Chelsea kept a clean sheet but on a different day Petr Cech might not have been around to make a miraculous save from Joshua John. The curling shot from the on-loan winger was the last in a series of dangerous attacks from the Danish champions, with Chelsea's defensive efforts compromised by the space afforded to Nordsjaelland between the lines.
Chelsea's plan in defence is for the wide players to track back and form a second bank of four in front of the four defenders, and to narrow the pitch and soak up opposing pressure. As we've discussed before, it's a fairly basic approach that's served a number of sides well over the years. The problem doesn't lie in the theory, but rather in the application. Communication between the two lines needs to be paramount as to prevent giving opposition attackers the time and space to pass through the defence. This was a major problem with Andre Villas-Boas's game plan last year, but that particular issue was largely concentrated on Chelsea's hilariously poor attempts at a high pressing game. The midfield didn't have the legs nor the intelligence to properly hound players out of possession higher up the pitch, and they were far more suited to Di Matteo's focus on shape and organisation.
Against Nordsjaelland, Chelsea paired Frank Lampard and Ramires in a double pivot for the first time, and the two are not the type of players that naturally fit into a system demanding clever positional awareness. Think of Ramires and Lampard and you think of storming forward runs, quick intercepts and great attacking intent. Chelsea don't always need a disciplined holding midfielder in the form of John Obi Mikel or Oriol Romeu, but when they don't have one, the midfield and defence need to ensure the gap between the lines is minimised. The Brazilian is an excellent presser and the best suited of Chelsea's midfielders to Villas-Boas' tactics, which is why he was the nominal tactical leader of last year's side, often breaking away from the midfield triangle to press high up the pitch alongside the central striker, morphing Chelsea's shape into a 4-1-3-2. Ramires is good at defending in one-on-one situations, whereas a central position requires more of an emphasis on smart positioning. Lampard's best skill is his ability to time his runs forward and an inability to curb this intent has curtailed Chelsea's midfield structure.
Yet Chelsea's success last season stemmed from Frank Lampard's extraordinary defensive discipline in Chelsea's midfield, and the simple explanation is that Chelsea simply don't need to resort to defending on the edge of their own penalty area this year. With the attacking flair imbued by the new signings, the logical shift for Chelsea is to be more proactive and start pressing higher up the pitch. Against Nordsjaelland, Di Matteo's side often shifted between the two stratgies, and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, the lack of consistency saw the back four found distanced too far from the front six. The skill of defending well is to make the pitch as compact as possible. Too often Nordsjaelland's inverted wingers John and Lorentzen were able to slip into that zone and look for the shot, but both were equally happy to pass the ball laterally, ensuring flowing moves which Chelsea struggled to contain.
However, let's not wallow in worries about Chelsea's midfield for any longer, though. Instead, let's adore the blossoming romance between David Luiz and Oscar.