Chelsea’s 1-2 home defeat to Swiss side Basel was a shocking result for the home side. Chelsea would have expected to get three points, but instead lost their first ever opening day fixture in the Champions League which instantly puts pressure on the side. The striking feature in the game was how vulnerable Chelsea were on the counter, but why?
Chelsea’s attacking approach
The home side had 57% of the possession, but never looked as dangerous as their opponents, who defended deep and then looked to strike on the counter-attack. The problem Chelsea had was that their players attacked high up the field and in similar areas. Eden Hazard (loosely starting on the left) would come centrally, whilst Ashley Cole would head up the field which meant that when the side lost the ball they were left with a huge gap in behind. Cole at times worked back, but he was still at times in a two on one, with Hazard often failing to get back, or at times not even trying to.
The same was the case on the opposite flank. Branislav Ivanovic tried to provide width on the right, with how centrally things became in front of him. If he raided forward though he risked leaving a gap. Willian did not offer sufficient protection and interestingly both opposition goals came down the right hand side, when Chelsea lost the ball in midfield. Things could have been worse with Chelsea regularly exploited down the flanks during transitions.
Too allieviate this Chelsea would need Willian and Hazard to hold their positions out wide and operate in more of a 4-3-3 than a 4-2-3-1 formation. In such a formation they would be forced to track their opposite numbers, rather than drift centrally without a regard for their defensive responsibilities. Often they’d lose the ball and then stand centrally, rather than quickly getting back wide to cover their full-backs. Chelsea are thus very easily exploited if the opposition sides try to work the flanks, as it is easy to get the Chelsea full-back in a two versus one situation, which no full-back relishes.
In fact, even though Willian and Hazard did not work hard to get back, had they, they would have been too central anyway. Against a team that plays deep it is very difficult to attack high up the field and then get back. One area this could have been better is if Chelsea had fielded a natural midfield shield, who could have covered any gaps. Marco van Ginkel and Frank Lampard are both more box-to-box players and not really in the mould of a holding player. In the formation Chelsea are using they need to have more cover in the midfield, particularly to compensate for how attacking the three attacking midfielders are. To allow these players to really express themselves they need to play two very disciplined holding players, which they did not do versus Basel.
Chelsea’s formation is causing them issues with regards to defending their own flanks. Against teams who defend deep and then use width to attack Chelsea will struggle. Attacking Chelsea down the flanks in this manner is probably the most effective way to open them up and Basel did this brilliantly last night. Jose Mourinho must now go back to the drawing board and consider whether the fluid 4-2-3-1 formation is effective enough to provide Chelsea with the right balance between defence and attack.