How does a team best suited to soaking up pressure and playing on the counter best approach a team that chooses to sit ten men behind the ball and let them have possession? This question applies equally to Chelsea, who have had well documented problems in such situations this season, and Atletico Madrid, who currently sit top of the Spanish League. I've gone through a selection of both sides games against what one might consider the lesser lights of their leagues, likely to pack men behind the ball, and recorded the source of their goals. I've divided to a certain extent between "steady state" and "broken play" situations; so a cross (or through ball) at the end of a counter-attack will be counted as a counter attack, while one made after the ball was worked wide in a period of possession will be counted as a cross. By pressing I mean goals scored in situations where defenders or defensive midfielders lost the ball directly to the opposition attack. By dribbling I mean situations where the space for a goal or assist was created by individual skill, whether the player went on to shoot himself or pass to a team mate. Longshots includes deflections and tap-ins on the rebound.
As you can see, Atletico score far, far more goals from crosses and are better at generating counter-attacking situations against such sides. They're also far superior at winning the ball high up the pitch and going on to score quickly before the opposition adjusts. In contrast, Chelsea are much better at scoring through individual skill in the form of dribbles, through balls or long shots, although the former two categories might as well be labelled "Hazard". Intricate short passing interplay is clearly not an effective way to score goals, at least for these teams.
With that in mind, some thoughts about how Chelsea can improve learn from Atletico and score more goals against the minnows without compromising the strengths of their style of play:
- More width, more crosses. Atleti's forwards are not towering giants, but they still get plenty of goals from deep, low crosses into the "corridor of uncertainty".
- A proper center forward to get on the end of said crosses.
- Improve our set pieces, they're a source of chances opponents can do little about if we deliver well (compared to open play).
- Press the opposition defenders more aggressively.
- Watching Atleti's goals, a fast strong target man capable of recieving longer balls and creating counter attacking situations where they otherwise would not exist would be more valuable than a neat, technical link player. Short passing interplays do not appear to be a good source of goals anyway.
- Atleti play two strikers. This may be a source of both the pressing and the crossing advantage; more men to hit with the cross, but also two forwards to form the first line of pressing. One doesn't necessarily need two conventional strikers to make this work, if the number 10 works with the centre forward to press the opposition without the ball and drops into space during periods of possession. I'm thinking in particular of Muller and Mandzukic against Barcelona last season.
 Atletico score plenty of goals from through balls, especially chips over the top for Costa, but overwhelmingly on the counter. Faced with a massed defence, their modus operandi is to get the ball wide and cross.