In his first piece for Outside of the Boot, Aamer Aslam writes a tactical analysis about Chelsea’s convincing Premier league win over Crystal Palace.
The Eagles were flying high in the Premier League table with their last defeat coming on 24th November (also at home) to relegation contenders Sunderland. An unbeaten run of 6 games followed before the visit of Champions Chelsea to Selhurst Park. The Blues meanwhile were looking for inspiration of their own. After starting brightly against Sunderland in the post Jose era, a couple of consecutive draws left them languishing in 16th place. A win was of great significance.
Crystal Palace: 13. Hennessey; 2. Ward, 6. Dann, 27. Delaney, 23. Souare; 18. McArthur, 15. Jedinak (Ledley, 67′), 42. Puncheon, 11. Zaha, 14. C. Y. Lee (Williams, 80′); 9. Campbell (Chamakh, 67′).
Chelsea: 13. Courtois; 2. Ivanovic, 5. Zouma, 26. Terry, 28. Azpilicueta; 12. J. Obi Mikel, 4. Cesc, 22. Willian, 8. Oscar (Matic, 88′), 10. Hazard (Pedro, 16′); 19. D. Costa.
CRYSTAL PALACE 0-3 CHELSEA
With that in mind, Hiddink went with an attacking formation. Costa was back up front following his 1 game suspension while the abysmal Matic was dropped to the bench in place of under fire Fabregas. Mikel started his second consecutive match in front of an unchanged back four. Oscar Willian and Hazard were chosen to provide the attacking flair behind Costa.
Injuries and suspensions were piling up thick and fast for Palace as they started without the suspended Cabaye and Brad Hangeland in the centre of midfield and defence respectively. Delaney slotted in beside the Scott Dann in the centre of defence while Lee replaced Cabaye. The rest of the side remained unchanged.
Both teams lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation pre-match. However as soon as the match kicked off, Palace switched to a 4-2-2-2 formation crowding the centre of midfield and trying 2 pacey players up front. Palace were first to the ball every single time and as a result of greater numbers in midfield, Chelsea and Fabregas could hardly get in control of the midfield for the first 20 odd minutes.
Here you can the see freedom given to Lee, supposedly one of Palace’s wide men in the original pre match formation who along with Puncheon, Campbell, Zaha and Mcarthur crowd out Eden Hazard and get a weak shot at goal.
In another instance, Diego Costa found himself inside the wrong half and was crowded out by none other than Lee, Puncheon and Zaha. After which Puncheon put an early ball which was almost converted by Dann.
Although the front 2 of Zaha and Campbell weren’t troubling Terry and Zouma enough, Palace had really asserted themselves in midfield and were looking the more likely team to score. Despite being more dominant, Pardew surprisingly switched back to the original 4-2-3-1 with Lee going to the right, Zaha left and Puncheon the attacking midfielder behind Campbell. This change allowed Fabregas to get on the ball much more and spray those balls into the attacking third. Pardew must have felt they were not troubling the Chelsea keeper enough or it was a pre-planned decision to conserve energy after 20-25 mins. Either way, this allowed the out of sorts Fabregas to get into game much more and spray those trademark passes into the attacking third which ultimately had a big influence on the first goal.
Fabregas had only completed 3 out 4 successful passes into the attacking third in the first 20-25 mins when Palace had stifled the midfield. However after the shift to their original 4-2-3-1 formation, Fabregas was able to complete 6 out 8 passes into the attacking third. As a result his influence on the grew as the half went on and Palace reverted to their original shape. The space between Puncheon and the midfield two was exploited expertly by Fabregas and Oscar on occasions who dropped deep to put balls into the attacking third. Lacking their own midfield creator in Cabaye and trickster Yannick Bolasie, the eagles looked bereft of ideas going forward and did not look like troubling the Chelsea back four.
Chelsea’s own troubled form defensively meant they knew they had to get one more if they had to secure the 3 points. Unlike the first, Pardew started the second with a 4-2-3-1 formation with only occasionally shifting to two up front. Although they shifted the three in the 4-2-‘3’-1 with Lee occasionally on the left, Puncheon left and Zaha slotting in behind Campbell. Palace were lacking any attacking prowess from the “two” in midfield. Without support from deep, Puncheon and later on Zaha was expertly shepherded by Mikel in the centre who had an excellent game. With Puncheon/Zaha not dropping back deep enough and Palace’s midfield two staying closer to their own defence, Fabregas’ influence on the game grew. Fabregas was able to complete 18 out of 20 passes into the attacking third in the second half. Although it was Willian’s scorcher that bought the Blues their all important second, it was Fabregas who again found space in the pocket to release Oscar who moved it sideways to Willian.
Chelsea went three-nil up shortly after and it was Fabregas again who kept the ball moving with the all important “pre-assist” (the assist before the original assist).
Chelsea got their all important victory with Costa, Willian and Oscar getting a goal and an assist each. But it was the beleaguered Fabregas who earned the plaudits and rightly so. Pardew admitted in the post match presser that his team were not able to contain the Spanish maestro as they had hoped. Although tougher tests wait for Fabregas and Chelsea, the Blues hope that this is a big step in the right direction.
Written by Aamer Aslam.
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