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Graham MacAree | September 16, 2013

Everton 1-0 Chelsea

Analysing the first loss of of the season

Breaking down losses is always more painful than looking at wins. But it's just as instructive -- perhaps more instructive -- to see how Chelsea lost than it is to revel in the details of their triumphs. Good sides can play badly and lose. Good sides can play well and lose. They can play ok and lose. It's something that happens, and we have to accept that or this whole 'football' business will drive us mad.

So let's dig in.


#3: Leighton Baines (LB), #6: Phil Jagielka (CB), #7: Nikica Jelavic (CF), #11: Kevin Mirallas (LM), #14: Steven Naismith (RM), #15: Sylvain Distin (CB), #18: Gareth Barry (CM), #20: Ross Barkley (CAM), #21: Leon Osman (CM), #23: Seamus Coleman (RB), #24: Tim Howard (GK).


#1: Petr Cech (GK), #2: Branislav Ivanovic (RB), #3: Ashley Cole (LB), #4 David Luiz (CB), #7: Ramires (CM), #10: Juan Mata (RM), #12: John Obi Mikel (CM), #14: Andre Scurrle (RM), #17: Eden Hazard (LM), #26: John Terry (CB), #29: Samuel Eto'o (CF).

Several players made their first Premier League appearance for the season as Jose Mourinho switched up his side considerably following the international break. Samuel Eto'o got his Premier League debut, John Obi Mikel and David Luiz both got their first domestic games of the year, and both Juan Mata and Andre Schurrle started in their favoured(ish) positions for the first time of the Mourinho era.

The shape was the same 4-2-3-1 that we're used to. Mikel and Ramires made up a double pivot; Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole were the fullbacks, and John Terry was left to partner with David Luiz. Higher up, it was Eden Hazard on the left, Mata in the centre and Schurrle on the right.

Everton, minus Marouane Fellaini and with Romelu Lukaku unavailable under the terms of his loan, played a rather strange-looking team. Gareth Barry and Leon Osman were the central core, with Barry shaking off his Manchester City malaise and returning to something more approximating his Aston Villa self -- not good news for Everton's opponents. Ahead of them, Kevin Miralles played a hybrid left midfielder/left forward role, with Ross Barkley in the centre and Steven Naismith playing as a rather central right midfielder. Nikica Jelavic was up top, to the dismay of most.

There wasn't much of interest in the play of these two formations apart from, perhaps, the space both defences allowed. Each dropped deep and allowed big gaps to appear in the midfield area, which in theory benefits Chelsea, but neither side took much advantage of the situation.

Everton's major tactical change came while they were looking to hold onto their 1-0 lead. Roberto Martinez withdrew Jelavic for James McCarthy, pushing Mirallas up top into something that we might call a 4-5-1 if we allowed for the fudging of the whole 'wingers' thing.

Mourinho, meanwhile, switched things up twice as he tried (and failed) to chase the game. The first change, which saw Frank Lampard and Oscar go on for Andre Schurrle and Juan Mata respectively, was interesting enough -- Lampard moved to the pivot and Ramires went to the right wing while Oscar tried hard to break through the middle, running at defenders when Mata might have held back and looked for the pass.

As time wore down, something very strange happened. Cole was removed for Fernando Torres. This was the first sighting of what I have to imagine is Chelsea's Plan B this season, and it might explain why Branislav Ivanovic has been favoured over Cesar Azpilicueta so far. With Cole out, the Blues switched to a three-man back line and used Hazard and Ramires as wingbacks in a 3-5-2.

Granted, it didn't work (and Hazard as a wingback played an awful lot like Hazard as a forward, leaving David Luiz hanging out to dry as left centre back), but it was fascinating to see the intent. The change to 3-5-2 takes advantage of Ivanovic's ability to shift between wide and central defending and also exploits the fact that Ramires is versatile enough to play wide right.

The game was being chased and so quite a lot of structure was lost, but it's important to point out that this is the single biggest in-game tactical shift we've seen from Chelsea since... well, the last time Mourinho was here. Desperation? Sure, but at least it's creative.

The counterattack and its enemies

Chris Brunskill / Getty Images

Roberto Martinez favours the possession game, his most dangerous attacker is also his left back and his side was both at home and desperate for a first victory of the season. It comes as no surprise, then that Chelsea's plan was to hit Everton on the counterattack.

Counterattacking football has a few interesting requirements. The need for open-play defensive transitions is one of them -- an offside or a free kick allows the team that had been on the attack to reform -- another is the quick outlet to an advanced player.

Very generally speaking, what this means is that a counterattacking side needs to defend deep (winning an offside call is good defensively, but negates the main mode of retaliation) while also leaving some players forward. They'll also need to find a way of quickly and accurately picking out the forwards who've been left up the pitch.

If you'll forgive the historical anecdote, Walter Mazzarri's 2010/11 Napoli side are the perfect example of what I mean. The defence sucked the opposition forward -- although there's some question as to whether that was by design or incompetence -- Ezequiel Lavezzi was released from his defensive duties and stationed high up the pitch, and Walter Gargano was used as a midfield pivot to distribute the ball into wide, forward areas.

The selection of Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle as the wide players (rather than using Juan Mata or Kevin de Bruyne on the right flank) should give an indication of the player Chelsea were targetting: Leighton Baines. He's one of the keys to the Everton attack, which means he both needs to be both checked going forward and exploited in the transition.

Theoretically, Schurrle as a defensive-minded right winger is perfect for this. The Germany international works very hard, plays intelligently and is fast enough to explode into the space that Baines would vacate. Granted, he's not exactly been showing off his finishing ability with the club so far, but it was a sound tactical choice, and I think the game demonstrated that, under other conditions, it might have worked.

But there was a problem. Chelsea were playing with a nice, deep line, sucking Everton forward. They had the width and pace to cause problems on the break. But that's only two of our three counterattacking elements -- they also needed someone who could facilitate the transition from defence to attack.

This is the responsibility of the midfield, and although I find John Obi Mikel and Ramires excellent players on their own terms, neither is capable of quick, accurate and long passing on the half-turn*. And so Chelsea couldn't really move the ball to where they wanted it when they were attempting to counterattack. The wide players ended up sucked closer to the ball to facilitate a pass, and that meant that they couldn't exploit their pace and one-on-one dribbling effectively. The Everton defence was drawn together and suddenly there was no counterattack on at all.

*That said, Ramires is excellent at running with the ball as a counterattacking outlet in his own right, and Chelsea's best transitions generally involve him as a target rather than a distributor.

We shouldn't imagine that 'counterattacking sides' do nothing at all but play on the counter, and the situation I described in the preceding paragraph was merely a transition to a different, Juan-Mata-fueled style of attack. But we can address that in a little bit: For now let's focus on the root of the problem -- the absence of Frank Lampard.

Like Mikel and Ramires, Lampard certainly has his flaws, but what most of his detractors fail to understand is his importance to Chelsea's transition game. He was moved to the double pivot by Roberto di Matteo not to play as a 'defensive midfielder' but to spring attacks. Of the club's true midfielders*, Lampard is by far the best at attacking distant spaces.

*I'm reserving judgement on Marco van Ginkel until I see him in action a little more.

Mourinho doubtless understands this, and I'd have to imagine that he saw the inclusion of David Luiz, a true creator from deep, in his defensive line as a means by which Chelsea could move the ball quickly in Lampard's absence. But, aside from on the occasions in which he breaks forward, wins the ball and pushes upfield quickly, David Luiz is rarely in possession (or even reachable) when the counterattack is on. The ball has to pass through the midfield, and with the personnel deployed in the centre, that was always going to be a struggle.

On Juan Mata

Chris Brunskill / Getty Images

Much has been made of Jose Mourinho's lack of regard for Juan Mata. So much, in fact, that reacting to the overblown claims has, in itself, become cliche. I think everyone now realises that Mesut Ozil got regular time for Real Madrid, for example. So we won't delve into the history of Mourinho and creative number tens here.

What I would like to talk about is how (good) counterattacking teams actually play. There seems to be a perception Mourinho would prefer to play exclusively on the transtion, whereas in reality there'll be plenty of time where Chelsea will have to hold the ball and probe the opposition. Indeed, that's what happened at Goodison Park more often than not as the attempted counters broke down and Roberto Martinez reined in his fullbacks.

That's where Mata really came into play, and it's where he'll be used in the future. While Mata's helpful on the counter -- his flicks and passing open up holes for the speedier players to attack -- his game is primarily about deconstructing a defence that's already been set up. And he did reasonably well on Saturday. His movement was good and he caused Everton some real problems, especially early on.

If there's rust, it's understandable. If he was sometimes holding back, that's because he had to drop into midfield to help John Obi Mikel and Ramires on the transition. If his passes didn't lead to much, well, I might be inclined to blame sloppy play and poor finishing. There was much to fault in Chelsea's performance, and everyone could have improved, but it's difficult to pin anything on Mata.

So why the change to Oscar? It wasn't because Mata was playing poorly. And it wasn't about defensive effort either. For one thing, Chelsea were playing a loose 4-4-2 while out of possession in order to encourage the hosts to use their fullbacks as attacking outlets, and Mata was doing a reasonable job of annoying Gareth Barry whenever Everton were trying to build from the back. And for the second, Mourinho doesn't make defensive changes down 1-0.

Let's hear what the manager himself has to say about the switch:

Juan Mata was the same level as the team was.

The first half was quite easy to play in midfield as there was lots of space, Everton did not press a lot and it was easy to play between the lines and to get the ball and turn. When it is quite an easy game to score goals, you have to score.

I took Mata off, I tried Oscar - the same position but a different player as Mata is more a passer, Oscar more individual creation, and maybe he should have had a penalty.

What I take Mourinho to mean here is that Oscar provides punch in the form of dribbling ability that Mata doesn't. It wasn't that Mata was playing poorly; it was that nobody else was taking advantage of having him on the team, and Oscar's more capable of pure, individual brilliance. Which is true enough.

Regardless, although the team struggled to get much going, Mata's hour felt more than assured, and I'd expect to see him again against Basel on Wednesday. The way we played against Everton should also serve as a reminder that Chelsea are a good enough team that even if the main style is a counterattacking one they'll end up attempting to break down defences rather a lot. There's plenty of room for Juan Mata in this side.

David Luiz and the defence

Chris Brunskill / Getty Images

David Luiz's return to (serious) action came at Goodison Park. The Brazilian was one of the key players from last year's campaign, and it's been pointed out over and over again that Chelsea's defence is far better with him on the pitch than without.

His aggressiveness means that the Blues tend to win the ball more often; his ability to drive forward with incisive passing or fancy footwork adds impetus to the attack. Jose Mourinho was full of praise for the way he played on Saturday:

He played very well. What happened in the last minutes with a yellow card when maybe it could be a red is the kind of situation that occurs playing the way we were playing. We are not afraid to lose 2-0 to try to get a different result, but David was solid, very dominant and was building from the back.

While that statement isn't really incorrect at all -- David Luiz was genuinely excellent in winning the ball and driving it forward (you could argue, in fact, that he was the most dangerous player going forward) -- it does rather miss the broader point. David Luiz's inclusion meant that the Chelsea back line was different for the first time this season.

In the first three Premier League matches of the year, Mourinho used Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic as fullbacks with John Terry and Gary Cahill in the middle. And they were, more or less, fine. The only time they looked wobbly is when Christian Benteke decided to eat Ivanovic for lunch, and that sort of thing happens. The defence had been, until Everton, both disciplined and very solid.

Putting David Luiz into the mix disrupted that. That he makes rash challenges is nothing new -- we've been watching him get drawn out of position for almost three years now. He plays a high risk, high reward game, and that fact that he wasn't struck dead at halftime is an indication that Mourinho wasn't too annoyed with him for moving up to meet Everton's attacks.

But what was really odd was the way everyone around him played. Last season, with the same personnel, the mad dashes out of defence would be covered by a pivot midfielder dropping back. Every single time. At Goodison Park, we were instead left with a gaping hole in the back line whenever David Luiz pushed up, which was rather a lot.

There are flaws in David Luiz's game, but they're flaws that can be mitigated by the rest of the team, and the reason anyone puts up with them is that, flaws aside, he's an utterly brilliant player. What I don't understand, then, is why the David-Luiz-is-a-crazy-man mitigation techniques that this club has been working on for years weren't in place on Saturday.

We've focused a lot on the negatives here. Perhaps any criticism is over-done. Things get emotional after losses, and this one stung. After all, it could have been very different. Let's go back to Mourinho to finish this off:

We had chances and chances and people with experience in football know this happens week after week in football stadiums. If you don't score, what you create means nothing, and if you don't create but you score a goal you can win three points. It is a simple story. Artistic football without goals is not good.

I don't think it is a question of sharpness, but perhaps no killer instinct in this game.

For example the first cross from Ramires to Eto'o, open goal, and he just needed to head it right. When Schurrle was in front of [Tim] Howard and he passes the ball back to Eto'o, it was a slow pass and Eto'o had to wait, giving time for [Gareth] Barry to come back. But if it is a fast ball, Eto'o scores an open goal.

There was the one Schurrle shot over the bar when he needed to pass the ball into the net, not shoot. Ramires in front of the keeper was not a difficult one. In the second half, an Ivanovic cross and Eto'o at the first post, he has scored 100 of these goals in his career.

We train movement and attacking organisation, we train finishing in situations we think we are going to have. The players are good so soon we will score goals according to the production of the football we have.

Understating what went wrong? Perhaps. Protecting his players? Probably. But true? Definitely.

About the Author

Graham founded We Ain't Got No History in the summer of 2010 and has since been writing about the Blues nonstop. Owns a full replica of that awful silver and orange away kit from the mid-90s. Doesn't regret it one bit.

You can follow him on Twitter if you are so inclined.