- So let's talk about Alex. His contributions to the opening goal were fairly obvious, so there's no point rehashing what appears to have been a one-off mistake. What was much more concerning was his play during the second half, when Chelsea spent most of their time pressing the attack, leaving them open to pacy ripostes as Newcastle countered at speed. Normally, Alex is the player who covers for John Terry in such situations, as the Brazilian is significantly faster (although still not fast). On Sunday, however, Alex was found wanting on several occasions, letting Newcastle players simply blow by him on their way towards goal. My current theory is that the knee injury he's nursing (remember that he has delayed his surgery in order to alleviate a Chelsea defensive crisis) is slowing him down - so I'd rather see him just have the surgery now and get fit rather than doing his best impression of a pile of treacle out in the field.
- It wouldn't be right if I didn't include the central midfield somewhere fairly prominent. It didn't work at all, and the only reason Chelsea were not overrun is that Shola Ameobi decided to go wandering all over the pitch rather than dropping deep and supporting his teammates. John Obi Mikel had by his standards a fairly mediocre match, and without much creativity or drive coming from Ramires (who isn't at his best in a situation where Chelsea are required to chase the game) the entire unit struggled. In our three losses since Liverpool and this draw, it's been obvious how weak the centre is, and that has a disproportionate effect on the team - I'd say that the CDM/CM positions are by far the most important on the field, although the wage distributions disagree with me, and Chelsea have been hit very hard by injuries there. Hardly a surprise that we're struggling. I'm also getting pretty tired of the total lack of Josh McEachran.
Figure 1: Newcastle vs. Chelsea formations, 11/28/10. Data: ESPN and Guardian. Powered by Tableau.
- Andy Carroll typically poses a massive threat in the air, but wasn't particularly dangerous on Sunday. This was not because of particularly composed aerial defence on Chelsea's part. Between Alex, Petr Cech, and Branislav Ivanovic, none of them looked particularly happy dealing with the crosses that came in, and Carroll had a few good chances, one of which he should have scored from (he headed right at Cech). On the flanks, both Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa did an excellent job shutting down the supply lines, which seems like an easier way of mitigating Newcastle's airborne threat that trying to out-jump a 6'4" caveman. When Newcastle did manage to get the ball to Carroll in the air, he was typically too deep to be a problem.
- The fullbacks were both excellent, Ashley Cole in particular. Cole probably should have won a penalty and made a very good clearance to prevent a Newcastle goal, and Bosingwa made some major contributions himself with strong surging runs. For the majority of the first half the two of them were Chelsea's only major attacking threats. On Newcastle's side, Jose Enriquez was excellent, making something like half a dozen tackles and never letting anybody get in behind him.
- In general, Chelsea didn't make any major tactical errors - although I do question the fact that Carlo Ancelotti only made one substitution in a game that we had to win. By the time the game came to a close, Chelsea were essentially playing a 4-1-5 and looking even less likely to score, and Daniel Sturridge did roughly nothing to help out the cause when he came on for John Obi Mikel. I'd have liked to have seen someone introduced to help the midfield play rather than simply adding whatever striker happened to be closest to him on the bench.