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Chelsea 2-0 Spartak Moscow: Match Analysis

Some quick analysis-type notes on the game, with the (slightly less informative than usual) game chart after the jump:

  • Yuri Zhirkov playing in the centre of the field meant that Chelsea were much more dangerous down the left than on the right, where most of the attacking play came from Paulo Ferreira and a relatively restrained Salomon Kalou. While Zhirkov is a significantly more effective attacking midfielder than Ramires, his presence unbalances the Chelsea attack even more so than usual - his inclination is to drift wide, and while that's fine, when Zhirkov, Florent Malouda, and Ashley Cole are all on the left touchline, Chelsea can find themselves without an easy outlet for short passes or the numbers in the box to warrant a cross.
  • Zhirkov was actually halfway between the 'usual' LCM position and LW, which meant that he was in space for much of the game, especially during the first 45 minutes. Ibson was probably the most natural player to be picking him up, but the Brazilian had no desire to drop that deep, rather waiting in the centre circle for his teammates to win the ball back. This, combined with the threat of Ashley Cole marauding down that flank, meant winger Aiden McGeady had to be pulled back to defend, minimising the impact he could have on the other end of the pitch. This issue was more or less fixed at halftime, with Zhirkov getting closed down much more often in the second half. 
  • Both Chelsea goals came from runs on the left side after the ball was played through the centre. The first required an excellent shot from Zhirkov, but was primarily caused by him being in space and not being picked up fast enough - there's a reason he was first to the ball. Anelka's goal after excellent work by Michael Essien came when the Spartak right back was caught well upfield after a turnover, and Anelka was able to drift into the vacated space while Essien was driving through the central midfield.
  • Salomon Kalou on the right provided the natural width Chelsea have been lacking, but he was only marginally effective for much of the first half. However, he was instrumental in giving Spartak something to think about on that flank, keeping the defence stretched rather than letting them focus on the left. His speed gave Chelsea a vital outlet for counterattacks in the second half as well.
  • Chelsea had something like a 60/40 split of possession at half time, and ended with less than 50%. Spartak's adjustments allowed them to dominate the match after the break, and they were probably unlucky that none of their early second-half shots went in - Petr Cech was excellent. Chelsea were clearly trying to catch the home side out on the break rather than having to go through all the work in building up attacks, and on a couple of occasions it looked as though that might end up hurting the Londoners.
  • Spartak ended up with seventeen shots, but most of them were taken from extreme range - Petr Cech only had to make four saves from inside the penalty area. As the game wore on, Spartak were increasingly wasting possession by taking low-percentage shooting decisions. This is a testament to the work of John Obi Mikel, Branislav Ivanovic, and especially John Terry, all of whom defended extremely well. Faced with an essentially impenetrable shield (and unable to cross against the height of Chelsea), the home side resorted to taking shots from wherever they could find space and hoping for a good outcome. It didn't work terribly well.

Figure 1: Spartak Moscow vs. Chelsea formations, 10/19/10. Data from ESPN. Powered by Tableau.

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