Near the end of my post-match analysis I said I would do a post showing some of Chelsea’s poor defending during the Napoli loss, so here we are. For those of you that watched, you were able to witness the numerous individual errors that lead to the 3 goals, as well as other errors that lead to opportunities that Cech (or Cole) had to save. Luckily, Carefree Chronicles has already done an excellent post analyzing the three goals Chelsea let in, so I am spared from having to look at those again. Instead, I’m going to highlight a few plays that stood out in my mind while watching the game. Two are even more defensive errors, and one is a great piece of attacking play.
The first play came just minutes after the introduction of Ashley Cole. I think it’s universal that Chelsea fans feel more comfortable with Cole playing LB instead of Bosingwa, but Cole produced a very Unibrow-like display on this particular play. We pick up after a long ball has been semi-cleared to Inler, who has taken possession and just played the ball down the line to Lavezzi, who is hugging the line:
We see Chelsea in pretty good defensive shape at this point. Luiz is coming out wide to cover for Cole, who was pressing higher up the pitch. Cahill is coming over to cover for Luiz and Ramires and Meireles are both running straight back towards goal in good shape to cut off any square balls. Cole (red circle) is marking Maggio, who is starting to make a run down the line. Nothing wrong here, right? Fast forward a few seconds and we see this:
Luiz is applying pressure to Lavezzi, who has now taken control of the ball. Meireles, Ramires, and Ivanovic are all tracking back and in good position. The difference? In the matter of one billboard length, Cole has gone from a few yards goalside of his mark (Maggio), to a couple of yards behind. Maggio is now in a full sprint a pulling away from Cole by the second. Meireles has no chance of catching him and Luiz is now faced with a 2 v 1 down the wing.
Lavezzi correctly lays the ball into Maggio’s path (yellow pass) and Cahill delays just a quarter of a second before hauling ass to get there. Meanwhile, the gap between Cole and Maggio is now massive (red line) and Luiz has been taken out of the play by an excellent pass (not his fault). Ivanovic is thankfully still covering Cavani, eliminating the cross. No screengrabs, but Maggio takes the ball at full speed and is able to rifle off a shot before Cahill closes him down. Cech is in good position and makes a solid save, but the whole situation should have been avoided. The old Cole would not have let this happen. The older Cole (see what I did there?) did nothing to stop it. For those that have any doubt, this is a clear example showing that Cole is not the same player he used to be. I’m not one calling for his head and for Bertrand to start every game, but Cole is not a top 2 LB in the world anymore.
Next up, we have a break down near the end of the game that almost made it 4-1. Let’s set the scene. Napoli were the midst of a fast break (go figure), when Dzemaili decided to pull back and wait for some help. His attempted square pass was cut off by a sliding Lampard, but unfortunately the deflection went straight to Cavani. This is where we pick up:
We see Cavani with possession of the ball on the 18, with Luiz the first to pick him up (blue line). Cahill is in support to Luiz’s right, and Essien is tracking Hamsik and has positioned himself in between the ball and the player. Once again, things start off looking good. As Cavani continues to move to his left, we see the following:
Things do not look so good now. Luiz has followed his man across the field, while Cahill has simple taken a few steps backwards, and Essien has pinched in. The red lines indicate line of sight for the Chelsea players. This, my friends, is commonly referred to as “ball watching”, and it is not a good thing. You could argue that Cahill is playing “help defense”, but in reality they are in a vertical line and that is not how it is done. Furthermore, Essien has come in to help win the ball (because we really need 3 people) and left Hamsik alone on the outside. Hamsik and Cavani realize this and as Marek makes his run (yellow line), Cavani lays it just behind Essien into the space. The result?
An excellent goal line save from Cole. Hamsik turned everyone around and played a square ball across the 6 that just missed Cavani but fell perfectly to Maggio. Thankfully, Cole did his duty tracking back this time and was in perfect position to clear it out, saving Chelsea a 3 goal hole heading into the second leg. Bottom line: Ball watching is bad and Essien probably should have done better. (Cahill and Luiz maybe should have communicated for a switch off as well to avoid the positioning they ended up with)
Lastly, we examine one of the better Chelsea plays that almost resulted in a goal. Setting the scene again, Lavezzi has received the ball in the middle of the field and is turning towards goal when Meireles makes a good effort to close him down from behind. This causes Lavezzi to hesitate and allows for Luiz to come over the be the enforcer:
Luiz takes the ball from Lavezzi and begins moving up the field and starts the counter attack himself. He eventually runs into some resistance and calmly lays the ball off to Malouda (blue line below), who has taken up position on the left flank.
Drogba is up top, just off of the last defender and has a decision to make. He can either cut in front of the defender and head towards the corner, or man a run off of his shoulder towards the goal (2 options shown in yellow). This is the difference between Drogba and Torres right now. Torres would have made the run to the corner 99 times out of 100. It’s the easier path and it’s not one that takes him directly towards the goal, which is apparently something he is deathly afraid of at the moment. Drogba on the other hand, being a direct and confident player, chooses to head right at the goal and make something happen.
Malouda reads the run and drops a perfect ball over the last defender’s head onto Drogba’s chest (blue pass from off-screen). Drogba’s first touch takes him directly towards the goal (red line) and only a tip from Aronica’s toe likely saves Napoli from conceding a goal. Despite the fact that I get upset with him at times, I like to give credit where it is due and Malouda played a beautiful pass to Drogba. Let’s also not forget that this whole play started with Luiz taking the ball from Lavezzi’s foot and starting the counter attack himself. He still makes mistakes (like the third goal), but his presence on the field is immense.
None of these plays resulted in a goal, but they are all interesting to look at and helps us see exactly what is going on at Chelsea at the moment. I’m too tired to write up a solid conclusion right now, so I’m just going to leave it at this: Chelsea is being plagued by individual errors right now, Torres is making the wrong runs and is afraid of the goal, and neither of those last two have to deal with AVB’s philosophy. Maybe he should be doing better managing the team, but maybe the players could be doing a hell of a lot more too.