Zonal Marking and even the BBC have done full tactical coverage of Chelsea's 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers already, and I don't want to just repeat them, although I thought ZM oversold Chelsea's performance a little bit. I'm just going to put up a couple of passing charts and a few interesting (maybe) points. The return to fitness of John Obi Mikel allowed Chelsea to switch from the 4-2-3-1 they'd been using recently back to the favoured 4-3-3, and they stayed roughly in that shape until Salomon Kalou came in late on for Ramires, whereupon Nicolas Anelka was shuffled to the left and Florent Malouda dropped deeper, with Kalou playing half forward/half wide midfielder - we'll called that a 4-3.5-2.5!
Anyway, 15-minute weighted passing completion/play percentage graph is right after the jump:
This shows the overall flow of the game pretty well, I think. Bolton dominated near the beginning (despite, weirdly, Chelsea apparently recording 60 passes between minutes five and ten), then as Chelsea started to press them very hard, their accuracy and total passes fell off a cliff. Strangely, Chelsea's did too - I think this is primarily because they simply weren't passing that well. Bolton certainly didn't do a very good job of pressing the Blues at any point in the match save for possibly the first 20 minutes.
I'll just quote Zonal Marking about the importance of Chelsea's press in the match:
The defending started from the front of the pitch, however. Drogba, Anelka and Malouda started the pressure from high up (rather than the wide players dropping level with the midfield) and as result Chelsea won the ball back quicker. There seems to be a pattern recently that sides lacking a bit of confidence or form are capable of picking up their performances when they have a more positive attitude without the ball – Liverpool fans will testify – and the result here was that Bolton were unable to play their passing game.
John Terry and Didier Drogba both confirmed after the match that off-ball work was the main focus of Chelsea's training this week, and Drogba's opener was the direct result of Florent Malouda's hard work in closing down Gretar Steinssen, Bolton's right back. Chelsea were able to get Bolton to cough up the ball in dangerous areas all evening, and twice a turnover led immediately to a goal (spectacularly in Drogba's case, but Nicolas Anelka's messy effort also come after a bad giveaway).
Let's look at the individual passing in the match:
Figure 2: Individual passing for Bolton and Chelsea, 1/24/10. Powered by Tableau.
I have to admit, the first time I watched the match, I was pretty disappointed in Michael Essien's play. He was fantastic as a destroyer but his passing seemed off to me all evening, especially when Chelsea attempted to counterattack. I'm somewhat surprised to see him rate so highly here, considering I don't think he really got going until he supplied the pass for Anelka's goal (I'm surprised by a lot of what I found in the chalkboards today!), but I guess I simply wasn't paying enough attention. Essien was, apparently, a beast. Cool!
Ramires, unfortunately, was not. He did score, but he was nowhere near as involved in buildup play as he had been against Blackburn. This is a matter of tactics more than anything else - Essien was typically the midfielder highest up the pitch and therefore he was used as a playmaker, while Ramires spent a lot of the time getting obliterated by Fabrice Muamba.
John Obi Mikel deserves a mention, mainly because Owen Coyle should have done better with stopping him. Mikel's tackling, heading, passing were all pretty good, but was was very interesting was his ability to completely avoid the attention of Johan Elmander. I said in the preview that Elmander would do well to drop deep to pick up Chelsea's spare midfielder (before I realised that Mikel was fit), but he simply didn't do that. It was a fairly obvious thing for Bolton to have done to counter the blue dominance in the centre of the pitch, and considering they fell victim to a three-man midfield all of three weeks ago in similar circumstances at Stamford Bridge. Strange
Also, Josh McEachran misplaced two passes? News to me.