Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tactical Analysis: Chelsea 3-0 Fulham

Chelsea cruised to a comfortable 3-0 over a tame Fulham side at Craven Cottage to overtake Arsenal for third place. David Luiz opened the scoring with a blistering effort from 40 yards out in the 30th minute before John Terry scored with his head either side of halftime. It was an efficient performance from the away side, if not an especially mesmerizing one.

Chelsea lined up with Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry and Bertrand across the back four in the Blues' 4-2-3-1. Lampard and Ramires occupied the holding roles while Mata played in his normal central attacking midfield position. Hazard and Moses played on the flanks.

Fulham played a 4-4-1. Reither, Senderos, Hangeland and Riise made up the back four. Enoh and Karagounis played in the middle of midfield with Bryan Ruiz on the right wing and Emanuelson on the left. Berbatov played in the hole off of center forward Petric.

The Blues struggled to carve out any meaningful possession in the attacking third in the opening half hour. Fulham defended in two deep banks of four with Berbatov just in front of the midfield four applying pressure to either Ramires or Lampard, depending on who dropped deepest. Fulham's deep, compact shape made it difficult for the likes of Mata, Hazard and Torres to find space between the seams. As a result Chelsea completed plenty of passes in the final third in the first 30 minutes (more than half the passes they completed in the final third occurred in the opening half hour) but they were balls played horizontally in front of the Fulham defense that weren't especially dangerous.

With Chelsea struggling to find gaps in the Cottagers' defense, the home side would have been happy to take their chances allowing Luiz to shoot speculatively from 40 yards out. However, they were made to pay for their deep defending. With Berbatov picking up Chelsea's deepest midfielder, Petric was left to defend Terry and Luiz 1 v. 2. This allowed the Brazilian to advance into Chelsea's attacking half with time and space on the ball. On 30 minutes he took advantage, collecting a pass from Eden Hazard before unleashing an absolute pile driver into the top corner. Had Fulham defended higher up the pitch he wouldn't have been in a position to take the shot. Of course, defending higher may have also led to the more frightening situations of Chelsea finding space between the lines or in behind the back four.

Chelsea doubled their lead 13 minutes later through John Terry. The Blues' captain had stayed up after Fulham failed to fully clear the danger from a Chelsea corner. The ball ultimately came to Mata on the left sideline and the Spaniard whipped in a perfect cross for Terry to nod home at the back post. The defending from Fulham was poor. Terry was able to slip between Reither and Senderos at the back post. Senderos perhaps could have done more to win the header but he wasn't helped by his right back who should have done better to track the run. Chelsea were in a comfortable 2-0 position without ever really getting out of first gear in the opening half.

Offensively for Fulham, Berbatov looked for space in between the Chelsea lines but for the most part Lampard and Ramires did a good job tracking his movement and denying passes into his feet. As a result he began to drop into deeper areas to get on the ball and the gap between Petric and the rest of the Fulham squad became bigger.

Commentator Ian Wright criticized Petric throughout the match for not making the proper runs back towards the ball but I disagreed. Had Petric continually checked back into midfield for the ball Fulham would have lacked any type of threat behind the Chelsea back four. By staying on the shoulders of Chelsea's center backs, Petric was looking to stretch the opposition and create space in the gaps for Berbatov. Had he continually checked back into midfield for the ball he would have been moving into the same spaces Berbatov was trying to occupy and Fulham would have lacked any threat of a ball played behind the Chelsea defense. The Blues tend to be comfortable defending when they're able to keep everything in front of them. They have much more trouble with balls played in behind.

Fulham's problem going forward seemed to be an inability to get enough players around the ball in the attacking third to create dangerous passing sequences. They were disjointed in the final third and lacked the movement and final ball to break down Chelsea.

In the end it wasn't a particularly exciting match. Fulham never looked like mounting a comeback and with the game secured Chelsea were happy to cruise away with three valuable points

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