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Chelsea 2-1 MSK Zilina: Analysis

That was a very very strange game. Let's hit up some bullet points.

  • Chelsea outpassed Zilina by an extraordinary margin considering they were only ahead for six minutes in the entire match. The Blues attempted 705 passes and succeeded with 595 of them, good for an accuracy right around 85%. Not only were Zilina significantly less accurate (75%), they also passed far less frequently, resulting in a relatively paltry 305 successful passes, the bulk of which were provided by Bello and Jez in the centre of the midfield. Between them, they combined for 106 successful passes, a figure nearly matched by the singular figure of Josh McEachran, making his first Chelsea start - the 17 year old tallying the staggering sum of 101 completed passes. He wasn't the only youngster making noise: Patrick van Aanholt tried 84 with 72 successes, all the more astonishing considering the vast majority of his incompletes came on crosses, and even Jeffrey Bruma completed more passes than all but two Zilina players. The score may not point towards Chelsea dominance, but their ball possession does.
  • Speaking of ball possession, Ross Turnbull was excellent. There was very little he could have done about the goal (that was mostly the fault of the centre-backs), and according to the statistics he didn't give the ball away once. He's a fan of making short throws to the defenders, and so am I - punting the ball long is nice but it gives the ball away an awful lot. Turnbull distributed the ball 22 times, and each and every attempt found a blue shirt.

Figure 1: Chelsea vs. MSK Zilina formations, 11/23/10. Data: ESPN. Powered by Tableau.

  • Salomon Kalou added a lot of energy down the Chelsea right when he was introduced at half-time for a struggling Gael Kakuta. Chelsea were fine for width down the left - van Aanholt going forward was as good as I've seen a Chelsea left back in some time - but on the right Daniel Sturridge was cutting in more often than not and Paulo Ferreira is no longer the sort of full back who can drive to the touchline and cross. As soon as Kalou came in and Sturridge moved to the other flank, Chelsea were pinging crosses in from both sides with abandon. Eventually a Kalou cross (from the left) resulted in Sturridge's goal at the far post.
  • Speaking of Sturridge, he had a pretty up and down game. He got the goal and pulled off a few other great moves, but it's obvious that he needs to work on his decision making - his long-ranger that dribble wide when Drogba was free inside the box and waiting for a pass was a pretty childish choice, and it continued throughout the night. Sturridge is blessed with both speed and a brilliant left foot, but that will get him nowhere unless he learns to pick his moments. I know a lot of you had him down as man of the match, but I was less impressed.
  • Ramires wasn't bad and he was a big factor in Chelsea spending the entire second half camped in Zilina territory, mopping up nearly every time a Chelsea attack broke down. He pinged in a couple of phenomenal shots, too, including a scoring 25 yard volley that somehow managed to bend just wide of Martin Dubravka's left post. He picked up a yellow card for a fairly minor challenge, but otherwise did a decent job in dealing with the visitors' midfield.
  • For all of the talk of the youth movement, Chelsea's winner went like this: Nicolas Anelka crosses for Didier Drogba to know down to Florent Malouda for a tap in. Youth!
  • Chelsea are very very good at staying organised defensively, and their players are fit enough to get back to help on defence or press the ball as required. However, the team that was out there wasn't actually capable of making tackles, which renders all of the pressing in the world spectacularly pointless. Of the players on the pitch, only Ivanovic, Ferreira, and Ramires seemed anything like comfortable on one-on-one duty, and for about 20 minutes in the first half it seemed as though Zilina could just walk the ball through the defensive without worrying about such petty things as passing and movement. It was pretty odd behaviour, really.
  • Anyway, Chelsea got the result they deserved and on another day their nigh-on total superiority would have resulted in a good many more goals. A shot differential of 33-6 isn't usually translated into a 2-1 win.

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