Chelsea were forced to grind out a result against a resilient Aston Villa, with Ivanovic scoring the winner during the second half to send the London club on top of the table.
There isn’t much point in looking at Chelsea’s goals. One was an own goal though ingeniously crafted by Eden Hazard and the other had suspicions of off-side written all over it. Benteke’s goal however, showcases a rare moment where the center-backs have had poor communication with the pivot players.
As Mourinho had said, Villa were playing the type of football that was hard to play against. Long balls over the top and bang. You can pass around as much as you like, but the moment a ball like that is released, you’re going to have problems if you aren’t focused. Guzan hits the ball hard and finds a Villa player.
Ivanovic gives him a hard time but the Villa man floats by him. Ramires is the one who should be tracking back. If he was in front of Benteke, the ball wouldn’t have reached him. Through-out the game, this happens to be the only mistake Ramires seems to have made. However, Benteke makes most of the one and only shot he has. The blame could fall on Terry as well, who fails to close in. Much like Cahill who kept back-tracking when faced by an opponent while playing Madrid.
By the time Terry closes in, Benteke has put the shot away. To sum it up the goal happens due to Ramires’s failure to push back quickly just like it was Curtis Daivies’s fault in letting Oscar score against Hull City, and Terry’s inability to apply pressure at the right time and having a very slow response ratio when compared to that of Benteke.
Credit where its due, Aston Villa had brilliant organisation. They literally had two defensive lines throughout the game. The one that was furthest back was even playing an offside trap, which at the end of 90 minutes had formed an emotional bond with Demba Ba.
Though I’ve marked only Fabian Delph and El Ahmadi in the middle, one must not forget the contribution of Ashley Westwood. The three together were brilliant in pressing, which was eventually broken down by Chelsea’s triangles. Moreover the full-backs could act as center-backs due to the immense work-rate of Gabriel *cough* Agbonlahor and the man who could have won Villa the game, Andreas Weimann.
The blue line show’s the second defensive line set up by the Villa players. With only Benteke upfront, you can call this is an inefficient version of Roberto Di Matteo’s bus. They were structured well to hold their ground when being bombarded by quick counter-attacks, but not against an equally well structured passing pattern that they had absolutely no clue about.
Before getting in depth in how Chelsea used their methods to slowly gain access to the final third, let’s talk about Ramires. Yes he probably played a part in Villa’s goal that cost me clean-sheet points in Fantasy Football, but he was the player who controlled the entire game. We talk a lot about how Busquets has been essential to Barcelona’s trophy laden success despite the dives he is more famously known for. A holding midfielder is essential to Mourinho’s game plan. At Madrid he had Alonso and Khedira, before having Makelele and Mikel at Chelsea.
Ramires has a good chance of being the next Makelele. Mind you, this is a comparison only regarding one’s stature and the other’s foreseen one. Both the players play quite different roles, and Ramires will have to work really hard to reach the level of Makelele. Every attacking transition went through him. I’ve picked out one scene, where in one minute, the ball passes through Ramires exactly 6 times.
After receiving the ball, he attempts to get things going by organizing the midfield structure Mourinho wants to apply.
However right after receiving the ball, Mata comes under immense pressure. It’s important to note here, that he could also have given to Ivanovic. However he chooses to ignore the guy closest to him, runs around a few yards and taps it to Ramires. Once again the Brazilian looks around to initiate an attack,
Ramires passes it on to Cole, who is either being pressurized, or doesn’t like the quality of the ball. It comes back to Ramires, who is again forced to think. Intelligence is key for a holding midfielder that is easily able to spread play.
He passes it on to what looks like either Mata or Hazard. Lampard comes close to form the triangle that is needed to keep the passing going.
He once again gets the ball back from Mata and decides to try it off with Lampard. Oscar moves close to form another important triangle to keep the possession going which at the time stands at 70-30 to Chelsea.
Lampard returns it again. This is the last time Ramires receives the ball as he organizes another attack. In this structure, the ball recovered from the defense, moves to Ramires. The midfielder then looks up and plans the team’s next move. He passes and holds his ground to cover for his team-mates. Passing it back to Ramires, is what we call going back to square one. If you are under pressure , look up for Ramires, give it to him and let him initiate the attack once again.
He’s turning into a midfield general of sorts.
There is one situation where I found Ramires doing something that clearly gives away what Jose wants the boys to do. The commentator though, really has no clue.
That is not the body language of Ramires trying a pass. He is actually rotating around the spot like a child experiencing seizures. Despite what the commentators believe , Ramires is waiting for his players to form the triangles. No attack is to be initiated without the proper structure. He waits for 3-4 seconds for them to get into shape, i.e. , the red circles.
Mata, Oscar and Hazard come up, giving Chelsea more options to pass. Ramires gives it to Lampard and Chelsea can initiate another structured attack, with a successful transition from defense to attack.
Now let’s have a look at how Chelsea’s passing pattern pushed an organized defense as behind as possible. Starting from the half-way line, all the way to their own defensive third.
The white circles are the Villa midfielders who have adopted a high pressing philosophy. They aim to pick you out one by one , and then crush you into giving the ball away. They key is to stick together, act as a unit, and form triangles to always give you an option of passing.
Oscar has the ball and is roaming with it behind our half-way line. This is how far back our attacking midfielders drop. Nothing like the previous season. A much higher work-rate than we’ve ever seen before.
The ball’s passed out to Terry, and the man encircled in blue is the one who comes forward to provide options and complete the triangle. Constant, precise and excellent movement. The Villa midfielder are already forecasting a move backwards.
This time to keep the triangle flowing is Mata, as he comes in to receive a pass. Look at Lampard and Ramires moving close to compact the pitch.
The next time it’s Lampard, who passes the ball on to Ramires, who gives it to Ivanovic , who further gives it back to Oscar. The Villa midfield keep dropping back cause they have no choice.
Noticed something different?
It’s called the zig-zag theory. It’s one I’ve coined myself, so don’t go around googling it. I’ve noticed a lot of top teams doing it to clubs who organize their defenses hard. Examples include Barcelona and Bayern against us in 2012. Apart from that, every team that faces Stoke City is forced into doing this.
Considering that if you penetrate them right at the throat, i.e. , the middle, you stand no chance. You’ll either have the ball stolen, or pressed into given up, or simply be tackled hard and left lying on the ground. The thing to do is switch from one flank to other, while slowly increasing you forward movement, by just a little bit. The opposition cannot press too much in fear of moving out of position and leaving holes. A direct long ball from one side to another isn’t recommended either. It needs to be slow and filled with passes so that the opposition don’t find out.
This is the perfect way to grind out a result. We let Villa have few chances, and their clinical finishing almost gave them a point. At the end of the day, we can be proud the boys are showing maturity much more than what should be expected of them. If it was another team, they wouldn’t be so clinical due to the obvious lack of Benteke. Jose on the other hand, has become a tactical mastermind. Nothing like the young Portuguese who was in-charge at Porto.
To end this, let’s have a look at another triangle.
That’s Mata in the center. Look how deep he is. In the previous season, he made the least back-tracking runs out of any attacking midfielder in the Premier League. Jose effect or Mata acting retarded. Your call.