With football’s analysts getting ready to review the season as it reaches its end, Chelsea legend and columnist Pat Nevin writes this week about trends he’s spotted…
The season hasn’t ended with the kind of explosive excitement that we have come to expect over the last few seasons. Sunderland, Atletico and then Norwich City all had their various disappointments and in the end it all seemed just a step too far, but only a step in the end.
One of the most notable things about the denouement this time is that one system seems to be having an inordinate effect on the outcomes of major games. The recent increase in the amount of teams who have learned how to defend very deep with large numbers, who are all committed and organised is very noticeable. Sunderland played on the break against us, Norwich just counterpunched once every 15 minutes and, of course, we have shown we can be the masters of that ourselves, just as we did over in Madrid and up in Merseyside against Liverpool.
So there is no point in anyone moaning on about bus parking or defensive football, what you have to do is find an answer and if there was an easy one, trust me, everyone would have discovered it by now.
There are a couple of technical things you should do to try to overcome massed defences. For starters you have to move the ball quickly when you do turnover possession, but even so you will still often have a gang of defenders sitting in wait for you. Another ploy is to switch the play as quickly as possible when you are attacking, to confuse the defence a little and simply move them around and develop just a little half-a-yard of space as they move.
If you do this then if it is possible you have to try to isolate the man who gets the ball as much as possible, and make sure he receives the ball deep in the final third. Any less further forward and the defence has time to get across in numbers.
Another common ploy is to get your best dribbler to run at pace with the ball right into the penalty area. In the confusion it is not uncommon for a defender to dive in and the slightest touch on the attacker can easily lead to a penalty. I’m not suggesting for a moment that players should dive, but if your feet are quick enough and your skills sharp enough, then there are real opportunities for stonewall penalties. Barcelona for years tried to tika-taka through these packed defences but more and more teams were beginning to stymie them in the biggest games, specifically ourselves in the Champions League semi-final game at the Nou Camp a couple of years back.
I expect more and more teams to improve at this defensive strategy so there is no point complaining about it, there is however every point in teams working out methods to combat it. Maybe this is where the next great leap in the game forward will be. It is all very well what Real Madrid do. Having Bale and Ronaldo with their incredible pace and ability, they can break from deep defending areas brilliantly, but there aren’t too many players around who have their natural pace allied with incredible talent.
Now if this all sounds a little bit technical and dry – first of all well done to anyone who has got this far, and secondly I hope and suspect Chelsea will be in the vanguard of any new thinking. It used to be the case that major changes in technical thinking happened at World Cups, but I reckon this is no longer the case. Spain may have changed things over the past decade or so, but it was as much to do with Barcelona and their ethics. It will however be very interesting next season to see how we as a team change, when Jose has had the time and opportunity to put out a team, and indeed a squad, in the latest form of his own image.
Football does go in cycles. I often feel it seems to change in emphasis about twice per decade, and that is probably because someone comes up with a great new idea (or more likely refines a great old one!) and then it is up to everyone else to beat it somehow.
With all this in mind, it is worth considering who comes and goes at Stamford Bridge during this summer. I guess there could be some that may have us scratching our heads somewhat, but look back to the sale of Juan Mata and the acquisition of Nemanja Matic this season. We all loved Juan and still do to be honest, but the thinking could be understood in the context of the style we play.
Last week for the quiz I asked who was the current Chelsea player born furthest from Stamford Bridge? Well most quickly figured it out as being Mark Schwarzer from Australia. For a fuller picture of the distances, our winner this week (and one or two others) gave a very detailed list of the distances for all the players. I have added it below for anyone interested.
The winner then this week is Nicholas Iturarran from California. Well done that man. This week to stand a chance of winning a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me which Chelsea player has played the most minutes for the club this season? Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with that and let’s hope we finish the season with a flourish at the weekend.
|Distance Rank||Squad Number||Name||Place of birth||Distance (km)||Distance (miles)|
|1||23||Mark Schwarzer||Sydney, Australia||16999||10562|
|2||4||David Luiz||Diadema, Brazil||9505||5906|
|3||22||Willian||Ribeirao Pires, Brazil||9499||5902|
|4||11||Oscar||Americana, Sao Paulo, Brazil||9444||5869|
|5||7||Ramires||Barra do Pirai, Brazil||9257||5752|
|6||29||Samuel Eto’o||Douala, Cameroon||5354||3327|
|7||12||John Mikel Obi||Jos, Nigeria||4693||2916|
|8||15||Mohamed Salah||Basion, El Gharbia, Egypt||3430||2132|
|9||21||Nemanja Matic||Ub, SFR Yugoslavia||1691||1051|
|10||2||Branislav Ivanovic||Sremska, Mitrovica, SFR Yugoslavia||1628||1012|
|11||40||Henrique Hilario||Sao Pedro da Cova, Portugal||1311||815|
|12||9||Fernando Torres||Fuenlabrada, Spain||1276||793|
|13||33||Tomas Kalas||Olomouc, Czech Republic||1247||775|
|14||1||Petr Cech||Pilsen, Czech Republic||975||606|
|15||28||Cesar Azpilicueta||Pamplona, Spain||970||603|
|16||14||Andre Schurrle||Ludwigshafen, Germany||649||403|
|17||16||Marco van Ginkel||Amersfoort, Netherlands||390||242|
|18||19||Demba Ba||Sevres, France||341||212|
|19||17||Eden Hazard||La Louviere, Belgium||326||203|
|20||27||Nathan Ake||The Hague, Netherlands||317||197|
|21||24||Gary Cahill||Dronfield, England||220||137|
|22||8||Frank Lampard||Romford, England||28||17|
|23||26||John Terry||Barking, London, England||20||12|
|24||46||Jamal Blackman||Croydon, London, England||13||8|
|25||3||Ashley Cole||Stepney, London, England||11||7|