In a very important game at Stamford Bridge, United crumbled and lost points that they really needed. Chelsea on the other hand kept in touch with the leaders of the Premier League, and are only 2 points behind cross town rivals Arsenal. United made their way there after a win last weekend against Swansea finally ended a miserable run of 3 defeats. They were never favourites to win the game, especially with Chelsea being in really impressive form in the last few weeks. In the end, Mourinho and Eto’o did enough to ensure that United made the long trip back home empty handed.
Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic; Cahill; Terry; Azpilicueta; D. Luiz; Ramires; Willian (Matic, 86′); Oscar (Mikel, 68′); Hazard; Eto’o (Torres, 79′).
Manchester United: De Gea; Rafael; Vidic; Evans; Evra (Smalling, 51′); Jones; Carrick; Valencia; Januzaj; Young (Hernandez, 56′); Welbeck.
United’s bright start
Given Chelsea’s phenomenal record at the Bridge and United’s recent struggles, the home side came into the game as strong favourites and yet it was Moyes’ men who started off the brighter of the two sides. There were mainly 2 reasons behind United’s fast start- their off the ball pressing and when they did have the ball their attacking threat from the right wing.
Chelsea’s attacking trio of Hazard, Oscar and Willian is one that could trouble almost any team in the world and thus Manchester United set out to ensure they saw as little of the ball as possible. They did this mainly by pressing high up the field when Chelsea had the ball. In the image below we see Welbeck, Januzaj, Valencia and Carrick all occupying positions high up the pitch. With no real passing options on hand, the Chelsea defender is forced to resort to a long ball. While Chelsea’s attack is dangerous, it doesn’t really possess an aerial threat , at least not against the likes of Vidic, Evans and Jones. Ironically, it was from a long ball that Chelsea took the lead but it was down to United not winning the second ball and a subsequent defensive error, a recurring theme on the night.
From an attacking viewpoint, much of United’s play was down the right wing. Azpilicueta continued to be preferred at left back ahead 0f Ashley Cole and came up against Valencia. It was clear from the start that Aziplicueta was instructed to mark Valencia tightly and not give the Ecuadorian any space. However, this led to the energetic Rafael finding space on the overlap which created problems for the Chelsea defence. In the image below, Azpilicueta stayed close to Valencia who released Rafael on the right which created an opportunity for the away side that eventually petered out.
Despite the good start, it was Chelsea who took the lead and dictated play from then on. The first goal knocked the stuffing out of United and they failed to match the intensity that they displayed at the start. Of course Chelsea’s defensive organization helped keep their attacking threat to a minimum.
Chelsea countering United’s wing play
United were looking to play down the wings and get cut backs in. Over the last few years, this has been Chelsea’s major weakness against United. Last night as well, they tried this tactic, constantly feeding the ball into wide areas, especially their right hand side. In the initial exchanges at least, this worked out very well and United had the upper hand to start off with, but couldn’t really capitalise by scoring.
In the above image, you can see Valencia and Welbeck attempting to close Azpilicueta down and not let him play forward on his natural right foot. The channel which he would kick into with his left foot is wide open though.
A big reason for this ineffectiveness was the excellent defensive organisation from the Chelsea defenders and midfielders. Mourinho had his side defending deep, and engaging in zonal marking, trying their best not to leave any spaces between the lines for United to play into. The covering of all spaces zonally was key to cutting out all the crosses that United were firing into the box. Just 4 of the 26 attempted crosses from United were successful.
As you can see in the image above, the Chelsea players are back and defending their zones very well. There is hardly any option for the man on the ball to shoot or pass. Even Hazard is back and covering the edge of the box. Luiz has dropped into the defensive line to cover for Ivanovic who was beaten just prior to this frame. The defensive line is also quite deep.
Once again, you can see that the Chelsea defence has got the different zones covered based on the position of the offensive player. This time, the angle is such that only a cross is likely to be attempted, and so Luiz is slightly higher than the line to block off the dreaded cut back which might have been directed at Welbeck or Valencia.
This defensive organization from Chelsea was imperative in nullifying United’s attack. In fact it’s importance can be best shown by the fact that on the one occasion that they failed to do the above was during United’s consolation goal. A throw in on the right dragged Luiz towards the ball. Good interplay between Welbeck and Valencia led to Welbeck having the ball in a promising position in the penalty box. The space that Welbeck has manufactured for himself means that Mikel has to come out to try and stop the cross. In the image shown below, both Luiz and Mikel (circled in red) have been drawn towards the wing which has led the space in the zone that they should’ve been occupying. The unmarked Jones’ cross/shot was tapped in by Hernandez as the Mexican added to his tally against Chelsea.
In the end, the goal was nothing but a consolation but it tells us why Mourinho preferred to play Luiz in a central midfield role and the goal notwithstanding, how Chelsea went a long way in blunting the opposition attack.
Chelsea exploiting United full backs
With United looking to build their attacks from wide areas, they needed to involve their full backs as well in order to create overloads and opportunities to cross the ball into the box. Of course this meant that the charging full backs left a lot of space in behind themselves to be exploited. The home side took this opportunity to attack down this avenue and a lot of balls were played into the channel vacated by the full back for the likes of Eto’o to run onto. Oscar and Willian were the ones making the passes to Hazard and Eto’o, as the duo looked to attack into these spaces. 77% of all the Chelsea attacks came down the wide areas, and the Blues did well to use this avenue.
The left back position has been a problem for United for the course of the entire season and this area of the pitch tends to be exposed especially in the big games. Once again, Patrice Evra struggled to balance his duties, and Chelsea were getting a lot more joy down his side.
As you can see in the image above, the Frenchman is caught up field as Chelsea break down the right hand side with Oscar, whose shot eventually trickled wide. Isolated incidents can be forgiven considering that Evra does well in attack but this has become a problem that has to be addressed by United sooner rather than later. It really is no surprise that Moyes has tried to sign the likes of Baines and Coentrao as it looks like Evra’s time at Old Trafford is coming to an end.
Where does this leave them?
For the home side, it was business as usual for Mourinho at the Bridge. Defensive organization and attacking penetration, it all seems to be coming together for them as they continue to match their title opponents step-by-step. A hat-trick for Eto’o and the late introduction of Matic marking his “second debut” so to speak capped off a satisfactory evening for the home side. For United, surprisingly it wasn’t the midfield that was their undoing this time around but instead it was some very shoddy defending. In truth though, the result doesn’t really change much for them. A title challenge was looking unlikely before the game and the loss doesn’t really change that. They’ll be hoping that the returns of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney will lead to a sustained run of form.
This article was written by Arnab Ray and Vishal Patel.
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What did you think of the game? Did you notice anything else tactically? Have we missed out on something? If so, do leave a comment below.