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Match Analysis: Chelsea FC 3-1 West Bromwich Albion

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Chelsea finally put in an excellent performance as they cruised to a 3-1 win at West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies had been one of the Premier League's form teams, but despite an early scare Chelsea blew them off the pitch at the Hawthorns, with goals from Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Frank Lampard. How did the Blues put their midweek (and really, mid-season) demons to rest?

Figure 1: West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea formations, 4/16/11. Data: Guardian Chalkboards. Powered by Tableau.

Chelsea went back to the 4-3-3 against Wigan Athletic last weekend but that was something short of a huge success. Still, Carlo Ancelotti kept at it here, using Didier Drogba as the lone striker and flanking him with Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou. John Obi Mikel was reinstated to his rightful place as a holding midfielder behind Frank Lampard and Michael Essien, and the only other interesting selection issue was Branislav Ivanovic being fielded as a right back.

Aside from the early goal from Peter Odemwingie, the vast majority of the game was played in the West Brom half. The most obvious element of what was going on, and why Chelsea were so successful, is that Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou were both a) fairly effective and b) moving inside to open up space on the wings. This allowed the Chelsea fullbacks to come forward, because both Steven Reid and Nicky Shorey were being forced to cut inside to prevent the wide forwards getting free.

With Drogba putting in one of his more imperious performances of the season and dominating the centre backs and the fullbacks dragged out of position, both Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic were granted acres of space to burst into. As usual, Cole made the most of this while Ivanovic was less impressive going forward - but that's not really his fault as he's still very much a converted centre half. Anyway, the reason Cole was so impressive was the combination of Reid's attention being taken up by Malouda and Chris Brunt's reluctance to track Cole all the way back into West Brom's final third - and with Brunt one of Roy Hodgson's top attacking options you can understand why he'd prefer pushing up and waiting for the ball.

With Cole free to maraud into space Chelsea had total control of the left flank, and excellent work by both John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien let them own the centre too. Mikel was in complete control of the middle all game, allowing both Lampard and Essien to push high up the pitch and make their trademark runs forward. Both players looked far more comfortable with Mikel behind them, something that Ancelotti should probably remember the next time he decides to use them as a midfield pairing.

All of Carlo Ancelotti's changes were like for like, introducing Jose Bosingwa at right back to give Branislav Ivanovic a rest as well as running out Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres in the closing stages of the match. At no point did Chelsea look in any real danger of losing their commanding lead, and it's something of a surprise that they didn't score more goals in the second half - although Malouda and Torres both had goals ruled out for offsides.

After the match, Kalou had some interesting comments:

We play our best games in a 4-3-3. Everyone knows that Chelsea is stronger like that.

We tried other formations and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Most of the players who have been here six or seven years are used to it. It’s easier for us to adapt to that than any other system.

Obviously the players are fairly happy with how the most recent game turned out, but this also seems like a bit of a swipe at his soon-to-be-former manager's fascination with changing the shape of the team over recent months. Since the turn of the year, we've seen a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 diamond, a flat 4-4-2 and a 4-3-2-1 - it's not too much of a surprise then that Chelsea have often seemed massively disjointed even while winning lately.

Let's take a look at the passing next:

Figure 2: Pass Completion and frequency (15-min weighted averages), West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea, 4/16/11. Powered by Tableau.

Figure 3: Individual passing for West Bromwich Albion vs. Chelsea, 4/16/11. Powered by Tableau.

It's not too much of a surprise that Chelsea dominated the passing figures here. I think this was actually the Blues' most prolific passing performance since the first month of the season though, which is fairly impressive. Two players in particular stand out - John Obi Mikel completed an excellent 80 of 83 passes as well as producing some neat forward passes that many have claimed are beyond him, and Michael Essien put in a near-McEachran-vs-Marseilles performance, attempting over 100 passes and finding teammates with 94.

There's not much else to say here - this was a typical early-season Chelsea performance, with everything that that entails. A lopsided but still devestating attack powered by Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole, a midfield liberated by John Obi Mikel at the top of his game, and a comfortable win. Essentially, the only issue was that the right back didn't attack enough, and after we've been through the last few months that's suddenly far less of a pressing concern.

Chelsea might have been grinding out results, but for the past few months they haven't looked like themselves even while winning. It's wonderful to see them back.

Oh yeah, and I've made a new toy:

What do y'all think?