PAT NEVIN: FLEXIBLE FOOTBALL
Having watched the team return to winning ways at the weekend, columnist Pat Nevin looks at answers being found with adaptability…
There were lots of positives and maybe one or two negatives following the weekend's win over Southampton. On the negative side, maybe the biggest concern was the loss of Oscar to an injury. We really do need as many bodies as possible this month and he isn't a player you want to lose, but also not one you would want to take a chance on by playing him when he isn't fully recovered. The medical team will work on him, but the thin line between working to get him back and rushing him too much will be severely tested over the next few games.
Certainly on the positive side, having Juan Mata ready, willing, able and pretty fresh and desperate to please is a huge bonus. He certainly played his part against the Saints, but it was a superb team effort in the second half that needed sheer force of will to break the visitors down. Actually sheer physical force came into it too, when the brawn of Demba Ba and the renewed power machine that is Fernando Torres terrorised their defence more and more as the game wore on.
Much has been made of the Southampton high-intensity pressing this season but it was actually Arsene Wenger the other week who seemed to find a pretty simple answer to it. If five players close you down in your own area, then forget about trying to pass it round them, just lump it long, miss them out, leave them stranded and take it from where the balls land. Yes, amazingly, Arsenal played the long ball game in patches against Southampton and it negated almost all of their strengths.
So when we needed to change it was easy to try a similar (although I stress not exactly the same) tactic and system adaptation. When Chelsea went two up front it was effectively a 4-2-4 formation with Hazard and Mata wide while Fernando and Demba bullied their centre-backs. This leaves the midfield open, or it should do, but the work rate of the two lads left in there was astounding. Ramires in particular was chasing and tackling everything that moved. At one point I thought the referee was in danger from the Brazilian when the ball ran past the whistler. His assist for the final goal just summed up how much effort he had put into the match.
Ramires src="/javaImages/44/b1/0,,10268~12431684,00.jpg" width=624 height=344>
I'll be honest, after watching him against Basel last week I really thought he looked jaded; in dire need of a rest. He was arriving late for tackles, miscontrolling everything, the passing was ragged and most worryingly of all, his running powers looked almost human instead of the usual superhuman. Well maybe we can put that down to a bad day at the office, or as I suspect the travelling and the games finally catching up with him. For the rest of the month, though there are lots of games, at least there are no trips round the planet to meet up with the national team.
It also helps that six of the nine games this month are in London and then Stoke isn't exactly the end of the planet, so it is only the two Sunderland jaunts that are a chore. For many of our players this will be a welcome boost. Jet lag can hit you at any time after you have flown. It just seems to have hit quite a few of the lads at the same time over in Switzerland.
I mentioned the fact that Jose went 4-4-2 against Southampton to great effect almost as a passing comment. In fact it is pretty radical to play that system these days. When I played, and that wasn't yesterday, 4-2-4 changing to 4-4-2 when you lost possession was de rigeur. But things moved on and almost no one at the very top level has used it for a few years. I do remember Sir Alex Ferguson lining his team up like that against us in Moscow, but other than that it is generally considered passé.
In fact there is no reason not to play the system when you have the personnel and you absolutely need to win the match, it is ultra-positive after all. This radical adaptability has generally worked well for Jose and Chelsea this season. Situations do not always arise when these tactics can be used but there have been at least three glaring examples of when our manager has made extraordinary system changes that have directly won us games this season.
Clearly Sunday was one such occasion that is impossible to argue with. Then there was the change against Norwich City at Carrow Road when Ashley Cole was taken off, Eden Hazard came on in his place, Andre Schurrle was then asked to patrol the entire left side leading to total confusion for Chrissy Hughton's side. More glaringly, and I have talked about this before, against Cardiff City at home when we sacrificed Ryan Bertrand for Torres and went for a daring 3-2-3-2 formation. Minutes later the game was won, the 4-2-3-1 was restored and we cruised to the victory.
Very few mangers are so flexible and inventive in so many different ways and at such speed. What Jose will be delighted with however is the flexibility of the players. Is Ramires a deep-lying midfielder or a galloping marauder in the opposition half flying past his own forwards? Well he can of course be both. Is Frank Lampard the best attacking midfield scorer in world football or is he a controlling influence in front of the back four? Well it depends on what the manager asks him to be as he can comfortably be either. What about Azpilicueta is he a second choice right full-back, or is he a left full-back who is capable of keeping a man, who has arguably been the world's best left-back for over a decade, out of the team?
This adaptability allows the manager flexibility in his systems. Now if he can just make David Luiz the player I believe he can be and sometimes is, then I suspect we could be close to unstoppable.
Last week's quiz question was who has played the most combined games for Chelsea and Southampton? Was it Peter Osgood, Graeme Le Saux, Ken Monkou, Kerry Dixon, Dave Beasant, Dennis Wise, Dennis Rofe, David Speedie, Dave Webb and or a number of others who donned both shirts?
The correct answer is Peter Osgood (again), with Kerry, Wisey and Webby not far behind. Only one winner as ever and this week it is Danny Jackson from Middlesex, the prize will be on its way soon.
This week to have a chance of being the lucky winner of a prize signed by one of the players, could you tell me who has the record of scoring the most combined goals for ourselves and tomorrow night's opponents Sunderland? (The player has to have played for both teams obviously). Answers as ever to me at email@example.com
Good luck to you with that and to the team tomorrow. This would actually be quite a good time to go on a little run don't you think?