Against Newcastle at the weekend I got tickets for my wife, son and a lovely old gentleman from our area who just loves football. At the end of the game, after the smash and grab by the home side, I was interested to hear his thoughts from a non-partisan point of view. He was saddened because ‘the wrong team won’. It was that simple from his viewpoint. The team with the most positive outlook, the better football and the lion’s share of possession had lost and it didn’t seem right.
At first, I thought it was a quite simplistic overview but even though Steve Bruce’s tactics are perfectly reasonable because they worked, we sometimes forget how gutted the players are after that type of defeat. It just feels unfair in the most basic sense.
We all know this tactic of packing out a defence, playing on the break and making optimum use of the odd cross and set piece has undone us quite a few times of late. Against West Ham, Bournemouth, Southampton and then Newcastle it was like watching the same old movie time and again. We had over two-thirds of the possession in each of these games but didn’t manage a single point.
There is a positive side though and that is because it is quite an obvious problem, even if it is not a simple one to overcome. I have written on this page before about breaking through these packed defences. It was one of my specialties as a player, particularly against the smaller teams or indeed smaller international nations when I was playing for Scotland.
We all know that the speed of passing forward is important. The willingness to try difficult passes quickly in the final third instead of the slower safer option of keeping possession is also key. That style gives the opposition far too much time to regroup. Then there is also the importance of making the best use of the very few occasions when the opponents get themselves out of position.
There was one moment just like that in the second half on Saturday. We won the ball high up the field and for a brief moment there was a three v two in our favour. Mason Mount was on the ball on the right side, Tammy was ahead and Willian was wider left. Mason had to drive at one defender, draw him out, then pass it sharply to leave Tammy and Willian with a two v one. Then Tammy would drive at the last defender and be able to slip it to Willian who would only have the keeper to beat.
The first pass was played before the defender was drawn and the chance was gone. It happened in seconds and it might not have looked like the clearest of chances, but it is the sort of situation that Man City, Liverpool and of course many Chelsea teams of a recent vintage would have instinctively executed perfectly.
Against the current superbly marshalled defences, these few chances must be taken. That then opens the game out and makes it so much easier. Frank said as much in very succinct terms, ‘We have to be more clinical’. Yes, he was talking about the clear goal-scoring chances that must be tucked away but mostly I reckon he means manipulating those other situations in the right way.
I am impressed by how many teams in the Premier League are that well-organised defensively just now.
— Pat Nevin
It takes a lot of time on the training ground to keep the system, and every player in it, that strictly structured. Every player has to know exactly where to be in connection with his team-mates in every given situation.
The other way to beat this is of course to take players out by sprinting, or more likely dribbling, past them and that was beyond us on Saturday.
It is of course easy to say but if you were Willian or Callum Hudson-Odoi, every time you got the ball there were two and sometimes three players to get beyond. There are very few players who can do that, especially in such confined spaces.
This is the reason why our Premier League goals-for column is so far behind the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. They have a raft of specialists for these exact situations. Both these teams come up against this problem even more often than we do but the likes of David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Mo Salah and Riyad Mahrez are masters of finding solutions. They get past defenders either by dribbling or by intelligent, brilliant intricate passing and movement.
It is early days still for our ‘new’ team, especially in comparison with the two league leaders, but if there were a raft of problems I would be more concerned for the long term. I am sure Frank and his team are working diligently right now to find the solution. Get that one sorted and we will be in a very good place.
With Arsenal tonight it will be very different. They are as far from a ‘park the bus’ type of side as you are likely to find, so tonight should be a much more open game. I will be watching from the gantry and analysing the tactics in detail throughout for our new Matchday Live programme which is exclusive to The 5th Stand app.
Streaming live from 15 minutes before the game, it will feature the force of nature that is Jason Cundy beside Chelsea fan Olivia Buzaglo who is a regular presenter on the Premier League’s own TV, along with JJ Flemons, the Capital FM radio presenter. Zac Djellab from the Football Daily YouTube channel and Chelsea’s own YouTube channel is the final member of the team.
It will doubtless be lively in the ground and probably just as lively on the screen. I don’t think there will be a problem with getting us lot to speak and give opinions throughout. I am looking forward to it and I hope you enjoy it too.