Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Tactical Analysis: Swansea 2-0 Chelsea

Two dreadful errors from Branislav Ivanovic gifted Michu and Danny Graham goals as Swansea emerged 2-0 winners in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal. Chelsea had 64% of the possession and 24 shots to Swansea's 5. Despite dominating the run of play, Rafa Benitez's side were left frustrated by Swansea's deep, compact defending. They were guilty of squandering some decent chances in the first half but created few meaningful opportunities in the second after Swansea had gone a goal up.

Both coaches selected strong starting lineups. Benitez selected Oscar on the right over Victor Moses and Fernando Torres was given the start at forward over Demba Ba.

Michael Laudrup started Michu at center forward with Jonathan De Guzman operating as the attacking center midfielder.

Swansea's approach was cautious from the outset, defending deep with all 11 men behind the ball. Routledge and Hernandez dropped either side of Ki and Britton to form a midfield bank of four. Michu dropped alongside De Guzman and the two picked up Chelsea's deeper lying midfielders Ramires and David Luiz. Ivanovic and Cahill were left free and given time on the ball.

In the opening stages Chelsea's three attacking midfielders were able to find space between the seams and create meaningful goalscoring opportunities with quick combinations around the 18. Mata was guilty of squandering two decent chances and Ramires probably should have made Swansea keeper Gerhard Tremmel work harder after he'd done well to burst into the box with a powerful dribbling move from midfield.

The Blues were most dangerous when they won the ball back in their defensive third and looked to transition forward quickly while Swansea were out of position. Once the Welsh side had time to recover into their defensive shape, Chelsea struggled to break them down.

As he tends to do, Torres continued to drop into the midfield and wide to the channels to get on the ball. No one seems to refer to him as a false 9 but in fact that's how he plays. While his movement into deeper and wide positions offers Chelsea an extra forward passing option and allows them to create overloads, it also leaves no one higher up the pitch to trouble the opposition center backs. They can simply sit in and pick up any runs into the box by Chelsea's attacking midfield trio (I wrote about this in detail on Monday).

As the second half wore on Swansea continued sitting deep and left De Guzman and Michu to try to hold the ball up and create an attacking threat on their own. Azpilicueta and Cole pushed forward and looked to overlap Oscar and Hazard as Chelsea chased on equalizer. However, Hernandez and Routledge diligently tracked the Chelsea outside backs. As a result, Chelsea often looked to attack through the middle- David Luiz and Ramires played higher up the pitch as the game wore on- however, Swansea were too compact and too deep for Chelsea to find any gaps to slip balls in behind.

Laudrup brought on Dwight Tiendalli, a fullback, for Wayne Routledge in the 62nd minute. Tiendalli slid in at right back, Angel Rangel pushed forward to right midfield, and Hernandez moved to left midfield. The substitution was made to shore up the right side of Laudrup's defense and prevent Cole and Hazard from creating overloads down that sideline. Throughout the first half Hazard and Cole had combined well to get into dangerous positions down the left. Rangel, a right back used to getting up and down the sideline, tracked the movement of Ashley Cole while Triendalli stuck with Hazard. Cole was unable to make overlapping runs into space following the substitution.

Chelsea introduced Frank Lampard for Ramires in the 71st. In the 81st and 83rd minutes he brought on Ba and Marko Marin for Torres and Oscar, substitutions he should have made earlier. Prior to Ba and Marin coming on Chelsea's attacks were far too narrow- their combination passing was never going to break down such a crowded defense and they needed to become more direct by getting the ball wide and hitting crosses. Ba's aerial threat and physical strength provided the more direct threat Chelsea needed in the final third. Within seconds of his introduction he dangerously flicked a long ball from Ivanovic goalward and moments later got on the end of cross from Marin. It was particularly surprising Benitez waited so long to bring on Ba given Swansea's center backs Chico Flores and Ashley Williams have difficulties against more physically imposing forwards.

Laudrup made his final substitution in the 83rd minute, bringing on Danny Graham for Michu. Graham pounced on Ivanovic's blind back pass to put the game away in the second minute of added time.

Swansea defended deep and were well organized at the back, particularly in the second half. They created little but deserve credit for keeping a full strength Chelsea squad off the score sheet at Stamford Bridge.

The game could have ended differently for Chelsea had they taken one of their early chances but as the game wore on and they were forced to break through a packed defense they were short on ideas. Their attacks were too narrow and prior to the introduction of Ba they lacked someone with the physical presence in the box to get a scrappy goal.

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