Mancini change in midfield rectifies initial tactical error

Michael Regan

An early sub proved crucial in cutting off Chelsea's counter-attacks

I can't admit to knowing too much about Galatasaray's tactics, but I thought the pattern of their Champions League tie with Chelsea would be fairly predictable: both sides playing predominantly on the counter-attack, with Roberto Mancini presumably to pick a defensively-minded side to nullify Chelsea's superior quality.

As it eventuated in the opening twenty minutes of the away tie, though, this was not the case. Instead, the Italian's ambitious starting line-up, with Didier Drogba and Burak Yilmaz dovetailing upfront in a 4-4-2, and Wesley Sneijder drifting in to support from the left, was an indication of Galaatasaray's unexpected positivity, which led to a surprisingly open start. Chelsea attacked with pace and vigour, working the obvious space in behind their opponents high line with joy, benefitting from the fact this risky defensive strategy wasn't reciprocated by pressure on the ball to prevent Chelsea attackers picking out easy passes in behind.

Instead, Chelsea repeatedly got in behind the back four, particularly through Fernando Torres, whose inclusion ahead of Samuel Eto'o was justified by the benefit of his pace in attacking Galatasaray's stretched defence, with the wrongly adjudged foul on Hakan Balta - a call that would otherwise have seen him one-on-one with the goalkeeper - the best example of this, as was another one v one from which Torres forced a good low save from Muslera early at the start of the second half. Furthermore, there was the Willian chance after Muslera fluffed a clearance outside his box, while Felipe Melo, the deepest (and most cynical) centre midfielder, was forced into a number of desperate challenges - amazingly, he wasn't booked - to break up Chelsea counters.

Torres v Galatasary's centre-backs aside, the other key battleground came down Chelsea's left, where former Arsenal right-back Emmanuel Eboue repeatedly stormed forward into advanced positions. Whereas this had the benefit of pushing Eden Hazard into unnaturally deep areas - and the Belgian had one of his quietest games of the season even accounting for the incredible distance he travelled in tracking Eboue - the flipside was that there was obvious space for Chelsea to attack at transitions, most notably for the opening goal.

The fact Gala were so stretched at the time of the goal, and that this was a recurring issue, forced Mancini into action. He withdrew Izet Hajrocic for another midfielder, Yerkta Kurtulus, which gave Galatasaray more numbers across the centre of the park, with Yilmaz now shifting cross to the right.

That, along with an overall dropping of the defensive line to a slightly deeper, less perilous position, took the game to it's expected pattern - scrappy, cagey, low on technical quality and the best chances coming from set-pieces, with Drogba hitting the post and Aurelien Chedjou equalising from a corner.

In fact, Mancini's change probably gave his side the upper hand, because Chelsea's midfield began to be dragged out of position, creating space between the lines - Drogba dropping off to release Yilmaz in behind, only denied by the quickness of Petr Cech off his line, was a good example of this. As Graham put it to me, this was like a Chelsea pre-Matic performance, and underlined the Serbian's immediate importance to the squad since arriving in January.

It was surprising, then, that Jose Mourinho didn't take earlier action to rectify the issue, especially with John Obi Mikel on the bench, coupled with his tendency to make early changes if needed and the fact this was a two-legged tie (a 1-0 win would've been a fine result). As it were, Mikel eventually entered the fray, his arrival initially seeing Ramires move out wide before eventually the 'Plan B', the 4-3-3, was implemented, with the Nigerian taking up a permanent, protective position in front of the back four.

With the ball, too, Mikel was cautious, playing slow, safe passes to nearby teammates and looking to break up Galatasaray's rhythm. Any criticism of his lack of 'forward passing' was ridiculous - at this point, Mourinho's first priority was damage limitation. Instead, he will be confident of a result in the return leg - it was disappointing his side didn't take greater advantage of their dominance in the opening half an hour, but the advantage remains with a side still weak for options in the midfield zone.

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