Packed defenses, it turns out, are hard to break down.
Chelsea are learning that in spades these days, and now must learn how to play against them and, more importantly, how to break them down. On the evidence of Wednesday, and Sunday, and the Wednesday before that, and the Saturday before that ... basically for at least the last month (excepting the Manchester City match), that remains a work in progress, just like the rest of the team.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek can see this clearly.
“I think we realized that recently. Teams are coming here and sitting back and it’s difficult to break them down and find passes because it’s so tight inside. With Eden playing upfront recently it’s not been a team to cross it, so it’s been difficult.
“And then they sit back and they need one chance to get a goal and we have to chase the game. But you know, 0-0 tonight it’s tough to break them down. And I think we need to get on the training pitch and work on trying to get balls in behind and work on playing against a deep back four.”
Or a deep back five, in this case.
All 12 Chelsea outfield players were directly involved in one or more shot against Southampton:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 2, 2019
✔️ David Luiz
Unable to find a way through. ✖️ pic.twitter.com/oUVLMkxILO
Chelsea last faced such an obvious conundrum in 2013-14, when Mourinho’s Chelsea were often easily stymied. His solution was to acquire a force of nature as a striker in Diego Costa (the type that is sorely lacking at Chelsea these days) and a pass-master in Cesc Fàbregas (and not just of the five-yard variety).
Not even Fàbregas’s admittedly waning powers could make the difference yesterday. For Ruben, the solutions lie in mentality (Sarri would be proud) and maybe in looking for a bit of inspiration elsewhere (Sarri, who’s famously stubborn about his own ideas, would be less proud).
“We need those clever movements in behind even though they are deep, you know, one of those diagonal balls over the top you see Barcelona do a lot. So we need to work on that, really.
“And it’s just about having patience as well, because it’s so frustrating at times when you’re trying to play through and they got bodies behind the ball, you know, there are ricochets and you can’t get that space to open them up. So I think we need to get used to it, because we’re playing well at times so teams are going to come here and do that, and away as well.”
-Ruben Loftus Cheek; source: Chelsea TV
After the match, Sarri said that Loftus-Cheek still isn’t 100 per cent healthy. His chronic back issue is apparently flaring up again. But he was still more healthy than Olivier Giroud, Pedro, or Callum Hudson-Odoi, all of whom had to miss the game through various sprains and strains (and then Willian was forced off as well, and will be out for at least a week).
“On the bench I only had one offensive player, Loftus-Cheek, but he is not 100 per cent, he has back trouble, so it was difficult to try and change the match in the last 30 minutes.”
Maurizio Sarri; source: Chelsea FC
Given the chance to talk about his health, RLC dodged the question and just said he was ready to capitalize on the playing time that’s opened up thanks to the club’s injury crisis.
“You get injuries in football and when they come you get a chance to play and do what you can when you play. I’ve been playing on the wing a lot, which is not my preferred position but I can do a job there, so wherever I play I’ll look to do my best.”
As for his own overall season, he sounds pretty upbeat. He was buried on the bench, or stuck in the treatment room, when the season began. But he seems to be learning the ways of Sarri and is earning his confidence. As a result, he’s been getting more opportunities.
“It was tough at first, coming off the back of a World Cup and doing so well at Palace, to not get too much football at the start. But the boss said to me, be patient, there’s a lot of games coming up with the Europa League and the cups so I stayed patient and tried to learn the boss’ ways on the pitch and my opportunities came in the Europa League at first and I tried to as best as I can.
“And then injuries happen and you get more opportunities. So I’m starting to play more now, whether it be on the wing or in midfield so I definitely feel part of a team.”
-Ruben Loftus Cheek; source: Chelsea TV
He’s certainly ought to. His six goals make him Chelsea’s third-highest scorer, behind Morata’s seven and Eden Hazard’s twelve. Oddly, he has no assists, although that will surely change if his playing time continues at this pace.
It’s been a memorable 12 months. This summer will live long in the memory for me . The support during the World Cup was incredible. Scoring my first ever hat-trick for Chelsea was also a very proud moment . Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2019 pic.twitter.com/REfjSeUiak— Ruben Loftus-Cheek (@rubey_lcheek) December 31, 2018