Tactical Review: Aston Vila 1-0 Chelsea
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho came into this game with a strange way of using his attacking midfielders. Eden Hazard completed an equal number of touches on each flank in the first half, but Aston Villa’s players needed to keep their zones to well to stay in the game.
Paul Lambert initially went with a defensive 4-5-1 formation, in which Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor had to break from deep wide areas to help out in attack.
The centre-back pairing of Nathan Baker and Ron Vlaar was tasked to keep a high line and trap the main striker when Chelsea played balls in behind them.
Lambert probably didn’t expect Fernando Torres to shake off the knee injury he picked during the warm-up last weekend because trapping Torres is a dangerous tactic. He has made a career out of running in behind high defensive lines, so the centre backs needed a telepathic understanding to keep the Spaniard frustrated.
Ashley Westwood sat in holding position protecting his back four, while Karim El Alhmadi and Fabian Delph had to push forward a bit to press Ramires and Nemanja Matic.
Jose Mourinho continued his policy of keeping his back five intact. But he tasked Matic to frequently help out in dealing with the imposing Christian Benteke.
Willian started instead of Andre Schurrle, who is usually favoured on the road for his counter attacking qualities. Mourinho correctly anticipated Villa to be solid in making this decision. Willian’s energy and acceleration earned him the nod in an initially compact game like this.
So, the attacking midfield trio of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Willian worked on the ball together from flank to flank before trying to pick out Torres in the central position. The Blues also varied that with occasional diagonal balls behind the left shoulder of Leandro Bacuna, the Villa right back. There were pockets of spaces popping up there and Chelsea threatened to get something from them.
The peculiar system of Chelsea’s attacking midfielders building up play in packs threatened to backfire as they occasionally got caught with two attackers on one side and Villa tried to use the other flank on the counter.
Chelsea bossed the possession and were more threatening at the beginning of the second half, but Villa gradually grew into the game. After Willian’s sending off in the 68th minute, the Blues changed to a 4-2-3. They needed a goal to win and kept on attacking despite their man disadvantage. Schurrle, Ba and Hazard pressed high for the ball, leaving only Matic and Ramires in the middle of the park.
Chelsea looked vulnerable on the right as Ivanovic pushed up to contribute offensively. Sensing blood, Lambert introduced Marc Albrighton, who is a natural winger, for Agbonlahor on Aston Villa’s left.
Credit should go to Lambert who found the confidence to go for the game in the late stages; it is not easy to go offensive against a quality side like Chelsea.