Chelsea: West Ham's Tactics Were Just The Same As When We Won Europe
I have written plenty recently about how Jose Mourinho is building a side that keeps things solid at the back and breaks quickly and effectively. This was the basis for the recent run of good results and is certainly an effective game plan against the better teams in the Premier and Champions Leagues.
Luckily for us fans, and maddeningly for Mourinho, football is never this simple. Systems clash and tactics can be game-planned against, and in West Ham on a very wet Wednesday night, Chelsea met their antithesis.
Sam Allardyce came to Stamford Bridge with a game plan, he always comes with a game plan, and it was to stifle Chelsea. He barked orders from the sideline until he was blue in the face and waved his fullbacks back if they dared push on beyond the centre-halves. At one stage someone was the subject of such vitriol from Big Sam that he proceeded to scream at them from inside the touchline before actually throwing his chewing gum halfway across the pitch in anger, if he did that in Croydon he would have picked up an £80 fine.
Maintain possession? What’s the point? If West Ham held the ball better and drove forward with it they would have left themselves open to one of those devastating counter attacks. Nope, Sam came, and admitted this in the post-match interview, with the aim of gaining a 0-0 drawn, and he came one air shot from Andy Carroll away from taking all three points because of this game plan.
For all their dazzling brilliance, and all three were again absolutely brilliant with the ball at their feet on Wednesday, Eden Hazard, Willian and to a lesser extent on the night Oscar cannot run through four or five Premier League defenders. Chelsea remained patient, recycled the ball, created tight openings and got shots away.
This is the only way they could play against this West Ham side. Unfortunately West Ham proved extremely adept at putting bodies in the way of shots, and if they didn't the young Spanish goalkeeper Adrian would be in the way. An incredible 12 shots were blocked and Adrian made nine saves as Chelsea managed to have the most shots (39) without scoring since 2003. Lovely.
The simple answer here is that Chelsea doesn't have a world-class striker to finish off these chances in tight games. The less satisfactory explanation hinges on the fact that Samuel Eto'o didn't get too many chances in this game. When he did he managed to get snap shots off that were denied by Adrian et al. Eto'o only managed to get three shots off during the game (yes you can legitimately point the finger at his movement and I won't argue with you), one was blocked, one was saved and the other was a fraction wide.
Therefore I'm not willing to lay the blame at his feet for this result, but the need for a game-breaking centre forward at the club has never been more obvious. As explained by my ST colleague Joe Tweeds: "[Aguero and Suarez] is the type of forward Chelsea need – not someone who runs in behind – someone who can operate in tight spaces and a lethal finisher." This has never been more obvious than on a wet Wednesday night against a West Ham side that have come to stifle your creativity.
People will also point to the lack of creativity in the final third, and its embodiment in the form of the bearded gnome Juan Mata, who of course has recently been allowed to leave the club. This again doesn't fly with me. Firstly Juan Mata is too good a player to be utilised as some kind of magic key when Chelsea come up against a brick wall every now and again. Secondly Chelsea weren't really short of creativity, they made as many chances as you could dream of, they just didn’t take any of them through a combination of poor finishing and dogged defending.
Of course Chelsea could have fought fire with fire and plumped with the physical presence of Demba Ba up-front from the start. Chelsea only completed eight out of 34 crosses and even that stat is inflated by a few that were collected nearer the corner flag after not hitting anyone in the box. Not a single cross led to a chance. Ba did eventually get on the pitch but by then Allardyce had set his team up in a 5-4-1, so the chance of him making an impact was severely affected.
The worry for Chelsea is that Big Sam has created a blueprint, and it is one that Chelsea patented during the latter stages of the 2011-12 Champions League. Sit deep and narrow, soak up pressure, let nothing in behind and don't worry too much about ball retention, you will get a chance eventually and if you take it you could get the scalp you came for.
Isn't that right Pep?