Cast your mind back to the heady days of Andre Villas-Boas. It's a little less traumatic now knowing the celebrations that would arrive at season's end, but it's still not a lot of fun remembering what befell the likes of pretty much everyone who wasn't Ramires or Daniel Sturridge during the Portuguese's spell at the helm.
One particular gripe was the use of Chelsea's defenders in a high line, particularly John Terry, who looked every bit the ancient, creaking battleship while Villas-Boas was in charge. It was almost embarrassing to watch our defenders succumb to a slew of individual, game-changing errors, and it was equally painful to watch as we were inexorably pinned back whenever we tried to hold the lead.
When Robert di Matteo took over, the team sat back and prospered. Obviously, Chelsea's defenders -- David Luiz aside -- were simply better suited for a low block than a high one. Or so said common wisdom. Enter Jose Mourinho:
The point is, if the attacking players press, the defensive line is more comfortable and the defensive line is not afraid to step up a few metres. If the attacking players don't press and the opponents take the initiative and can have time on the ball, every defensive line's tendency is to protect the space behind. It's a collective idea.
John knows that if the team presses, it does work. So it's more about the defenders looking at what's in front of them. If you have a passive team in front of you, the tendency is to occupy spaces. When you have players who attack midfielders, reduce spaces, you close the distance between lines and take the defensive line from the edge of the box.
But you have to do it right. In the game at West Brom, when we drew, look at the last 10-15 minutes. Why was my team so inside the box or on the edge of the box? Because we stopped pressing. So the normal tendency was to retreat. This is a clear example of the distance between the lines. If you press, everybody's comfortable to take the team from the defensive block.
That's a long quote, but it's a fascinating one, and it's a great explanation of how useful the high pressing line can be. With the whole team attacking the ball in unison, Chelsea don't have to worry so much about the space behind them -- the opposition just doesn't have time to pick out the right pass, instead lumping it aimlessly towards Petr Cech. In contrast, Villas-Boas' side, which used Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge as wide forwards, played a high defensive line without the corresponding high trigger.
The important takeaway here is that this is a team sport and both players and tactics should synthesise rather than compete with one another. When they don't it's extremely easy for the whole side to fall apart in the guise of individual errors -- exactly the mistake Spurs made two weeks ago at Stamford Bridge.
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