac (hamstring), whilst Zeljko Filipovic and Agim Ibraimi (both ill) are last-minute calls.

Maribor themselves lost to table-topping Domzale, the 1-0 defeat leaving them 11 points adrift and pushing them further out of title contention. Then again, they have lost twice before facing European opposition, so it is clear their focus is more on European football.

UPDATE 14:05

Neither Mikel or Remy trained today, so they will both miss the trip to Slovenia.

Tactical Preview: Chelsea v QPR

QPR head to Stamford Bridge a clear favourite to lose- and possibly bag a huge shellacking in the process. Though Harry Redknapp’s men are coming off a two-game winning run, they are still second from bottom in the Premier League table- not to mention weak on a number of levels, and this is the wrong time to be visiting a Chelsea side that won’t be in a very forgiving mood.

Last Sunday’s disappointing draw aside, the Blues will remember how threatening QPR can be in the Derby, the Rs winning both in their last visit here two seasons ago and at home in a game more remembered for what horrible things John Terry yelled at Anton Ferdinand. The resulting furore made everyone forget just how poor Chelsea had looked that day, going down to nine men before the half and losing to a Heidar Helguson penalty.Heidar Helguson!

QPR don’t have a high-variance option

One of the more damning indictments of QPR’s football this season is their inability to combine defence and attack. Which is just as good, because a good calculated risk against a team like Chelsea would be to avoid sitting back, and try something that the opposition isn’t expecting. A perfect example was when Everton visited the Bridge a few seasons ago, coming away with a 4-4 draw. It’s certainly a bigger risk, but adds a surprise factor and does give the minnow a bigger window of success, and QPR do happen to boast a fearsome attacking duo in Charlie Austin and Bobby Zamora. One came up with the goods against Villa, the latter has the grit and athleticism to bring Eduardo Vargas into play.

Trouble is, QPR have tried this before, as the ludicrous 3-2 home defeat to Liverpool proved. What’s worrying is that Harry Redknapp’s choice to throw caution to the wind and press Liverpool all over the park still ended up backfiring. His team should have won, but Leroy Fer (usually one of their best players) hit the woodwork twice in the first half alone, and QPR shipped in two goals after the 90th minute to come away with nothing. The Rs only opted for all-out aggression against Liverpool because they didn’t respect their passing game anyway, and may not dare be so brave this time round, especially as…

The Diego Costa party bus is back in town, and Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker are terrified

Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas’ arrival in the summer has given Chelsea a whole new attacking dimension. Gone is the team that struggled down the stretch last season against packed defences, not now that Fabregas can pick defences apart with his vertical passing, one-twos and neat interplay with the fullbacks, and Costa… well…

Caulker and Dunne need help, as they aren’t exactly the speediest defensive pairing on the circuit. Picking up from the previous point, Burnley tried aggressive tactics against Chelsea, and paid the price despite taking an early lead at Turf Moor. All it took was a neat pass from Cesc Fabregas to Branislav Ivanovic… and a finish from Diego Costa.

QPR aren’t built for the counter

Trouble is, even a more cautious QPR could fail to make the grade, having been very average when adopting a more defensive approach, even against teams who struggle to build from the back. QPR looked awkward against both Aston Villa and West Ham, and can count themselves lucky to have pulled away against the Villains just as their opponents were looking to take control.

With two midfielders (Henry and Sandro, for example) sitting in front of their frail back four, only Leroy Fer is left as an attacking outlet in the middle. Redknapp may not have the stones to deploy attacking players like Vargas on the wing, or two strikers up front- a setup that has allowed them to win their last two games. When one thinks of Stamford Bridge upsets, QPR are unlikely to emulate Sunderland’s impressive effort from last season: they haven’t got the defensive mettle and the Blue are much improved. In most things anyway…

Chelsea need a wake up call on set pieces

50% of QPR’s goals in the league this season have come from set pieces, a worrying trend for a team like Chelsea that still has its work cut out ironing out that very weakness. Against Manchester United, it cost Chelsea two deserved points. Now that Manchester City look weak, it would be the wrong time to start dropping points. Manchester United certainly rue the chances they didn’t put away to keep the Citizens at a distance three seasons ago.

Eduardo Vargas v Gary Cahill

A final point concerns last week’s GOAT, Gary Cahill, who for all his talent does occasionally have games where he makes multiple- and often costly- mistakes. He will need to keep a careful eye on Eduardo Vargas who- if Redkapp starts him, and that’s quite an if- will be a major pain in the neck, cutting inside to create one-two scenarios and look for the chink in Chelsea’s armour. The former Universidad de Chile man was woefully misused in Italy, and is slowly putting together a campaign that will justify all the hype we read about him two years ago.