It's sometimes said that 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in football. This is nonsense. A two-goal cushion marks the point at which games tend to die, which is a very good thing when yours is the team in possession of that lead. Here's how Chelsea got that vital second goal against West Ham United on Saturday.
At first glance, this looks as though it's a fairly standard situation. On second glance, not so much. Frank Lampard, who spent most of the match as the most advanced midfielder in a 4-3-3, has dropped back alongside John Terry, who has the ball. Samuel Eto'o's playing on the left wing. We'd normally expect the left back to be hugging the flank, but he isn't.
All of this has apparently flummoxed the West Ham midfield who are in utter disarray. There are four claret shirts in this picture, and they're marking a grand total of nobody. Terry's not equipped to take advantage of the situation, but the man beside him is.
Terry shifts the ball to Lampard, who has a wealth of options ahead of him. The safe pass is to John Obi Mikel, unmarked at the top of the centre circle, but an even better option is Eden Hazard. Hazard started on the left wing, but throughout the match the forward three were encourage to interchange and come deep. Here, Hazard has wandered into the gap between West Ham's midfield, and the Hammers still haven't done anything about the passing lanes running right through the middle. That's bad news for them.
Lampard picks out Hazard, who's immediately (and somewhat foolishly) charged down by centre back James Collins. The Belgian then employs one of my favourite techniques in football, the reverse flick. Rather than killing Lampard's pass and then playing to Oscar, who's sitting in the space that Collins has just vacated, Hazard continues the forward momentum by guiding the initial pass around his man.
Football is, at its heart, a game of inertia, and so when these sorts of flicks come off, they almost always result in bad news for the defence, who have moved in the wrong direction without being able to break up the flow of an attacking move.
Here it results in Oscar, Hazard and Ramires running at the remnants of West Ham's back line. Collins has already been dealt with, so Guy Demel and James Tomkins close in on the ball while Joey O'Brian tries to track Ramires' run. Eto'o's still hanging out on the left, ensuring a safe (and dangerous) outlet should Oscar choose to use him.
The situation is dangerous, but not yet fatal, and Chelsea nearly mess it up. Hazard is expecting a pass wide (so is Ramires) and ends up running into the same space as Oscar, and the attack could easily have broken down there. But a bit of skill from the Brazilian saves the day.
Oscar shapes to run to Tomkins' left, pushing the ball a little bit too far wide, and Tomkins half-turns to meet the expected threat. But while the centre back is temporarily out of position to block a shot, Oscar pulls the trigger, stretching out to guide the ball into the bottom corner while falling down.
It's not entirely clear whether the touch that baited Tomkins into his turn was purposeful or not, but either way Oscar made the very most of the situation. Jussi Jaaskelainen had no chance, and with Tomkins out of the picture, Chelsea had their second goal.
So, the key ingredients behind this one?
- West Ham's midfield organisation was non-existent
- Interchange between the front three put the forwards into unpredictable (and therefore difficult to defend) positions.
- Hazard's flick opened up space for a dangerous attack
- Oscar luring Tomkins into a half-turn meant that the subsequent shot was unstoppable.
While we're not going to have it as easy through the midfield as West Ham made it all the time, this goal was the result of Chelsea doing what Chelsea do best -- disrupting their opponents with clever movement and then moving the ball at speed thanks to their technical ability. More of this, please.