How the game was won – Chelsea vs Stoke City
Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City
Stoke City yet again set up in a formation which catered for three midfield players in a central position. Whilst slightly different to the 4-3-3 utilised against Liverpool a number of weeks ago in the sense Stephen Ireland pushed slightly further up, Stoke City were again far too flat in midfield and made it a comfortable afternoon for Chelsea without Jose Mourinho’s side having to get out of second gear.
Stoke’s midfield trio of N’Zonzi, Ireland and Palacios did not entertain the idea of pressing, Lampard and more importantly Matic, on debut, were both given time on the ball and Stoke invited pressure upon their defence. With Lampard and Matic not closed down it was easy for either of those two players to make a small amount of ground going forward and then move the ball onto either Schurrle on the right or Hazard on the left.
Hazard was a real handful all afternoon long, right from the first five minutes where the Belgian got a measure of Stoke’s Geoff Cameron at right back, beating him at pace with consummate ease.
Chelsea’s comfort in possession through Stoke’s lack of pressing was made evident by the movement of Frank Lampard. The experienced midfielder was afforded such time and space when in possession that he could move ahead of Matic and stay roundabout in that position just behind Eto’o, level with Oscar. Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 system was fluidly changing into a 4-1-4-1 as Stoke allowed it to. This is a formation that is very effective when used by a team who controls possession as we have seen with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich side this season and Chelsea in this shape gave Stoke barely any chance of getting back into the tie.
Stoke did make some attempt at pressing Chelsea but in both the wrong areas and in the wrong way. Stoke’s midfield would allow Matic and Lampard to bypass them with passes into the attacking midfielders but then Stoke’s defence would rush forward and try to win the ball through the back of a Chelsea player. This proved to be a problem as it put several of Stoke’s defenders on a card and led to the host’s goal with Oscar dispatching a resulting free-kick.
It is very difficult as a team of Stoke’s stature to go to a Stamford Bridge or an Old Trafford and try and force yourself upon the game. It is very easy to sit back and hope to catch the hosts on the break, however Stoke’s management of Hazard on the left hand side was poor. You can’t let a player of Hazard’s quality and quick feet run at you, you have to make it difficult for him by close marking and restricting movement, as soon as you invite Hazard to run at you, he’s gone by you as Geoff Cameron found out too many times this afternoon.
Chelsea’s attacking midfield trio of Hazard, Schurrle and Oscar were fantastic, although their afternoons were made easier by Stoke’s timid approach. The movement of those aforementioned players was fantastic with the three interchanging positions throughout the match making it difficult for Stoke’s defenders to stick to a single man in terms of marking. Had it not been for Chelsea’s worryingly characteristic profligacy in front of goal, Stoke could have found themselves on the end of a sizably bigger defeat.
Marko Arnautovic has been picked out as Stoke’s best player this season and has at times shown this to be true with some outstanding individual displays however Jose Mourinho’s former player at Internazionale was poor this afternoon. Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic both were given easy afternoons with Arnautovic not really testing either of them with a direct run. In fairness Stoke seldom had the ball in a position to provide Arnautovic good service.
This is not a massive disaster for Stoke, there was very little expectation upon Mark Hughes’ side to get a result, as there wasn’t against Liverpool earlier this month however if Stoke are to avoid being dragged into a relegation battle, Mark Hughes will have to come up with a different way of playing against teams around them as the flat three man midfield who don’t press the opposition will not win the club matches.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4
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