Chelsea outpassed and outplayed Blackburn at home but had to rely on set-piece goals from Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka to earn three points in a 2-0 victory, primarily thanks to a lack of a cutting edge up front. Chelsea, without the injured John Obi Mikel, went with Michael Essien at holding midfield with Ramires in support but able to surge forward - the shape as a whole ended up as a 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 hybrid, with the fullbacks providing width very high up the pitch thanks to the total lack of threat provided by Blackburn. The formation chart is after the jump:
Figure 1: Tottenham vs. Chelsea formations, 12/12/10. Data: ESPN & Guardian Chalkboards. Powered by Tableau.
I touched on this yesterday in one of the posts I wrote after the game, but Chelsea absolutely dominated possession. They had the ball more and did better with it than Blackburn, and it wasn't even close - the Blues attempted 628 passes to Rovers' 338 and completed said passes at a much higher rate: 79.1% to a comically low 67.2%. However, the final ball just wasn't there for Chelsea, which resulted in very few shooting opportunities coming from open play. The home side resorted to attempting to convert a bundle of low-percentage chances, ending up with 31 shots but just six on target (although two attempts hit the crossbar). Check out the post linked above for what I think is a cool way of showing the ebb and flow of the passes on a team level; there's a more standard individual breakdown below:
Figure 2: Individual passing for Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers, 1/15/10. Powered by Tableau.
I think there's a couple of interesting things here. First, hats off to Ramires, who had an incredible game - he deserves his own post (later!). Second, Florent Malouda was well below his usual pass completion rate, something that was fairly obvious to anyone watching the game. Less obvious was that Didier Drogba was far more involved in the match than he has been over the past few months, playing 43 passes with a decent (for a central forward) success rate. Then we have Petr Cech, who attempted twelve long punts into the Blackburn half and found a blue shirt with just three of them. Compare his distribution to Paul Robinson's - he managed 18 completions out of the 41 punts he smashed into the Chelsea half, despite his side being dominated in the air. There were 18 aerial challenges by my count and the home side won 12 of them.
It hasn't escaped anyone's attention that Chelsea scored both of their goals from corners, and they also managed to hit woodwork twice directly following a corner kick (once from Ramires and once from Nicolas Anelka). Chelsea's corner delivery has been somewhat erratic this year, and was even criticised during the match, but generating four excellent scoring opportunities out of 14 corners is indicative of either good delivery or very bad defence.
Chelsea played more on the right side of the pitch down the left, possibly because Blackburn right-back Miguel Salgado was excellent at shutting down Ashley Cole and Florent Malouda's work on the left flank. With the left-sided players ineffective, the task of providing crosses fell to Jose Bosingwa, and while his deliveries weren't exactly spectacular, he was regularly peppering Robinson's box and managed to win several corners.
All in all, Blackburn played in such a way that would require Chelsea to be at their very best to beat them on the ground, sticking ten men behind the ball for the entirety of the first half - centre forward Nicola Kalinic touched the ball something like four times before he was substituted at the break - and Chelsea were definitely not at their very best, with both Malouda and Drogba struggling. Shut off from the ability to play an intricate passing game, Ancelotti simply decided the beat his guests at their own game - plan B was to hammer them in the air using Drogba, Michael Essien, and his centrebacks. In the end, Chelsea's power proved too much for Blackburn to handle, but it was hardly a pretty win.