Chelsea's Newfound Focus On Wing Play A Wise Tactical Decision

"Should we cross more? I think so."

Somewhat surprisingly, there's a fairly interesting article in the Mail this morning regarding Andre Villas-Boas' training regimen. Granted, that's because some sneaky photographers took pictures of the new manager's clipboard while he was putting Chelsea through their paces, but it's interesting to see what he's doing nonetheless. This is the first (and probably the only) time I'll suggest that visiting the Mail is a good idea, but go over there and give it a read.

Anyway, much of what the linked article discusses is to do with involving true wide play in Chelsea's game a little more. The Blues, of course, typically prefer that their wingers drive towards the penalty box with the ball at their feet rather than indulge in crossing - and this despite having Didier Drogba at their disposal. At least, that's the perception of the team. Is it true that they cross less than other sides? Well, yes and no.

Check it out:

Figure 1: Premier League team crossing, 2010/11 season. Powered by Tableau. Data: Who Scored.

As we can see, Chelsea actually registered a high number of crosses per match. 26, in fact, good for fifth in the league (and that's tied with Aston Villa, who regularly fielded Stewart 'Cross-eyed' Downing and Ashley 'XXX' Young). But that doesn't tell the whole story, because once we account for the total passes that Chelsea played, the story is very different.

Only four teams had fewer crosses per pass than Chelsea. One of those sides has made up for their deficit by signing Downing, another are clinically allergic to anything even remotely assembling a cross, the third's front line was anchored by a midget version of a neanderthal and the last had no strikers at all all season. I think we can say, with some confidence, that Chelsea might have opted to cross more.

NB: I'm assuming Who Scored are measuring 'crosses' as 'crosses from open play' rather than 'crosses from open play, corners and free kicks', because the latter definition would be analytically crazy and I'd like to assume everyone is competent. The high numbers of crosses per match for every team does give me some pause, however.

Going back to the Mail article, then, Villas-Boas' apparent interest in improving Chelsea's wide play seems as though it's a very good idea. It also touches on something I mentioned a little earlier in conjunction with the lack of rumours about the Blues going after a new right back. If you'll forgive me for quoting something I wrote about three hours ago...

How, exactly, is Andre Villas-Boas going to deal with the fact that the team as it stands cannot do much of anything down the right wing while maintaining defensive integrity? A tactical tweak might work and a personnel change would probably be effective, but we'll just have to wait and see what Chelsea end up coming up with.

This is that tactical tweak. I would almost guarantee that the manager is going to try to get his right forwards to play wider when Drogba is on the pitch, and you can see from some of the commentary the Mail have put up that he's trying to get them more involved with feeding Fernando Torres as well. So, as weird as it is to be staring at super-grainy pictures of Andre Villas-Boas' clipboard, I think we can take heart in what he's doing so far.

Even if adding the ability to cross to our wingers' collective repertoire isn't a game changing trick, it's always useful to have another weapon so that the team can switch things up when required. That's something we didn't appear to have last year.

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