Tactical Review – QPR at Stamford Bridge

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Updated: November 1, 2014

PRE-MATCH:

For many seasons, November has been some sort of a dodgy month for Chelsea. In seasons past, Chelsea have contrived to drop points in this month against teams that aren’t at their level due to some absolutely egregious play and often, erroneous refereeing. This month has halted Chelsea’s title charge in the past, and that is the reason most Chelsea fans fear this month for what it is, a bogey period. Speaking of bogey, QPR have been a team against whom Chelsea have a tendency to lose the plot. Be it the ill-fated game three years back where John Terry got accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in the game that saw two Blues sent off, or the last time these two faced off in the Premier League, a 1-0 win for the R’s thanks to a strike from former Blue Wright-Phillips.

When you put both those plotlines together, you conjure up a scene right out of a George RR Martin book. For Chelsea, playing their local neighbours QPR in November is much like the Night’s Watch guarding the wall against their local neighbours, the Wildlings, with the Walkers playing some background music. With their key frontman Diego Costa returning from injury, Chelsea fielded what many believe is their strongest eleven. QPR, coming off a win against Villa and a narrow defeat to Liverpool, resisted their temptation to play two men up front, which is when they have looked the most threatening.

Therefore, Charlie Austin started alone in what looked to be a 4-2-3-1 fielded by QPR. Chelsea meanwhile, lined up in their regular 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid, with Oscar being the catalyst in aiding the formation transition. The teams maintained a minute’s silence and wore embroidered poppies on their kits in memory of the Royal British Legion ahead of the Remembrance Weekend.

SUMMARY:

First Half:

As soon as the game began, Costa showed what difference he brings into the team. Chasing the defender to near the corner flag like a man on a mission, he forced a corner in the very first minute, from which two more were won. Fabregas pinged in all three, which were duly cleared. Chelsea were comfortable on the ball with no real penetration until the 10th minute, when Willian, having been played into space behind the QPR defence line, played a pass to Costa, who back-flicked it to Oscar. Oscar, with defenders closing in, took a swipe with his weaker foot and the ball rolled past the post.

A few minutes later, Ivanovic ran through the Rangers’ defence and found himself in a good position to meet Willian’s cross, but despite an accurate delivery, the Serbian couldn’t turn it in. QPR soon had their first attacking foray and Junior Hoilett crossed from the left, which Austin could only

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head over the bar. Around the 24th minute mark, Fabregas plunged on to loose pass by Eduardo Vargas and hit a low shot that Green was able to punch clear.

Min 15 Austin Header

So far, Chelsea were enjoying majority of the possession, but an opening wasn’t coming up as Uncle ‘Arry’s side came well drilled and a goal needed a moment of magic. And a moment of magic it was. Playing a one-two with Costa, Fabregas slid a pass Oscar’s way, who firmly met the ball with the outside of his boot from the right edge of the box. The defenders and Green could only watch it as the ball curled in off the far post to give Chelsea the lead.

Intricate passing all around, Chelsea failed to apply the killer touch but came close to it in the 40th minute, when Costa was one-on-one with Green but Richard Dunne managed to get a block in. So Chelsea went into the half with a goal up against the Rangers, who hadn’t managed to muster a genuine threat so far in the game.

Min 41 Costa

Second Half:

Near the 53rd minute mark, Hazard found Willian on the right and continued his run. Willian put in a nearly perfect cross that the Belgian was just unable to reach. As the chance to double our advantage went begging, Redknapp brought on Bobby Zamora for Junior Hoilett. The move immediately paid dividends as the Chelsea defence got caught marking the two frontmen as Vargas drove in a powerful cross from the right, which Courtois punched but only to Fer, who had acres of space. Ivanovic could have done a better job of bringing himself in the way on the shot but he chose not to.

Fer managed to get a weak shot away, which Charlie Austin cleverly backheeled into the net, past an already committed Courtois. This might have been the kick up the rear that Chelsea probably required as Eden Hazard, who was not at his imperious best so far, showed signs of waking up by hitting a shot inches over the crossbar. Mourinho too responded by bringing on Drogba for Willian.

The change very nearly backfired as Ivanovic strode forward a lot, leaving the right side of Chelsea’s defence calamitously open. Soon, ex-Tottenham midfielder Sandro drove a low shot that deflected of Fabregas’ shin and rolled just wide of the post and Courtois’ outstretched arms. Oscar had a free-kick tipped away by Green. All were looking at Hazard to provide a spark in this game and the Belgian then drove into the Rangers’ box, prompting Eduardo Vargas to nudge him in the back while he was shielding the ball, leading to a penalty.

If you had not known it so far, now you know that Hazard + Penalty is equal to goal. Having scored with aplomb, Hazard bettered his record of 17 in 17 league penalties for Chelsea and Lille scored. Incredible!

Mourinho being Mourinho, brought on Schurrle in place of the rusty Costa to revert back to a 4-2-3-1, which clearly suited Chelsea’s defensive shape better. Chelsea saw out the later stages of the game, with Green producing an incredible save to deny the skipper, and Ramires came on for Hazard as the game drew to a close.

TACTICAL AND STATISTICAL NOTES:

The Curious Case of Cesc Fabregas:

Since signing from Barcelona, Fabregas has been a crucial part of Chelsea’s play. Always a passer of the highest grade, working with Mourinho has now added defensively potent in his description. He has been dictating Chelsea’s play and has a hand in almost every goal Chelsea score. Having taken note of it, Louis Van Gaal instructed Fellaini to keep him under wraps and it worked for United. Shackled, Fabregas couldn’t play a major part in any action that day, bar the corner assist, and as a result Chelsea’s attack suffered. Against QPR though, Fabregas had a field day. He was very effective in distributing the ball and playing the odd searching ball for Costa. His cleverly weighted pass for Oscar led to Chelsea’s opener. The dashboards show how much of a difference an unshackled Fabregas can make.

Oscar, here, there, everywhere:

Oscar is simply enjoying the form of his life. Chelsea’s best player in recent weeks, the Brazilian has been contributing effectively in both attack and defence. The goal he scored today was an absolute beauty, one worthy of an Oscar. However, it was overly aggressive pressing that set the tone for the game. He wasn’t the best passer on the pitch or the most incisive runner, but there wouldn’t be many who worked harder than him. He was always willing to pass, run at opponents, shoot, tackle intercept and what not. The finest moment of the game in my eyes was when he tackled the QPR attacker on the left flank after Matic had lost possession, just minutes after scoring that peach of a goal.

Ivanovic and the Crack at the Back:

Branislav Ivanovic has a natural attacking instinct that he seemingly cannot curb. When WIllian is playing ahead of him, the Brazilian’s defensive work rate papers over the issue, but as today, when he gets taken off, Ivanovic leaves the right side of Chelsea’s defence terribly open. While that didn’t directly lead to the QPR equalizer, plenty of attacks came down that side. Also, it left Gary Cahill exposed quite often and given the kind of form he’s in, the game is much better with very little of him. Ivanovic needs to up his defensive game or the wonderful, balanced pairing of Luis and Azpi will certainly take over the fullback positions.

Chelsea’s Chances Story:

Against United, when their attacking play was faced with many hurdles, Chelsea couldn’t muster many meaningful chances. When one talks about the metric of ‘Chances Created’, the area these chances are created in is often overlooked. Against United, Chelsea were creating ‘chances’ near the edge of the box away from the goalkeeper or in general, the threatening zones. But today, the chances all came in the right zone, as Chelsea had a strong foothold of the game.

 

Matic, not his best day:

Nemanja Matic, who is so crucial to Chelsea’s performances, had a sub-par game by his standards. Usually a steady rock in front of the defence, Matic today gave the ball away plenty of times and also committed a lot of fouls in order to retrieve them. The player that he is, him being in form is crucial for Chelsea’s title ambitions.

The Costa Influence:

Diego Costa, coming off an injury had an understandably rusty game. But despite that, he had quite a positive impact. Constantly creating space for the attacking midfielders, Costa was playing like a rough bred bulldog that he is. Chelsea’s first line of defence at many times, Costa is the player who instigates the pressing move that eventually leads to interceptions for the team. Drogba has been back among the goals, but the kind of performance, though limited, that Costa offered today, cannot be matched by the others. While Drogba lacks the legs to press with such energy, Remy lacks the bullying presence to make defenders tremble.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

There is still a long way to go in the season, but these are the kind of games where the Chelsea of yesteryear dropped points. Therefore, coming off a win against QPR, in November is more than mere 3 points. By the time City play, they are 9 points behind us and that is a huge psychological blockage. Chelsea did not surrender to the QPR tempo after the equalizer and fought their way back. Chelsea managed to muster 18 shots while having over 65% possession. This is remarkable for derby games. Any other day, this could have been a bigger scoreline in favor of Chelsea, but today, the Blues will take this scoreline with glee! Chelsea surely are one of the youngest and most fascinating teams in the Premier League, but games like these are proving that they are getting there mentally as well.

One Comment

  1. Fletcher company

    March 29, 2016 at 9:21 AM

    Good observation.

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