When Chelsea played Barcelona in the semi-finals of last season’s Champions League, the tactics used by then-interim boss Roberto Di Matteo caused a bit of a stir. Chelsea’s tactics: sit back and defend as if your life depends on it and hit the Catalans on the break. The reactions to these tactics were mostly negative, with many people branding Chelsea’s tactics “negative” and “anti-football”. Few grudgingly acknowledged that the tactics employed by Chelsea were necessary and was actually the only way the Londoners could hope to get a result against Barcelona. Whatever the media reaction was (since when have we bothered ourselves with what the media says about Chelsea anyway?), the tactic of “parking the bus” and playing on the counter-attack was termed “doing a Chelsea”.
A lot has changed since then. The club has seen a flurry of creative talent arrive and the clubs style of play has changed from “park the bus” to “beautiful football”. Chelsea’s creative flair has won them many accolades, but due to the change of style, the team has now become susceptible on the break. So susceptible, in fact, that teams are now using those very tactics that Chelsea so successfully used to win the Champions League, against us.
The first time we saw that happen was against Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. Chelsea had the majority of the possession for most of the game, but the game ended 4-1 to Atletico. Granted the scoreline was down largely to the brilliance of Radamel Falcao (the Colombian’s hat-trick on the night showed why so many clubs are looking to buy him), but the tactics used by Atletico were the same that Chelsea used against Barcelona. Atletico let us run the game, let us play our intricate passing game. But at every opportunity available, they were hitting Chelsea with counter after counter. Looking back, that match was an early warning of Chelsea’s vulnerability to such tactics. If only we heeded that warning…..
The second time: Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League. While the first goal was largely down to a combination of bad luck and a little bit of sloppy defending, the second goal was wholly against the run of play. Chelsea came out in the second half of the match with renewed vigour, and were just about settling into a rhythm when lo and behold, Shakhtar “did a Chelsea”. The first chance that Shakhtar got, they hit us with a swift counter-attack and scored a second. Ignoring the goals scored, Chelsea were again the better team; we had the majority of the possession and looked more threatening throughout the match. But possession doesn’t win game, goals do.
And the most recent instance of a team trying out this tactic against us: Manchester United in the Premier League. The result wasn’t what Chelsea deserved and the whole match will be remembered for Mark Clattenburg’s horror show. But United’s tactics were obvious. They sat deep and defended and they managed to get 2 goals in the space of 12 minutes, both goals the results of a counter-attack. Chelsea did well to mount a comeback, but the fact still remains that we conceded two quick goals, both on the counter.
If I managed to notice this obvious flaw in our otherwise brilliant start to this season, how long will it be before other teams notice it? Roberto Di Matteo needs to work on tightening the defence, and soon.