We’re under attack, and are trying to defend and suddenly, we win the ball back deep in our own territory. Now we have to attack, its not something that’s done spontanoeusly. It has to be planned. The ball needs to be moved forward, and the dangerous players need be found not only quickly, but in positions in which they can hurt the opposition directly. So how do we do this? How does the team make the transition from defending to attacking? That’s a question that has bothered Chelsea for most of the last three seasons.
Making smooth transitions from defence to attack has one of Chelsea’s biggest problems in the last few years, although the counterattacking has been mostly good. I won’t go as far as saying it’s the reason for most of our past and recent (Basel and Everton) losses, but it has certainly been a factor. The consequences of transitional problems are not the most noticeable. But ask yourself, how many Chelsea "attacks" never got to be because we couldnt make smooth transitions? Chelsea’s attempts to build up play includes a pass from Cech to CB, to other CB, to Full Back to CM, it goes on like that till something happens or the ball is passed back to Cech who blasts it forward to attackers who won’t win the header, and the ball is back with the opponents. Chelsea’s transitional problem is one of the effects (the biggest to me) of our attempts to change our identity, philosopy, and style of football.
HOW CHELSEA HAVE LOOKED TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM
Chelsea have tried to solve their problems in some ways. Some worked better than others, and some work best in certain situations.
DAVID LUIZ: It goes without saying that the Brazilian is a talented player, a CB blessed with technical ability, comfortable on the ball, and a capable passer. He has been a key contributor to starting Chelsea’s attacks from the back. Either by quick passes out from the back to the danger men, or accurate long passes to set someone in on goal, or surges from the back himself. He does all this well, and they lead to a substantial amount fo attacks, but Luiz’s surges if not covered, could lead to some holes at the back and could cause trouble if the opposition win the ball back and counter. Also, hsi passing sometimes can be too eager, he tries a lot of audacious balls that are brilliant if they come off but not so much if they don’t. Although it can be said that the person that the pass was too didn’t make the appropriate run sometimes. Lastly, in some games he may be too occupied with defensive duties to try to affect the game in other ways. He won’t get on the ball as often as he wants or get as much space to damage teams. This happens mostly when the opposition are playing a high pressing game. Luiz is far more lethal against deep teams.
ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS DROPPING DEEP: Sometimes, when Chelsea are struggling to get the ball forward, one of the AM’s drop deep in order to aid transitions and move the ball to dangerous positions. Its a move that works sometimes (Ba’s goal vs Man United). One problem with this is that if an AM drops deep to aid transitions, unless they can make a direct pass to someone in on goal (like Mata did for Ba), its a move that could end in more endless passing without penetration. And it means that one of Chelsea’s AM’s is deep trying to give the kind of pass he should be recieving. Mata deep is not as dangerous as Mata in the space between and behind enemy lines. Same goes for Hazard, Shurrle, Oscar, KDB, and Willian. AM’s do not only need to be found, they need to be found in positions they can hurt teams from, dropping deep may not allow that.
FULLBACKS: Chelsea have often tried to bring the ball forward using is FB’s. The problem is, the kind of passes they recieve are the type in which they can either pass back, or risk losing the ball. The starters (Cole and Ivanovic) don’t do much of quick one twos or dangerous passing. They also don’t have the pace to go up and down the wings so they must check their attacking especially against opponnents with dangerous wide men. When they do get high, the crosses into the box are not very effective.
These are some ways I think Chelsea’s transitional problems can be reduced in the order of how well they’ll work:
SIGN A CM: The blame for Chelsea’s transitional problems lie at the feet of the players in the Central Midfield or "pivot". With the exception of Lampard and maybe MvG (jury is still out), Chelsea’s CM’s lack the skill of quick transitional passes. Although Ramires’ running is a good way of getting the ball from the back if He’s found with balls to run to, but that hasn’t been a main plan since AVB. Ramires mostly recieves the ball back to goal and to feet now. None of them do a quick pass on the turn. And a reasonable amount of the passes are sideways and backwards. The ones that are forward are either slow (killing a quick move and allowing the opponents to organise defensively), or to feet when a pass into the space in front of the target for him to run to would have been a better option. Something like this happened vs Everton: Mikel recieved the ball from the back and had Shurrle on the right in space, He could have passed the ball with his first touch, but instead decided to turn, run towards Schurrle and then pass, allowing Baines to track back. The eventual pass was not even in behind Baines for the German to run to, it was a short pass to his feet. Chelsea need a midfielder that does the simple and sometimes thankless job of recieving the ball and quickly finding the AM’s in dangerous positions. Not necessarily a Pirlo or Alonso (they’d be brilliant!) that plays hollywood passes, someone that plays quick, efficient passes to the AMs would be good. Unfortunately, that can happen till January.
MIKEL OF NIGERIA: Mikel for Nigeria plays a far more expansive role than he does for Chelsea He is their main playmaker and has been a huge influence in their attack. Some of the long passes he throws for the Super Eagles are pure brilliance and his performance vs Spain suggests he can do it at a higher level. Somewhere in Chelsea’s Mikel lies this other Mikel, I don’t know what has to be done to bring him out, perhaps more lisence and confidence from the manager. Or maybe Chelsea need a green kit. While if Chelsea can find Mikel of Nigeria it would be cool, I don’t think its a lasting solution. A closer look at the way he plays suggests he still has that slowness and tendency to hold on to the ball for long even for his country. He also needs space to operate, space that he will not regularly have against the level of opponents that Chelsea play weekly.
TRAINING: Its possible that with training Chelsea could learn to defend and attackbetter as a unit and not look disjointed. But that is gonna take a lot of time.
MOVING OSCAR: Oscar has played a few times as a CM and is not at all bad at it. With him in the centre Chelsea would definitely move the ball forward quicker cos he has the passes and tricksthat are required to be brilliant in transitions. While Oscar as a CM won’t be bad, Mourinho has already confirmed Oscar is his first choice 10. I think I agree that he serves us best from that position. Also, while Oscar is hardworking defensively, I have my reservations about him defending as part of a unit. One thing that stands out for me is that bar the United game in the Capital One Cup, Oscar’s time at CM came at moments wgen Chelsea were in desperate need of a goal and did’nt care much about defending.
FORMATION CHANGE: A change to a 3-man midfield could be what Chelsea need, this would drop Oscar a bit deeper with the freedom to advance, He would be the most advanced of the 3. A 3-man midfield would allow Oscar to aid transitions when Chelsea are playing from tha back, and join up with attacks. It would also allow Ramires more freedom to play the Box-to box role he is best at. There could be a few problems defensively though as the fullbacks could be left exposed. But i think this is the best solution for the short term, with training the wingers and Full backs could learn how to defend the flanks (Hazard has started) and we could always bring us Shurrle in the tighter games.
The best solution to Chelsea’s transitional problem is time. The club is going through changes, and until the changes are finished I doubt they can have a defined pattern. The older players need time to adapt from playing reactive football to proactive and attractive football. And the Young players need time to develop.