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Chelsea 2-0 Wolverhampton: Analysis

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Let's go with bullet points again. One cup of tea isn't going to be enough fuel to get me to write transitions properly. The formation diagram is after the jump.

  • How nice was it to have Jose Bosingwa back? In the three previous Premier League games, Chelsea had been attacking down the left side a lot. And I mean a lot. Against City, the left side saw 2.5 times as many Chelsea attacks as the right. Against Aston Villa, it was 1.7. West Ham and Blackpool? Both 1.3. Since Frank Lampard was lost to a groin injury against Stoke City, Chelsea have played the overwhelming amount of their football on the left, where Ashley Cole, Florent Malouda, and occasionally Yuri Zhirkov thrive. It's led to a rather unbalanced system, as our left footed players tend to drift towards that side, leaving no room to switch the play and often nobody in the middle of the pitch to convert chances created on that flank.

    Today the left side saw 34% of Chelsea's attacks, and the right 36%. Balance is what Jose Bosingwa brings to the team. He's one of the few right backs capable of attacking in the same manner as Ashley Cole, and his ability to provide support to the right-sided striker (Nicolas Anelka, and later Salomon Kalou) forced Wolverhampton to stretch their defence and gave Chelsea more attacking options. Bosingwa was involved in a lot of good attacking play and nearly netted in the first fifteen minutes, forcing a very good save from Marcus Hahnemann. He's not quite fit yet and needs a touch more sharpness, but Bosingwa at even 90% can a vital part of the Chelsea machine.

Figure 1: Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton formations, 10/23/10. Data: Guardian & ESPN. Powered by Tableau.

  • Didier Drogba did not have his best game. Seven shots, just one forcing a save, and a pass completion percentage of less than 50%. Some of this was due to the midfield not making the correct runs, but that explanation only goes so far - his shooting was awful and so was his delivery from corners. I think Zonal Marking has commented that without Drogba doing well, Chelsea do not win - this was a rare exception, and marks the first Chelsea victory in a game Drogba has played but neither scored nor directly assisted a goal since the Champions League group stages last year.
  • Yuri Zhirkov, who had been so effective against both Spartak and Aston Villa, started brightly but quickly tired. Wolves were aware of the threat of him drifting between the midfield and defence and assigned David Jones to shackle him, rather limiting the Russian's ability to influence the game. Zhirkov did have one big moment (the beautiful cut-back for Malouda's goal), but was largely anonymous in the second half and was eventually replaced by Josh McEachran. How much of this can be blamed on exertion is difficult to say. He did play a full 90 minutes in Russia just a few days ago as well as featuring for half of the Aston Villa match, and was heavily involved in each game - it's possible that he's simply not used to having so much to do in one week!
  • Wolves started the match seemingly intent on keeping ten men behind the ball at all times, with just Kevin Doyle up front against John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic. Nowhere was this clearer than in the presence of Jelle van Damme, who spent more time as a left 'winger' in his half than in Chelsea's. Van Damme's naturally a fairly defensive player anyway, which combined with Jose Bosingwa's effervescence going forward led to Wolves being completely toothless down their left side. At half time, down 1-0, Mick McCarthy hauled van Damme off and replaced him with Stephen Hunt, who took up a much more advanced position. This gave Doyle some support for the first time in the match as well as giving Wolves a more dangerous outlet down that flank - Hunt's presence behind Jose Bosingwa made the right-backs runs forward a far more risky proposition.
  • Once again, we saw a fair few long-range efforts from the opposition. Obviously, long range shots are inherently less dangerous than those that come from the penalty box, and more often than not they just result in a change in possession. In fact, there was just one shot on target by Wolves that was a) taken from inside the penalty box and b) not a header, with long-range efforts accounting for more than half of the visitors' shots on frame - take a look at the chalkboard below:


    Figure 2: Wolverhampton Wanderers shots on target vs. Chelsea, 10/23/10. Data: Guardian.

    With Wolves unable to break through Chelsea's defence and generate clear chances on the ground, this is hardly a surprise, and I had assumed that they were intentionally giving Nenad Milijas (who was the man responsible for all five long-range efforts that found Petr Cech) space and thus inviting him to shoot. Apparently I was wrong, though:

    "[W]e conceded too many shots from distance and should have closed the game down before. We usually have, this season."

    -Carlo Ancelotti.

    I guess the idea is to minimise shots in general, but in the last two games we've seen the opposition goaded into some frankly silly attempts on goal. If that wasn't part of the plan on defence, it's worked out fairly well regardless.
  • According to the chalkboards, Wolves actually out-passed Chelsea today both in frequency and in accuracy. Wolves attempted 468 passes to Chelsea's 449, and completed them 87.4% of the time to Chelsea's 84.6%. However, rather than building up any sort of thoughtful attack, the visitors were instead to ping the ball around at the back. 62% of their passes were inside their own half, compared to 43% of Chelsea's. Playing possession football can actually be rather dangerous if the ball makes its way to the back lines, because one misplaced pass can send an opposing striker clean through on goal. Wolves' habit of passing the ball around the defence, combined with Chelsea's excellent first-half pressing from the forward band resulted in a few excellent chances for the home side. Holding onto the ball isn't always the best way to proceed!